Friday 5 September 2014

The Web is Open... But Registration is Closed

Why Stop New Registrations of SafeSearchLock?

To answer this question we need to look at the direction the web is going and what has changed recently. Since the famous scandals concerning 'Prism' and various government agencies around the world snooping on the Internet habbits of their citizens (and those of other countries), there has been a panic over privacy online. This has caused many online service providers to start switching over to http over TLS (Transport Layer Security) also referred to as https. This encrypts the communication between the client (e.g. your web browser) and the server (e.g. the machine delivering the web site).

Web sites such as YouTube and Google now redirect users to the https versions of their sites by default, or even only allow access via https entirely. Google are actively increasing the search rankings of sites which use https over those which don't, no matter what the site is actually used for in a move to make others take their lead. We are seeing this behaviour more and more as other search engines and service providers follow suit.

HTTPS and the Myth of Privacy

Secure web connections using https are often promoted as a way to protect your privacy. This is indeed partly true due to the encryption. Anyone intercepting (or 'sniffing') the traffic will be unable to see what information is being passed. This sounds great BUT there are still two issues with it. The first is that they can still see which web sites you have visited, when and for how long even if they cannot see what information you sent or received from them. The second and most disturbing is that it does not prevent any third parties who have embedded content on the web site from seeing exactly what pages you are visiting and what you are clicking on while you are there. In short, if a web site puts in a tag or two to support things like adverts, analytics or even links to 'Like' this page or share it on social media sites, those companies can still track pretty much everything you do even over https.

A https connection can give a false sense of security for people who think it means they are not being snooped upon. If the web site owner/administrator has put in any content which links to external services then they are basically giving them free reign to monitor where you go on their site and track you if you have been to other sites utilizing the same services.

In conclusion, the move towards https for general web sites and the benefits that are being portrayed by such a move are not all that they seem. Obviously any site or web page which collects personal information or takes payments should always use https and encrypt communications for safety but we should also ensure that they do not contain any content (including links to javascript files or images) hosted by 3rd parties such as advertisers, analytics providers or social media.

Where Does This Leave SafeSearchLock?

The whole concept of SafeSearchLock was based around safety, ethics and doing everything above-board. The software does not send us usage information, there are no backdoors and there is nothing unethical about how it works. We use it ourselves for our own families so would never put their privacy at risk. The way it works is by looking at the URLs and pages you visit and it tweaks various settings and cookies in order to force safe searching (also known as family filters) on. As communication over https is encrypted, SafeSearchLock can only do this when you access these sites over http. Now that sites are increasingly only allowing access over https they can no longer be supported by SafeSearchLock.

There are ways around this. Some 'professional' filtering solutions will intercept the handshaking which occurs when a web browser first talks to a secure web site and the encryption is set up. They can then use techniques such as replacing the certificate of the site with one of its own so the encryption and decryption can be done by itself. When this kind of action is taken without your permission it is known as a 'man in the middle' attack. We class this as unethical, a breach of privacy, a security risk and something which is potentially unsafe. We won't do that.

So, unless there is a u-turn on sites which unnecessarily use https or we can think of an ethical and safe way to enforce safe searching while using a secure connection, the list of supported sites for SafeSearchLock will continue to decrease. The support requests we are receiving related to sites which can no longer be supported are increasing and taking up a lot of our time. This is making the software no longer economically viable. For this reason, and with a very heavy heart, we have decided to no longer accept new registrations. We will still support existing SafeSearchLock users for as long as we can as we have gathered an incredibly supportive customer base.

We have thoroughly enjoyed making SafeSearchLock and helping parents, teachers, guardians and adults all over the world keep their children safer online. Our only regret is that with the current direction that the web is taking, we will no longer be able to help the people who have given us so much praise for the last five years.

Thank you.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

18 countries & counting / Calling all network admins / New version imminent!

Wow, it’s been a while since our last post, but we’ve been very busy!

