Hello, Maria here, chiming in with a few words to share how excited I am to have Brendon, the “Island Boy” of this blog, and my other half, share his expertise and wisdom on an area of our lives that’s super important but something I easily take for granted because of him. With summer break already here for some and soon to be here for others, I think the topic of internet safety is timely and relevant!
Are we Too Connected?
Today I walked around the house and counted all our screens.
I am currently at a conservative 11 screened devices regularly within eyesight, and a few odd others in drawers around the house. Sure enough, these are all, without exception, connected to the internet.
As a tech guy, I am an advocate for the abundance of educational, connective and entertaining information presented by internet access. Our children are growing up in an age where skills are acquired at an incredible pace, friendships can be enjoyed from across the planet in real time, and joy and diversion are in the most abundant and interesting formats ever imagined.
The opportunities presented to our children by this flat world are beyond what we could have ever conceived.
I am also keenly attuned to the abyss of harmful individuals and programs that want to use this connectivity to attack us, find vulnerabilities and take whatever they can with impunity. Those there are who would attack the sanctuaries of our homes, tear away our children’s innocence, and rob us of all they can.
As my young children grow, I worry about this. As an IT professional, I have a great home firewall. We are locked down from unwanted connections from the outside. But what do I do about the harmful content that is requested through my home devices?
I need a plan.
Is Your Home Well Defended?
Physically, it probably is. Strong doors and locks, fences and gates keep our dear ones and things protected. Home alarms and even the family dog can be counted on when help is needed, God forbid.
We’ve got a plan to keep us safe, a plan for the food and supplies we bring home, and we even have a strategy and a guy to call when pesky bugs move in. But what’s your internet safety plan?
Internet risks are not a new reality but as tools become better, the stakes become higher. Having our private data leaked from big business to a mass sale on the dark web is a monthly occurrence now. The possibility of predators, violent or pornographic advertisement and extreme political influence reaching our families is greater.
Case in point, Youtube’s own algorithm has been found to be incredibly good at interest-based recommendations, and has been shown to lead predators to home videos with incredible efficiency. Worse yet, Youtube can draw curious children from innocent cartoons down some very dark paths.
We could all do with an internet defense plan.
Enter Circle by Disney: Defense, Education and Information
Let’s get a few things out of the way:
- This is not a sponsored post.
- Circle is a cube-shape. Just go with it.
- The only thing Disney-related is the brand name. This and some specific settings to ensure that Disney content gets into the home.
- Circle employs a shady network practice called arp-poisoning. More on that later.
I first heard of Circle by Disney a few years ago from a tech blog I frequent, and immediately began monitoring for reviews and price drops.
Both seemed fairly scarce from the launch of the product, and my kids are quite young, so I was not in a huge rush to test it. My oldest has since doubled in age, and Circle is launching its gen 2, so I ordered up the old device at a great discount, from Amazon to see if it would do the trick. It does.
- Setup was quite simple:
- Install the Circle App.
- Plug in the power (standard USB), then plug it into ethernet on my hub.
- Launch Circle App.
- Follow on-screen guide (register, connect to wifi, preferences, devices).
Profiles were easy to setup:
- Create a Profiles for each person and common area devices.
- Add age/content filters to each Profile.
- Add the person’s devices to their Profile
How Does Circle by Disney Protect my Family?
Circle uses arp spoofing to trick all devices on my network by posing as the gateway to the internet. This forces the outside world to only send content to my devices through circle. If anything hitting circle doesn’t match an age requirement, it won’t be sent to that Profile.
Sure arp spoofing is technically a network attack – the ease of setting this up should really make you think about how easy it would be to steal your data from inside your home. Circle is solving a family issue with creativity, however, and I commend them for it. Their connections are locked down with TLS security and they claim to not send of your data outside the network, something I have yet to test.
Circle age filters are inclusive. This means that only the indicated services and specific categories are allowed through to the device. The default age filters look pretty good at first blush, but you can also specify some individual services and sites.
Parental controls are very thoughtful as well. Specify a bedtime, and devices will not be allowed to connect after curfew. Specify time limits to train kids to value their daily connection quota and encourage them to have other pursuits, add bonus time for well-behaved kids.
An IT Pro’s Evaluation
My product recommendations always come with this caveat – make your own educated decision for your family’s welfare.
Circle does one thing well, and for that I recommend it, but is not the only solution out there, and possibly not the best.
When it comes to interaction and entertainment, problems are inherently behavioral. Children in their voracious appetites for learning will figure out how to bypass limitations. Nothing will supplant a sound education and formation in principles of behavior online.
If you teach your children how and why to behave with virtue, and communicate about their failures, then you may find that you can loosen filtering practices in your home and trust their judgement more.
I know that my children will be using the internet significantly, and I trust myself much more to teach them appropriate usage, then have them determine their course on their own. With this in mind, I do recommend Circle as a first line of content-defense, especially as a preventative measure for your small ones who don’t know any better. Plug it in. Have a bit more peace.
Overview of Pros & Cons
- It takes just a few minutes to get up and running.
- Simple 5-level age filters based on curated lists. Dead simple.
- App/domain-specific filters. Category filters, custom filters.
- The 2-hr battery means it can’t be turned off. Your network stuff should be locked by key anyway.
- Notification of new devices on the network – visitors are locked down by default.
- Gen 1 is old tech – ethernet is 10/100 Mbps and 2.4ghz b/g/n means limitations 450 Mbps
- Identifying network devices is a crapshoot.
- On managed networks, one Circle per lan/vlan. Should not be an issue for most families.
- It would be nice to have filter level switching on a schedule (Family TV switches to Parent mode after 9pm).
- Creative kids will always figure out how to bypass (faraday cage, mobile hotspots). I know I did.
Interested in Circle: