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What Advice For a Single Parent As Server Admin?

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the dinnertime-comments-on-traffic-sniffing dept.

Windows 618

Dragon_Eater, with "lots of experience setting up PCs and a passable knowledge of Linux but severely lacking in the server/client department," writes with a situation that probably faces a lot of parents: I want to set up three kids, 12, 14, and 15, with newer computers so they will stop fighting for time on the one ten-year-old Dell they share now. I can get the individual computers and a server put together without any problems, but the computer-handicapped single parent needs to be able to do the following via an simple application/web page: View client computer status, On/off, sleeping etc.; Deny Internet access, not LAN, just the web; Schedule time usage of computer, ex. 7 am to 10 pm on school nights etc.; Force log-out and/or shutdown of clients, for grounding purposes; and Apply some kind of firewall filter for blocking undesired web content. And as the administrator for this network I would like the following options: Remote virus scanning of client machines, or scheduled task; Some kind of hardware monitor, high temp / fan speed low etc.; and Email alerts for various log files / alarms. Given the lists above I am thinking about a Linux-based router/server machine and running Windows on the clients for game compatibility. I also know that a server and network boot client is possible but not sure where to start on that one."

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Holy shit (4, Funny)

unity100 (970058) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809710)

you got a whole deal of connectivity/administration project there. quit your day job.

Re:Holy shit (4, Informative)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809954)

Not really... Basic Desktop support, and a more sophisticated gateway. Something like m0n0wall [] has very good access control with a voucher system, you user based control built in. It also has a very good traffic shaper so one kid downloading won't cause a fight with the other kid gaming. However, no web filtering.

Untangle [] has some very good filtering on content and viruses, as well as some ads. The captive portal is not as strong, but getting there. No real traffic shaping last time I checked.

Both are open source projects. Monowall will run on any old P3 with 128 meg of ram. Untangle will need a bit more power behind it.

Re:Holy shit (4, Informative)

AndGodSed (968378) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810120)

Not really... Basic Desktop support, and a more sophisticated gateway. Something like m0n0wall [] has very good access control with a voucher system, you user based control built in. It also has a very good traffic shaper so one kid downloading won't cause a fight with the other kid gaming. However, no web filtering.

Untangle [] has some very good filtering on content and viruses, as well as some ads. The captive portal is not as strong, but getting there. No real traffic shaping last time I checked.

Both are open source projects. Monowall will run on any old P3 with 128 meg of ram. Untangle will need a bit more power behind it.

Good options. He could also try ClearOS [] . After it is set up it should be rather low maintenance. The download link is on the page. I have one at home and it is a win.

Re:Holy shit (1)

StrategicIrony (1183007) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810200)


This single parent is going to spend 10 hours per week troubleshooting administrative tools, when the computers he's trying to administer are like 10 feet away from him.


One issue (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809728)

One issue will be the specific games that they will be playing. If they require administrator access, you're going to have a big headache.

Schedule time usage of computer, ex. 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on school nights etc.; Force log-out and/or shutdown of clients, for grounding purposes

If they don't get admin access, then you can do some of that with windows scheduler.

Re:One issue (2, Interesting)

slashdot_commentator (444053) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809950)

Only XP era games "need" administrator access.

Learn to configure/administer virtualization. You control what gets on the box, and "never" have to worry about permanently hosing the machine, even if they have administrator privileges.

Sounds like he needs a firewall machine to regulate internet access (But I can't think of any prepackaged firewall software that will not require work to configure/administer). He could order up win7 ultimate as a central server, doling out usage rights to the clients, managing access to the OS disk images.

virtualization will kill any game need video card (2, Insightful)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810070)

virtualization will kill any game need a video card better then a basic 2d one.

Re:virtualization will kill any game need video ca (1)

slashdot_commentator (444053) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810136)

I'm not talking VirtualBox, I'm talking something with a real hypervisor like Xen. You configure Xen for the client to get all the "juice", and maybe localize the game software. Then again, I've never tried running something like FEAR2 on a virtual client...

Re:One issue (2, Interesting)

mysidia (191772) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810198)

You can setup compatibility mode and run only the game as Administrator, without letting the user login as more than a Power User.

Or use Filemon/Regmon. Figure out what files/registry keys the game needs Administrative control over and grant it only the permissions it needs.

Also, run Windows 7, not XP. It has some backwards-compatibility features such as registry/file redirection which makes some things that required admin on XP not require admin on 7.

Ask the intelligence community (0, Troll)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809742)

For the amount of control you want to exert over your kids there, I'd suggest you ask some former Stasi or KGB man, I am sure they can give you all information you need about totalitarian control of resource usage and information flow. Don't just ask slashdot - go to the pros. You gotta think of the children after all.

Re:Ask the intelligence community (5, Insightful)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809976)

As a parent, you are supposed to exert some control over your children. That is why they are called children... That are not yet adults, and are not yet expected to show adult responsibility.

Re:Ask the intelligence community (3, Insightful)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810000)

Yes - and you exert that control by talking to them, occasionally looking over their shoulder and showing them some amount of trust, not by installing a totalitarian regime in your home. Technology does not substitute for parenting.

Re:Ask the intelligence community (3, Insightful)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810050)

Never said it did. But occasionally you have to clean the house, cook dinner, go to the bathroom. Not all of us have the leisure to hover over children all day. Especially a single parent, as referred to in the post. This is just a gateway, not a solution. It will never be perfect, and it will require an attentive parent. I would also say keep ALL of the computers in the living room. With less privacy, they are less likely to "cheat" the filters. The old "Daylight is the best disinfectant" sort of thing.

Re:Ask the intelligence community (1, Insightful)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810100)

Why would you need to hover over them all the time when they use the computer? It is a damn computer, not a table saw - think that 13 year old will be scarred for life if he finds a porn site? If he won't find it on the net due to the great firewall of the parents, he'll get it on a USB stick on the schoolyard anyway.

Re:Ask the intelligence community (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31810158)

Good grief. You're probably also one of those that blames parents when someone complains about violent video games?

Re:Ask the intelligence community (5, Insightful)

raddan (519638) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810222)

Keeping an eye on your kids is not the same thing as having a totalitarian regime. I think that logging what your kids do and when is completely acceptable. Whether you reveal this information to them or not is a different story.

When I was a teenager, I got in all kinds of mischief. It turns out that my parents knew about pretty much all of it, but I did not know about this at the time. They didn't interfere unless they thought that I was getting into something over my head... like when I became very depressed, for a long period of time, and I bought myself a bottle of sleeping pills. That was an important intervention.

Children have no right to privacy. Teenagers chafe at the idea, of course, but the fact is that they are children, and good parenting means making decisions that are in their best interests, not their greatest desires. When they're able to weigh their actions with the consequences of those actions (i.e., becoming an adult), then they get privacy.

When your daughter starts googling birth control, it's time to have a chat.

Re:Ask the intelligence community (2, Insightful)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810004)

It's a little over the top but parents are supposed to keep an eye on what their own kids do.
At least that's the reply whenever parents try to foist that particular burden on society rather than do it themselves.

Re:Ask the intelligence community (1, Insightful)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810078)

I am not asking to outsource parent responsibility to society, on the contrary. If the kids are to learn responsible behaviour, you can't just exert total control over their actions. You don't learn without the possibility to make mistakes. That's why you give them the rules, let them do their thing and occasionally check up on compliance - if they don't keep to the rules, you find out why, talk to them about that and give em a proper ass-chewing if necessary. You don't need total computer access control to teach them to use the things responsibly.

Re:Ask the intelligence community (2, Insightful)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810128)

But if you don't put any barriers in how shall they ever learn about proxies, address spoofing, packet sniffers and all the other wonderful things involved in defeating technical parental controls?

Re:Ask the intelligence community (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810140)

Hehe, well, true - that might actually the best use for a setup like the one asked for. They might be more motivated in learning proper hacking techniques if they can use it to circumvent your controls.

Re:Ask the intelligence community (4, Insightful)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810156)

I am having a laugh riot at the idea of a household consisting of a single parent, a 12 year old, a 14 year old, and a 15 year old being run as a democracy.

Re:Ask the intelligence community (1, Insightful)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810188)

I am not implying that the kids should vote on the mode of their internet use. But if you do not give them any freedom, including the freedom to violate the agreed upon rules, you do not give them any trust. How should they ever learn responsible behaviour without experiencing trust and freedom?

Re:Ask the intelligence community (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31810220)


The human factor (0)

vegardh (831486) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809746)

Try to make deals with your kids? No offense but you sound almost militant. I think you need a whole team of techs to do all the stuff you mention too. :-)

Re:The human factor (2, Insightful)

SerpentMage (13390) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809860)

The person does not know how to do security...

Here is the problem. Kid A.... "Parent parent parent I need to get a project done and you shut down my computer at 10PM. And if I don't get this project done I will get an F!"

At this point the parent's security is blown to bits because they need to make an exception. And how often will this kid say, "parent parent I have a "project""

The easiest way to answer this is as follows:

1) Own the route to the Internet. That means you give or deny access to the Internet. Kids loose interest REAL quick if they can play with the Internet.

2) Let the kids have access to the computer anytime they want. WITH the exception that you can remotely log in at any time. Install VNC server and periodically log onto the machine and see what your kids are doing. Yes it is big brother, but it also keeps people honest when they know you can log in at any time.

3) NEVER give out the password. And that means you as the parent need remote access to the home network. Because imagine being out for the day, kid comes home and needs access to the Internet. They phone you, and unless you give them access you are going to have one angry kid. Thus make sure that you can remotely access your network, make the changes and move on...

Otherwise the rest is silly and life should be fine...

Re:The human factor (4, Insightful)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810056)

I remember when I was a teenager.
My dad added a power on password on the basis that he utterly detested games.
The problem was he didn't even give it to my mother.

Of course one day I actually needed to print something in a fucking hurry and he couldn't be contacted so I solved the problem with a screwdriver and the motherboard manual.

Which brings up the problem of physical access.
All the software in the world is pointless if the teenager can simply swap some network cables.

Sorry (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809758)

If you're severely lacking in the client/server department you don't have a passable knowledge of Linux, which is primarily a server operating system. Perhaps you may have a "passing acquaintance with Linux as used on the Desktop".

A good router (4, Informative)

spire3661 (1038968) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809768)

Most of what you described can be done with a decent modern router. The hardware monitoring is a bit overboard, logs will tell you what you need to know in the event of a disaster. The force log out could be done via router too, just deny internet. Alot of this can be done with very little technical effort and more parenting skill. Most of this is going to take a dedicated person to monitor it over the course of the installation.

Re:A good router (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31810124)

Buy a second hand intel mac. For most o what is described above the parental controls for access time and simplified interface and locked down doc are the best I have seen out of the box.
Configure it for openDNS For filtering out the worst of the net content and just use a console system for games.

Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (5, Informative)

dmomo (256005) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809776)

It's amazing what kids can figure out when it comes to getting by the restrictions their parents set forth.

They're going to learn about networking, proxies, virtual machines, ip spoofing etc. All because they want to get on Facebook. Which they will.

Re:Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (5, Funny)

cyberworm (710231) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809818)

Amen. I'd know nothing about computers if it hadn't been for porn and video games!

Re:Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31810154)

Do you mean there's something else in computers besides porn and video games?

Re:Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809840)

no, unless, they disconnect router and connect directly, or unless they use alternative means of accessing internet.
Believe it or not, you can block ALL traffic to internet from certain/all machines.

Re:Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (2, Insightful)

bd_ (35871) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810016)

And what happens when they clone the MAC address of an unblocked computer (such as the parent's computer)? Bypassing filters that only block some machines on a network doesn't exactly require a genius.

Re:Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (1)

dmomo (256005) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810060)

Not only that, but another requirement posted here is that they still have access to the internal network (i..e. to computers with external access).

Re:Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809850)

That, or they'll just start using the neighbours' WiFi

Re:Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (3, Funny)

whizzleteats (1364017) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809902)

Either that or they'll tether their notebooks to their cellphones and cost the parent an ass-ton of data overages. Revenge is a dish best served by your wireless telco.

Re:Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (2, Insightful)

slashdot_commentator (444053) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810008)

Prepaid. End of problem.

Re:Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (5, Funny)

kgo (1741558) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810148)

When my kids are grounded, they go in the cage...

The faraday cage...

Re:Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (5, Funny)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809876)

It strikes me that making a child work to learn what they need to know in order to get what they want could be used for a variety of educational purposes. Want Facebook? Learn to hack the router. Want the car for the weekend? Learn to break the encryption on this cypher-locked safe. Want to avoid a grounding? Learn to blame it convincingly on your sister. Want to eat tonight? Learn to pick the lock on the refridgerator.

Sure, they may not pass standardised tests requiring them to know the average rainfall of the amazon rainforest (what a useless fact!) but it does give them valuable real-world skills.

Re:Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (5, Funny)

dmomo (256005) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810024)

>> but it does give them valuable real-world skills.

Indeed! If we don't give them the nudge, they're never going to take it upon themselves to learn the fine art of refrigerator hacking.

Re:Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809970)

yep, It's how I ended-up sysadmin :D

Re:Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (2, Interesting)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810104)

I learned more after my highschool outsourced it's computer network to some braindead company which had a preference for locking everything down than I did when it was an open network.

I learned how to use the command line, I learned about proxies, I learned a hell of a lot of basic networking crap etc etc.

Restrict the children but only such that they must learn to break their bonds!

Re:Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810126)

It's amazing what kids can figure out when it comes to getting by the restrictions their parents set forth.

Setup a PS3, and put molly guards over the emergency stop. Show them how to make hot chocolate using the HVAC exhaust in the server room. And don't worry about them playing in there. Those places are f*cking loud -- they'll get sick of running between the racks after an hour and never go back. :) Setup webcams and borrow a spare box to keep an eye on your kids while you work.

Re:Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810168)

It's amazing what kids can do with computers, period. I think it's safe to say that these kids will soon be way more computer-savvy than their mom, if they aren't already. No reflection on her intelligence, kids just learn this stuff fast.

If I were her, I'd forget about software barriers to their computer (mis)use and just make sure I knew what they're doing.

Re:Do this, ground your kids, make them Engineers (2, Interesting)

luder (923306) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810214)

Agreed. Once upon a time, my father forbid me to use our 486SX. At that time, it was common for computers to have a key switch (like this [] ), which would prevent booting when locked. I got so pissed off I made a key out of the cap of a bic pen :-).

Jews for Nerds! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809778)

Jews, also known as kikes, hebes, hymies, yids, gold niggers, oven magnets, hook noses, sheenies, swindlers, criminals, "firewood", and Arabs in denial are a subhuman species of reptilian extra-terrestrials and adherents to one of the world's oldest major religions, called "Judaism", otherwise known as "The Worship of Money" or "Eating Arab Babies".

Judaism was the world's first master race theory. The Jew religion teaches that Jews are the Chosen People of God and that there is a sacred mystical quality to Jew DNA. In olden times, Jew prophets would, under the command of YHWH, frequently lead the Jews on genocidal rampages against neighboring populations, and even today Jew leaders often cite Jewish religious ideals to justify their ongoing genocide of sandniggers. Judaism ironically found its mirror-image inversion in the anti-Jew Aryan racialism of the Nazis.
Despite only being 0.22% of the world's population, Jews control 99% of the world's money. Not only do the Jews control the world, but also the media, the banks, the space program, and LiveJournal's porn communities and Gay communities. All Jews possess the following features: an extremely large nose, fake boobs, curly hair that reeks of faggotry, one of those gay hats, a love of coke, a law practice, a roll of money, a small cock, or shitty taste in dental hygiene.

Jews invented both Communism and Capitalism. Karl Marx, of course, was a Jew, which was why he understood money so well, and in fact he was converted to Communism by another Jew, Moses Hess, the actual founder of Zionism, who ghost-wrote Marx's The German Ideology. Capitalism was created when Christian Europeans threw away their morals and decided to embrace Jewish practices like usury (see: John Calvin). Jews were the first group to create a sophisticated banking system, which they used to fund the Crusades in order to pit Christians and Muslims (both adhering to religions derived from and controlled by Jews) against each other to kill as many people as possible in a macabre human sacrifice to YHWH.