SafeSearchLock, our smart but simple e-safety tool, is now being used in 18 countries no less! Our users include parents, carers, schools, churches, businesses and various organisations around the world. We can’t begin to describe how proud we are! Thank you to everyone who has installed SafeSearchLock, and to everyone who has been in touch with such positive comments! YOU are what makes it all worth while.

Calling all network administrators, it's not just a SafeSearch Lock!

SafeSearchLock also activates various “self defence” features designed to prevent older ‘tech savvy’ children (or indeed adults!) from disabling it. Consequently a lot of positive feedback we’ve been getting has been from academic and also business users who are pleased that our tool not only universally enforces safe searching, but that it also blocks access to features such as Windows Task Manager / Reg Edit etc… a valuable feature in itself for organisations who don’t want their end users ‘getting under the hood’. A perfect cost effective solution for business and academic network administrators! (Just get in touch for discounted academic / enterprise license pricing).

New developments!

Of course, stopping access to Windows Task Manager has not been ideal for everyone. For various reasons, some personal users have asked us to make SafeSearchLock’s self defence features a controllable option. With this in mind we’re currently working on an update (V1.2), which will, amongst other small improvements, give users the setting option to turn on and off its “self defence” features. As a result this will enable users to choose whether whilst running SafeSearchLock, they also want to disable Windows features such as Windows Task Manager / Reg Edit etc… (Obviously though we would only recommend turning off SafeSearchLock’s self defence features, if you have younger children who won’t have the intent or knowledge to disable it).

Monday 11 February 2013

Problems locking Google SafeSearch recently? Try our universal SafeSearch enforcing tool for free!

Since the beginning of 2013 there’s been quite a lot of chatter from web surfers unable to lock Google’s SafeSearch feature using normal methods (not using our esafety tool, named SafeSearchLock we might hasten to add!). When they try they are receiving a Google error message “Oops. There was a problem locking SafeSearch".

We’ve also received various enquiries as to whether our e-safety tool (named SafeSearchLock), will overcome this problem? Blissfully the answer is YES!

If you are experiencing problems and frustrations using the normal methods of locking Google’s SafeSearch feature, then installing our little tool will indeed fix this. :-)

Not only that, but it will also lock on SafeSearch and Family Safe Filtering in ALL major search engines, including Google (+ Google Images), YouTube, Bing and many many more. (See our main site for the current list).

So if you are having problems with Google SafeSearch, try out our smart but simple universal SafeSearch enforcing tool now for free!

Friday 20 April 2012

Help Us Help You to Help Your Kids

A brief history lesson: SafeSearchLock came about from our own needs. Locking the filtering modes of popular sites to their safest setting in a secure way was something we felt was important for our own children. Then we thought that perhaps this was something other people would be interested in for their children. Since then, SafeSearchLock has evolved way beyond our original ideas into the tool available now, not only being used when children go online but also protecting grown ups too.

What you may not realize is that this isn't just a journey we took on our own - there were lots of people helping us out. These alpha and beta testers came up with great ideas for improvements to make the tool friendlier, easier to use and more secure. It really was a team effort and there is no reason for this to stop. Since it was officially released, new users all over the world have been using SafeSearchLock, praising its simplicity and functionality but we know there is always more to do.

This is where YOU come in. If you have any suggestions for improvements to SafeSearchLock, let us know by using the enquiries form on the main site. We have already improved our neat little application countless times by listening and incorporating suggestions from everyday users. Only a few days ago we were asked if we could make it work with the Dogpile and Metacrawler search engines. Within a few hours of receiving the suggestion we had added support for their sites and automatically updated all of our users with the new features. Of course, there are some suggestions which we feel aren't appropriate for our beloved SafeSearchLock and some which cannot be implemented for technical reasons, but we keep all suggestions on file for possible inclusion in future versions of the software.

Remember, once you have purchased your license for SafeSearchLock, you get all automatic updates for FREE!

Friday 9 March 2012

Protecting Your Personal Information

There has been a growing concern in the last few months about the amount of personal information people give away online. If you haven't thought about it, perhaps you should.

