NetBlox Hardware Filtering Solution Is Easy to Bypass, Challenging to Configure

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Keeping the kids safe on the internet is big business. Whether you select a service, locally installed software or hardware options – you’ve got several choices in each category. A few weeks ago I received a NetBlox hardware device for review.

Image: Zort LabsImage: Zort Labs

Image: Zort Labs

NetBlox is from Zort Labs. You put the device on your physical network between your internet connection and your router so that any device going through your internet connection goes through the NetBlox hardware. With the hardware filtering option there’s no software to install.

Besides the initial concern that hardware devices are easily bypassed, the set up was very easy. After the physical setup, you go to a webpage to craft your unique configuration of the device.

The configuration of the NetBlox hardware is very customizable.

  • You can block different categories of content
  • You can block different sites based on keywords
  • You can filter web traffic from certain countries.
  • You can block different games or set time limits for online gaming. (The gaming list did seem limited and I’m unsure if the list changes/grows over time.)

I set out to customize my filtering and selected the following web filtering categories: Advertisements (adware), Criminal Skills, Extreme, Matchmaking, Pornography, Proxy Anonymizers, and Weapons. For the keyword block – pornographic (easy to define), other categories (without definitions) profanity, drugs, evasive, and predator. Definitions for a couple of these would have been nice to see if my definition of some of these keywords matched with the NetBlox definition of the keywords.

So with everything configured, I started my testing. Initial call to the website seemed slower than without Netblox – certainly slower…it took Google several seconds to load. The more obvious websites were blocked as expected, so I started doing some research for a project I’m working on. Besides the slowness of my internet connection, that’s when some interesting things started showing up.

Image: screen capture by Russ NeumeierImage: screen capture by Russ Neumeier

Image: screen capture by Russ Neumeier

If you read Recycling Old GeekDad Posts you know that we started composting this year in preparation for a larger home garden next year. I googled “compost” and got blocked. So now I had to go back to the configuration of the NetBlox hardware and figure out what caused the filtering of compost. One. Setting. At. A. Time.

Turns out when I did keyword filtering on “evasive” is when I could not view sites in Google relating to “compost” — what’s evasive about compost? Again, definitions would have been helpful, so I unselected evasive and returned to my work on the slow(er) connection.

The family already complains that the computers in the house are slow…so introducing a slower network connection to the family (and according to PC Magazine I’m not alone in seeing a slower connection) and adding the unpredictability of NetBlox would simply incite a riot.

Also, at the time of writing this GeekDad post, the http://www.netbloxworks.com site has been down several days. After an inquiry, I got the following back from Zort Lab’s strategic advisor:

Hello – Regarding the NETBLOX site, the company is undergoing extensive internal technical review and does not have a date in which operations will be back up. They reached a place where it became critical for them to not only do what they claim they do, but also have a complete understanding of what will make the product better and truly superior within the market place, as well as, precisely what they currently have. Thank you.

I understand the need to do this – but to pull the site down without any notice to anyone trying to get to them? Interesting business strategy (and not in the good way).

Wired: lets you block a country’s website. Lets you set time-limits on IM/Chat functionality. Very customizable filtering.

Tired: one more device to plug in and use energy, no definitions for keyword filtering, strange filtering/blocking, easily bypassed by anyone with a general networking background.

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