The Jew banking system was based on fraud and lies, so when it inevitably collapsed, the Jews just pwned as many people as possible by unleashing the Black Plague on them. Later, Jews economically controlled medieval Venice (the first modern maritime trade empire), and then crypto-Jewish merchants economically controlled the Spanish Empire, including the slave trade. Openly Jewish bankers orchestrated the Dutch Empire and founded Jew Amsterdam (later Jew York). Later the Dutch Jews moved to London because they thought it would be a better base for a global empire, and actually brought a Dutch nobleman, William III, with them, who they installed in a coup d'état (more like Jew d'état, amirite?) as new King of the British Empire. For hundreds of years, Jewish bankers controlled global trade through their bases in Jew York City and London. European colonialism was, through its history, essentially a plot whereby Jews could gain control of gold and diamond mines in poor countries and increase their stranglehold over the global economy.

Jews also enjoy slicing up baby penises for fun, some even enjoy sucking them. See below.

Jews also created Jew search engine Google, so now they can find all Jew information on Internets.

Some suggest that we should use Jews instead of dogs to sniff out large amounts of concealed cash or anything else worth smuggling at airports due to their sensitive Jew noses. Obviously, this is a horrible idea, because the pay is bad, and the dirty Kikes would probably form a union and demand moar money, thus increasing the burden on taxpayers everywhere.

Just filter the content (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809780)

Use OpensDNS for the filtering and otherwise just monitor them yourself. This seem like more trouble than it's worth.

OpenDNS (1)

AnonGCB (1398517) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809792)

OpenDNS will work well for filtering sites, just set the DNS server on the computers you wish to filter to the OpenDNS servers and set up an account to filter stuff.

Re:OpenDNS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809864)

You do realize the moment the kid figures out how to point their computer at a real DNS server, they'll be back to square one, right? Not that I'm complaining... thinking that you can censor every bit of "objectionable" content on the internet from your kids is hilariously anachronistic. Keeping them from using something when grounded is a joke too. Ignore all the technical suggestions on this thread and find a way to, you know, communicate with your kids. Far more effective, and deals with the root of what you're trying to do with those measures: raise an adult that can have a happy, healthy life.

Of course, you could just be an authoritarian jerk for the sake of doing so like most parents, if you really like. In that case just use every technical solution suggested here, and watch as your kids learn how to brilliantly step around every single counter-measure as soon as you can implement them. It'll be awesome

Re:OpenDNS (1)

AnonGCB (1398517) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810150)

I'm not familiar with what regular users can do, I assumed that non admins couldn't change network settings, I may be wrong.

I would work on my social skills to get a partner (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809814)

Having a partner, who can be an other loving parent would do much more for your kids than any set of firewall rules.

A linux/bsd based firewall distro (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809820)

I've done similar stuff with the various Linux/BSD based firewall distributions. Smoothwall, IP-COP, pf-sense are some good ones that are free, extendable, and have great user/hacker communities for support.

I got the answer, it's simple... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809842)

this is really easily done! 1) talk to your kids, be a real parent!!! i don't think you'll ever have a case where little billy gets in trouble at 1pm and you need to disconnect his computer rights from work. 2) if they need to be punished unplug the computer and take it away. 3) have admin rights to their computers so you can keep tabs on what they're doing and can't hide anything from you.

problem solved.

Break this list down into multiple functions (1)

Dr_Harm (529148) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809846)

Sounds like this list needs to be broken down into multiple sub-functions.

Web filtering, site access control, and total Internet denial are functions for a web proxy or other content filter. You should be able to find a linux-based web proxy that will do what you want in that department.

Scheduling usage hours, forcing logout, etc. is the sort of thing you can do with "policy" objects if you had a Windows Domain Controller. That's probably outside of your budget. But, generally, you need to be looking for client/workstation policy tools.

The computer health monitoring stuff might be part of the policy tools, but might not.

Re:Break this list down into multiple functions (2, Informative)

silanea (1241518) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810180)

[...] if you had a Windows Domain Controller. That's probably outside of your budget. [...]

Some linux-friendly routers will allow you to run a Samba DC on them. Samba 4 supports Group Policies. It is marked as not being production-ready, but it should be safe enough for a home network. While you're at it, the same Samba could provide printer sharing for all the machines.

(Not that I believe that Group Policies can replace proper parenting, though. Using technology to solve social problems seldom is a smart idea.)

physical access (5, Insightful)

Khashishi (775369) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809848)

the simplest and most effective block is to go over and shut the computer off. Take away the computer if you have to (or just the cords if that's too much trouble).

I think you are nuts. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809852)


Jeez (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809854)

Sounds like your kids are working for a corporation, not living at home...

Try parenting instead (1, Flamebait)

valnar (914809) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809856)

Some of the things you mentioned involve different technologies, and not all of them free or cheap. PC management is different than Internet firewall and filtering, for instance. There is no one silver bullet, save one. Be a good parent and limit them by penalty of death. :)

That being said, at the firewall level, I recommend setting up a PC to run Untangle. It'll help with all the nasties and if you purchase Policy Manager, you can schedule their Facebook (or whatever) time any way you want.

Tell her not to do so (1)

Deaddy (1090107) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809874)

The children are old enough.

Re:Tell her not to do so (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809980)

Boy are you naive. Children learn by curiosity and expanding their boundaries. It's a parent's job to put limits on such until the child PROVES they have consistently been trustworthy and you expand the boundaries a little at a time. Let me pose this question to you. Your boss tells you not to surf slashdot during work hours. Do you honor that, or do you figure you know better than your boss and are mature enough to do what you want and sneak peeks now and then anyways? If you cannot be 100 percent reliable to not surf slashdot during works hours, how can you expect children to honor a parents wishes based on the fact that they are "old enough".