One such worry for the general public is the ability for sites to identify visitors and track their browsing and searching habits using cookies. For example, in the UK the ICO (Information Commissioner's Office) is introducing laws to try and give users the choice of allowing cookies to be set on a site by site basis and forcing sites to inform visitors what cookies are being set and the reason why. Cookies on their own are not a huge issue as they rarely contain personal information themselves. The problem comes when a cookie can be linked to an account held online and when that cookie can be read by any site. Some people don't mind their browsing being analysed so they can be shown targeted/personalised advertising for things they might actually be interested in, rather than random and inappropriate stuff. Personally I feel a little uneasy about anyone being able to track my browsing and know it is me. For example, I don't really want anyone knowing I have an online account with a particular bank - purely for security reasons. The same goes for the site I use to access my Webmail, do my shopping at or do freelance work for. Call me paranoid but I don't think that is anyone else's business but my own.

Do you know how many sites you have given your name, email address or other personal details to? This includes sites you have made purchases from, social networking sites, those running competitions that you have entered, those that have a contact form you have used to enquire about something etc. I'll bet most people have no idea. And when was the last time you checked their privacy policy (if they even have one) to see how the information will be stored and used?

The purpose of this post is just to remind people that the details you give to online services can be used for much more than you might expect. One of the side benefits of using SafeSearchLock means that you can lock on the safe searching and family filters for many websites without having to give them your personal details, create an account, or log in to them. That feature alone has to be worth £2! ;-)

Thursday 20 October 2011

Don't Just Think of the Children

SafeSearchLock isn't just for keeping the kids safe - it can help prevent identity theft and costly visits to your local PC technician to 'clean' your PC. Some 'adult' search results link to unscrupulous web sites that are merely a means to infect visitor’s computers with viruses, trojans, spyware or other nasty surprises. They often rely on the fact that visitors won't tell anyone which sites they have been to in order to get them shut down or prosecuted. There are several ways these infections can transpire, including:
  • Social Engineering. This is where a site pretends that a potentially dangerous file (whether that is an executable, video, document or something else) is safe and legitimate and gets the visitor to click or download it. Even entire sites can pretend to be something they are not.
  • Vulnerabilities. Bugs in web browsers, plugins or other programs that open up content from the web can sometimes allow bad things to run on your computer. This includes files which you wouldn't normally associate with having executable content such as Adobe Acrobat (PDF) files, ActiveX applets and videos. Vulnerabilities in the past have allowed these nasty bits of code to live inside innocent looking files which then get run automatically by the web browser. This is another good reason to always keep your browsers, plugins and operating system up to date with updates and patches issued only by their creators.
  • Third Party Interference. Sometimes web sites get hacked and the contents get changed. If it is a subtle change to files made available to download it can be some time before anyone notices. It isn't always the sites themselves either which are the culprit, there have been several cases in the past where the companies who provide adult banner adverts have allowed nasty code to slip through with the adverts that get embedded into other peoples web sites.
The best way to prevent yourself being a victim of crooked adult web sites is to not visit them. SafeSearchLock can prevent them being found in search engines and therefore prevent them being visited - even accidentally by you or anyone using your computer.

The 7th to 11th November 2011 is the annual Get Safe Online week to raise awareness of internet safety issues. We are proud friends of the campaign so if you want to know more, please click the badge below.

Sunday 2 October 2011

MSI (or MS Why?)

SafeSearchLock is now available as an MSI for our corporate customers.

You may have previously received software which arrived as an MSI file (i.e. a file with the extension '.msi'). This is a Windows Installer file, previous known as a MicroSoft Installer file, hence MSI. There are many features of an MSI but one important one is that they can be pushed out to computers on an Active Directory network. This can be done pretty much silently requiring no user interaction, making it an ideal installation method for schools, other educational establishments and corporate networks. Our custom built MSI allows us to set a default password of the customers choice and also automatically set the 'Start with Windows' flag.

We still recommend the normal interactive installer for single computer users and especially home users. It has the benefit of providing some extra information during the install and the user has more control. However, if you are a corporate user of SafeSearchLock and would prefer a custom MSI installer for it (at no additional cost), please just get in touch.