I do what you do all with Apples. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809878)

I have an old PowerMac G4 ($200) that I run OS X Tiger Server ($70) and my kids all have accounts on my Macs with Parental controls that dictate the times the kidos can be on the computer. I use OpenDNS to restrict web sites.

It works great, it's not perfect, but I can also log the sites the kids go to so I can make sure they are not subverting the configuration. It's actually pretty easy to setup and does not take much time to administer. (.5hrs a week). My kids (9,11,14) all have skype accounts and my oldest has a facebook account as well. OpenDNS works great! I can customize it to the level needed.


Really? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809884)

You could save yourself a lot of time and do the job better by building character rather than trying to restrict them with technology. Ultimately teaching them how to use the internet responsibly and how to live responsibly is going to be the better way to go than trying to control what they can do and when. Both you and your children will be happier for it.

Think outside the box (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809904)

Kids will find a simple solution to this: they will simply start doing what you want them not to from their friends computers, whose parents are not that ... protective. Trying to control too much will achieve you less control actually. The kids need a parent that trust them and help them learn about the world out there, not a parent that will destroy their "immune" system (not necessarily in a biological way) by constraining them in a tech-bubble.

heh (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809910)

China allready has this

dd-wrt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809912)

Any router with dd-wrt (if it can handle it) would do most of the above.

You need to ask "should I?" and not "how can I?" (5, Informative)

BigDish (636009) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809916)

Where to start: Scrap all your ideas and start over.
Yes, everything you asked for can be done. The reality is though is that, with the amount of complexity you are asking for, you will be a full time sysadmin for them - you might as well quit your day job now.

Your setup is simply too complex for a non-techie (and to be honest, as a techie, I don't want to have to admin something that complex at home). You need to stop asking "can I" and ask "should I?"

Windows PCs joined to active directory can let you manage them, set logon hours, etc.

Why do you care to know if the PCs are sleeping/on/off/whatever?

A router running DD-WRT will let you deny internet access based on hours and/or PCs in a simple manner. To be perfectly honest, I hate the concept of internet filtering (by parents or otherwise) as I believe it is another step toward turning people into drones, rather than teaching them to think for themselves, so I'm not even going to offer any suggestions on that subject.

I agree with the other posters, the system you have suggested will end as follows:
1. The kids will learn how to hack around it. This can be a good thing or bad thing, depending on your point of view
2. The system is so complex it will never work and the parent will never use it as they have no clue
3. You will grow to hate it as it will take too much of your time.

Delegate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809924)

That's a tall order for someone who's self proclaimed "computer-handicapped". I think you need a different approach:

1. Set a budget (say $100)
2. Tell the 15 year-old that the money is his, if he can set the server up appropriately, but
3. Give the 12 & 14 year-olds a nominal amount (say $1) for each hole/weakness they find and report and
4. Dock the "finders' fees" from the money given to the 15 year-old
5. ...
6. Profit!

The 15 year-old has an incentive to set up things honestly, the 12 &14 year olds have incentive to keep the 15 year old honest, and none of the children have an incentive to collude, as they're competing for the same pool, and won't be able to milk any more money out of Mom & Dad.

Re:Delegate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809948)

What if the 15 year old offers the others $33 each so that he doesn't have to do any work, and they don't have to do any work. If they're all unmotivated slackers, they should jump at the deal.

you can also use Linux like Mandriva with Dos Box (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809938)

Mandriva has very easy to use admin functions that can allow you to shut off a fair amount of what you are trying to do. With Dos Box installed it will play older games well and can have WINE added for newer ones. I have used SUSE, Fedora and ubuntu and believe that mandriva has the best root/admin control functions for setting up and keeping a computer running while disallowing changes by a user. Just be sure to create a STRONG password since your kids will be trying every possible way to defeat your settings. Oh, don't let a LIVE disk lay around for them to find. They will defeat all of your efforts with that after a while of practicing....

Maybe a real solution is to place the computer in the living room where you can see them while they use it and shut it off all other times.

I work for a public school (2, Interesting)

waspleg (316038) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809942)

We use a program called SynchronEyes which does most of these things, allows you to see essentially thumbnails of what each machine is doing, see its status remote on/off etc. It's Windows only. I see they've changed their product. It's called SMART Sync now. I don't see pricing which is probably not good. Here's a link []
It's a pretty front end for VNC like functionality which would be free/oss but nowhere near as easily set up (but I'd wager largely what people will say since you specifically mention Linux and Windows and it works on both). I'm not really an expert on this part, but SychronEyes has worked well, after I added it to a custom Ghost image for that lab and set the clients to use hostnames instead of usernames for identification. It might be overkill for what you need though.

STOP! (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809952)

Seriously! Just stop!

1. You either come up with a "normal" computer usage policy, you know, talking to your kids about stuff like porn, sex, appropriate computer policy in your house (better not be too strict on this one :P), purpose of getting them the computers, internet privacy, etc, or,

2. don't and the kids will get to all the "inappropriate" places anyway and may get you into more trouble than you ever imagined.

Frankly, you can't "filter" porn. If someone wants to get it, they will. Maybe this is one of the good sides of internet porn - parents forced to deal with sex-ed of their kids. Although most go the "easy way" and pretend it doesn't exist - "but I installed a filter!!"

Second, I would be much more nervous about insisting that your kids DO NOT use any of the file sharing software without prior permission, on case-by-case basis. Explain about the MAFIA, I mean, MPAA and the like on their lawsuit campaigns.

Regardless, your solutions are *parenting* human solutions, not technical ones.

The age group is a problem here.... (4, Insightful)

King_TJ (85913) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809968)

I'm doing something similar but in our family, we've got a 7 and an 8 year old and a 3 year old, so it's a different "ball game".

In our situation, I don't bother trying to put Linux on any of their machines. I've found that for the younger kids, the vast majority of their time spent playing anything Internet/web-based involves Shockwave Flash based sites (or sites using other proprietary 3D player plug-ins). Unfortunately, nothing runs this stuff quite as well as either a Windows XP (or later) OS, or a newer Mac running a recent version of OS X.

I found a free add-on for Firefox called Kidzui that was pretty nice. It basically turns the browser into a "kids' browser" that has a "home page" with good suggested sites for them to visit, and lets them click and explore around in a big collection of known "kid safe" web sites. Basically, it doesn't allow going anyplace except sites they pre-approved, but they make the whole experience feel like the kid is just getting around the net without restrictions. Additionally, it can email the parent weekly stats on the sites they spent the most time using, etc.

If you're using a Mac, OS X has pretty nice parental controls built into the OS for things like not allowing use of the machine after certain hours. I didn't find Windows had nearly as nice of capabilities for that, out of the box (though Windows 7 was closer than any previous version of Windows to offering it).

Honestly, I'm not that "sold" on putting forth the effort of setting up a lot of centralized administration and maintenance for the machines on a small home network (like for 3 kids). You may as well put free anti-virus/spyware software on each computer and let them auto update themselves independently. The products that support centralized management of the AV software tend to be expensive and/or buggy. (You get weirdness like one box that gets out of sync with the server console, so you have to mess with things to get them to both be on the "same page" about the workstation's status again.)

If anything, I think it'd be worthwhile to image the drives of all the machines, once they're freshly set up with the OS and applications and configuration defaults you like. Then, if one gets screwed up, you can just wipe its drive and re-image at will from your network server. Typically, on a kids' PC, they don't have that much important data to worry about losing anyway. If they're doing most things on the net, the sites they use are saving their high scores, user profiles, and such.

Replacing good parenting with tech solutions ... (2, Insightful)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 4 years ago | (#31809972)

... forget the techie crap, and try spending more time communicating with your children.

I'd rather have a kid who I know I can trust to turn off his PC for the night, than have to rely on tech control and surveillance.

Smartlaunch (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809974)

I work at a small cybercafe and I always thought that the system we use to administer the computers here would be great for someone with kids.

Some things to think about (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809984)

You know they make software that will indeed most of what you want. (There are limitations that I don't think you grasp though. For instance you can know that a computer is on, but only know what it isn't if it happened to tell you that it was about to change to sleep or off.)

But from where you are starting, if you want all of this within the next six months you will need some deep pockets. You can either purchase enterprise software to help, or quit your job and learn to do it yourself. But you are asking for control many a full time admin would love to have but can't afford.

you cannot use technology to solve parenting issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809992)

You CANNOT use technology to solve a management problem. This is the same thing - you can't use technology to solve your parenting issues. Your kids can't share, so they fight. Sounds like you need to teach them to share. When it comes to grounding them, physically take the box away, and teach them why you are taking it. You're just gonna do more harm than good by putting in restrictions like that. Teach them morals and whatever else so they learn not to go to websites with inappropriate content. You obviously took the time to have the kids, why not take some time and communicate with them?

get this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31809998)

I take it that you aren't an IT geek, still i'd advice you to find someone to help you set it all up.
get an openwall/selinx/netbsd router, or just a decent hardware router with all the fancy
setups adjustable, most imortant run everything jailed/sandboxed. run syslogd/tcpdump, log all traffic, perhaps adjust filter rules, and content which isn't accessible for your kids on the net, and at the end of each day monitor the traffic logs, empty/recover sandbox content, and some other stuff i probably didn't mention ;>

oh yes, don't let them have ROOT

You need at most N-1 computers (5, Insightful)

Coward Anonymous (110649) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810006)

Where N is the number of computer users and you want them in a shared space, not in each child's room. Providing each child a personal computer, especially in his room, is a guarantee that any kind of interaction between you and your kids and between themselves will end. Ensuring computer "scarcity" will force you and, more importantly, your kids to interact with each other. It may even force you and your kids, gasp, to share a computer.
This also has a couple side benefits:
1. There are no "secrets" on the computers so you have no need for the tight monitoring and/or policing you seem to think you want.
2. Virus infections become a shared painful experience with obvious lessons being learned on how to avoid it the next time.

HW monitoring is kind of pointless as it won't tell you anything.

This only leaves you with a couple problems to deal with:
1. backup - there are plenty of backup solutions out there. Generally, you'll want some kind of external drive setup with automated user data backups.
2. virus recovery - If you like anti-virus software, use it. However, you should probably also keep a fresh install method handy so you can simply re-install without having to deal with the mess (this is where a good backup becomes very important). Taken a step further and to save lots of time you could have all your machines running VM hosted Windows images. Then when one of the images gets infected or otherwise "goes bad" you simply revert to the latest and greatest clean VM image (user data backup is still very important).

DD-WRT and OpenDNS (1)

konadelux (968206) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810026)

Well, this all sounds a bit overkill for childrearing, but as a 26 year old university student who knows exactly nothing about raising children as a single parent, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt.

At any rate, all of the internet scheduling/cutting off can quite happily be done by any router running DD-WRT. Pick up an old Linksys WRT54G somewhere and you'll be fine. Set it up to use OpenDNS to filter any bad sites.

Scheduling of Virus Scanning is obviously a no-brainer as any virus scanner worth its salt will quite happily do that automatically. It's probably blaspheme around here, but for those friends with windows machines that I've had to help fix, I've actually had good luck with Microsoft's own free scanner.

As far as the hardware monitoring/log emailing, maybe just drink a beer on the porch and relax instead. Too much worry is bad for your health.

I for one... (1)

EnsilZah (575600) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810038)

...commend your commitment to teaching your kids how to avoid and circumvent computer restrictions.

Parental controls (4, Interesting)

pvera (250260) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810044)

Both Windows 7 and OSX have parental controls that enforce usage times in a per-account basis, which apps can be run from these accounts, which sites can be accessed, etc. I have been using these with OSX (a good write up at [] ) with my 11-year old autistic boy and they couldn't be any simpler. He can only log into the machine at certain times, and I have the option to set a maximum session time per day. He can only run apps that I approve, and can go to sites only if I explicitly allow them. The bad news is that, at least in OSX, Firefox doesn't respect the parental control settings (Safari does it fine).

I checked with Windows 7 and the parental controls seem to be pretty similar. More at []

My only real annoyance is that Youtube doesn't have real content rating, which makes it a pain to filter properly. My son loves to make balloon sculptures and is always checking for new video tutorials, the problems is that while looking for these, he runs into the videos of the balloon popping fetishists. One second I am hearing a video explaining how to twist balloons into a roadrunner, next I hear a 300-pound woman in a bathing suit giggling and sitting on balloons to pop them. Gross.

Control is an illusion. (2, Insightful)

praxis22 (681878) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810046)

There are products you can buy that are normally used in businesses, that allow you to do key stroke logging, remote snooping the screen, etc. If you're as paranoid as the business that use these tactics on their workers then I'm you can find them with the Google. I don't expect they will be cheap, and they will require a lot of setup, you'd also have to do this away from home for obvious reasons. But if you mistrust your kids that much already I'm sure you're prepared for that.

This sort of thing sounds like it's right up your alley: []

Of course as pointed out above they can be circumvented with the Google too, often by the simple expedient of going to a library, or a friends house. You could of course spy on them there to, by bugging their phone, though of course if you follow down this route you'll work out that locking in their room, and home schooling them under armed guard is the only rational choice. What you're going to do in a few years once they leave home and become adults, (so called) is a different matter.

You could of course just lock them in the basement.

You need Mac Minis or used MacBooks (1)

copponex (13876) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810048) []

Buying a Mac is going to be way cheaper than dealing with viruses on Windows or trying to learn being a Sysadmin on Linux. Buy Mac Minis and cheap monitors/keyboards/mice or pick up a used MacBook or iMac. Look for something that has the extended warranty - hardware failures will be repaired for free. You could even consider getting them an iPad with a keyboard, and only installing the applications you want them to use.

Just keep a local account on each system with a password that they REALLY don't know, create their accounts with the instructions provided above, and you're done. For extra protection, have someone write a script for you that sends an e-mail every time the Administrator account logs in, so you can know if they have figured it out.

Also, don't bother with virus protection. Weekly backups and nightly syncing their documents is a much more realistic and effective option. Pick up a Time Capsule and their computers will backup automatically. Just make sure you restrict their hard drive quota so all of their information will fit.

dd-wrt (1)

bcn17 (1390121) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810052)

dd-wrt will do it. A trusting relationship will too. Although, it may be a good way to catalyze production of tech savy kids. They will figure out how to get around it. :D

Just get them all macbooks (1)

afed125 (1681340) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810072)

Your kids don't want censorship or locked down obsolete computers. That shit will just hinder their education.

Linksys WRTG54L (4, Interesting)

Splab (574204) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810112)

This does most of what you want out of the box.

There is a nice admin interface where you can create profiles based on day of week, per MAC etc. Block certain keywords.

Possible alternative to ex-Stasi agent (1)

Lacrocivious Acropho (741314) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810116)

While I cannot imagine any one product will do all the things you mentioned as requirements, you might find most of the functions available in ClearOS [] (formerly known as ClarkConnect). You manage it primarily from a web-based interface which has pretty good granularity in terms of specific functions for specific users, and of course you can use the linux command line as well. These things are great for parking between the Intertubes and WinOS boxen, and I've been using them since 2003 for home and small business clients. Also, it will run on whatever ancient relic you have stashed in the basement computer graveyard. I have no connection with ClearOS other than as a user.

Get a NAT router, going beyond that is silly. (1)

Toasterboy (228574) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810118)

A decent NAT router will do all the internet control stuff you are looking for, with an interface that isn't too terrible to grok. The rest of what you're asking for starts to crank up the cost and complexity extremely fast, especially for a single parent with three teenage kids...

Really, you don't want to try to set up draconian enterprisy stuff, it's not designed for consumers, will take time to administrate, and will break on you anyway. Network control via NAT router should be sufficient. If the parent wants to be able to physically control computer use too, then set up the clients up with the hard disk in a removable bay carrier. Yank it when you want to deny access to the machine totally. Much cheaper than setting up a domain and controlling access with accounts, and more reliable.

Seriously though, today's popular computing tasks pretty much require network. The NAT router gets you enough control. All other security measures are pointless because the kids have physical access to the machines; it doesn't take much to get Ubuntu running from a USB key with a spoofed MAC address...which negates almost anything you might set up on the clients anyway (and can bypass some NAT restriction configurations anyway).

A decent NAT router will have web access logs, so if the parent is paranoid, they can check up on what websites the clients have been going to, and also block specific sites. If necessary, the NAT router can block communications by port, too, to deny specific applications from working on the network, such as msn messenger, XBOX, bittorrent, or specific game protocols. In practice though, it's a pain to change that stuff all the time.

Technology isn't going to solve the parenting problem of the parent teaching the kids what is and is not appropriate. That requires the parent doing *parenting*. You've already failed if you have to resort to logging, blocking, and physical denial to reinforce consequences for going outside what is acceptable, more than once or twice.

Re:Get a NAT router, going beyond that is silly. (1)

bhima (46039) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810182)

actually I'm sort of surprised at all the complicated suggestions everyone has come up with. Home routers are cheap and do everything the guy wanted.

Don't forbid, educate! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31810130)

First of all may I remind you (parent) that your kid's education is your frickin' job?! Technology is still NOT able to replace good parenting and probably/hopefully that won't be the case anytime soon. Your teenagers will find a way to break your rules sooner or later anyway so why even waste time TRYING to create such a virtual soap-bubble-castle for them? They'll only feel more controlled and repressed and that will eventually lead to more rebellious behaviour from their part - none of you would like it. They're teenagers so just DON'T FORBID them a thing in "their own" home. They're not your slaves, they're still your kids! You (and your kids) won't succeed by using technology as a replacement for a real parent!

TALK and CONNECT to your kids, teach them meaningful ways of using modern technology (or even better let them teach themselves, they probably even know already much more about technology than you do). At this age they won't listen to you anyways but maybe with a little teasing ("You'll get a new computer, if and only if ...") will make them behave for some time. Apart from all of that: Three kids fighting over one 10-year-old computer, in the year 2010, sorry, but that's just plain ridiculous! If you can't afford a life worth living for your kids maybe you just shouldn't have produced them yet.

pf (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810138)

OpenBSD with packet filter + djbdns for dns caching and resolution.

packet filter allows rules to control local NAT and redirection of connections to/from external addresses. But this does not control clients for all of the other functions you are asking, that probably can be done with PCAnywhere or some other VNC.

However it is not a simple task, from 0 to everything works it may take many many days if you have never done it before.

No they don't. (3, Insightful)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810142)

What they NEED to do is supervise what their kids are doing - not leave it up to the server - the kids will get around that SO quick.

All you're doing is giving a false sense of security.

Put the computers where the single parent can SEE the kids using them. And they can see each other. If you start hearing lots of giggling, check to see if they're looking at porn. Also, the kids will snitch on each other if they can see what they're doing.

These aren't little children (3, Insightful)

Brianwa (692565) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810162)

I'm losing some mod points by posting this, but I didn't notice the ages here -- 12, 14, and 15? Let them have some old/spare computers if they want. Show them where to download a virus scanner and tell them that if they break anything, they have to fix it. I don't see what the issue is here. They are going to have homework the requires the Internet anyway, so shutting down access after 10pm and in the early morning is just going to hurt them. By the way, my middle and high schools implemented strict filtering schemes on their networks. We had to put a fair amount of effort into getting around them *not* because we wanted to browse facebook/myspace/b/ at school, but because we often did research for our essays on school computers, and we wanted actual, balanced evidence, rather than the limited and biased crap that the filters let through.

X10 and Router iptables scripts (1)

mache (210555) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810164)

I do four things for my kid.

1. Install X10 controlled electrical outlets that you can control from either a secured (locked up) X10 keypad or from a secured computer interface. Nothing says do your home work like a dead electrical outlet.

2. Using third party firmware on the router, such as DD-WRT, set up iptables scripts that can either block all network traffic to the specific machine, block all Internet, block selected Internet sites, ... using a secured plink call to an on router script (see documentation on ssh and putty).

3. Set up separate non-admin accounts on each machine, one for fun and games and one for home work only. Share document storage area among the two accounts. Never give up admin tot he kids

4. Up to date antivirus software. .

Needless to say, I get lots of push back from my kid and I have not been completely successful in all four. But I have implemented enough so that he is not totally off the deep end (or so I am led to believe).

Being a parent has given me a new appreciation for functioning in a non-deterministic universe.

Good luck

-- Mache

The need for a Linux Home Domain Controller (3, Insightful)

Zombie Ryushu (803103) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810174)

This is one area where Linux amazingly has been lacking. Home Domain Controllers. You can create a home domain controller with features Windows has never dreamed. Its just really really, really too hard. There needs to be a Home Domain controller Application added to most Linux Distributions.

Mandriva comes close to this with the ability to setup fully functional Samba Domains stand-alone only. But if you try and configure OpenLDAP, Kerberos, Squid, FreeRadius or anything else, it becomes a time vampire to get it all working right. And its not that the software is buggy. Its that often, the software is configured badly, and not at all. [] Take a look at this bug I filed.

Windows Home Server from HP (1)

VTBlue (600055) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810196)

//Microsoft Employee Here//

The new versions of Windows Home Server is perfect for what you want to do plus there is a great community of users who develop custom plugins for new functionality. Check out [] has some great prices.

Netbooks (1)

leromarinvit (1462031) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810210)

I'd say get them netbooks and set up a wireless router. It's more useful than a desktop PC and cheaper too. Regarding your desire for control, don't bother. If you want your kids to trust you, you need to trust them. It will work a lot better than exerting draconian control.

And if you really feel the need to punish your children for something by taking their computer away, you can just lock the netbook up somewhere for a day or two.

Show the kids some trust (1)

1s44c (552956) | more than 4 years ago | (#31810216)

How about getting a cheap broadband router and letting the kids chose their own computers?

You are not doing your kids any favors by monitoring everything they do, trust them to use the computers responsibly.

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