December 10, 2018 | Parental control
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Test: Parental Control Software for Desktops with Windows 10 & MacOS

It is natural for parents to secure their children with a seat belt in a car. It ought to be just as natural for them to protect their kids via parental control software when using the Internet and social media. AV-TEST evaluated which parental control products are effective as a digital safety belt under Windows 10 and MacOS for the Internet.

Kinderschutz-Software für Desktops

mit Windows oder MacOS

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In many ways, there are no brakes on child access to PCs and thus also to the Internet and its social media. These days, a child's age practically makes no difference: Flip up the notebook and it's full speed ahead. Worldwide studies have noted that 10 to 20% of children from the age of 6 are already using the Internet daily. The older the child, the more frequent the daily use.

9 parental control products vs. Windows 10 & MacOS internal tools

Microsoft and Apple tout Windows 10 and MacOS High Sierra respectively with internal functions and free add-on tools for parental control. They do work essentially, yet they suffer from rudimentary features. The already published comparison of desktop and mobile operating systems clearly demonstrates this.

But what about special parental control software for Windows and Mac? Does it offer a better safeguard than the basic system protection? Each software has similar functions. This makes them readily comparable. But do the functions also match the threats that lurk for children? The experts from the AV-TEST lab defined 7 danger areas and then evaluated whether the existing functions cover these areas. If this is the case, the criterion was considered fulfilled.

The products Kaspersky Lab Safe Kids and Symantec Norton Family underwent an advanced certification test and also passed with flying colors. Both receive the certificate APPROVED Parental Control Windows 11/2018. The system tools from Windows and Mac were also evaluated in a direct comparison. The other 7 products were only tested in terms of partial functions.

Parental control products are intended to protect against the 7 dangers

  • Protection against cyber bullying
  • Access control to adult content
  • Control of private data transfer
  • Controlling time spent on digital devices
  • Protection from online money traps
  • Protection against online grooming (sexual exploitation)
  • Protection of privacy

AV-TEST explains the test methodology and implementation within the desktop and mobile systems in the first article on the topic of parental control software. That is why the summary of this test focuses on the individual test results of the products.

Danger areas involving parental control software

In the lab, the packages were compared according to the latest danger scenarios

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Website filtering with parental control software

Whereas good software packages offer many filter categories, operating systems do a good job against pornography – but they are indifferent towards everything else.

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Additional control options

Only two paid programs feature an important protection module for social media such as Facebook.

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Reporting functions in parental control software

At first glance, the operating systems have many reporting functions, but behind the scenes, the information is too sparse.

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Danger areas involving parental control software

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Website filtering with parental control software

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Additional control options

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Reporting functions in parental control software

"Leave me alone" – protection from cyber bullying

In terms of well-functioning protection against cyber bullying, the lab expects to have time control as well as protection of the profile and activities via a social media check. Above all, Facebook is a channel very frequently used in this area. It is where chats are conducted, posted and photos are made public. Only the protection packages from Kaspersky Lab and Symantec even offer a control and protection tool for Facebook. There is no such thing in any of the other products or in the operating systems. Flexible time restrictions for the entire device can be set up for all products and systems. Time restrictions for individual applications, on the other hand, are only found on Kaspersky Lab software.

The reporting functions are extremely helpful for parents, as they can obtain a quick overview there. At first glance, many products, along with Windows and MacOS, offer quite a lot. But the quality of the processed information and the additional features quickly separate the chaff from the wheat. An overview of all prohibited actions can be found in Kaspersky Lab, Symantec, Windows, as well as in the packages from McAfee, Mobicip, NetNanny and Trend Micro, also tested. With Apple, there is no summary overview. When drilling down, there ought to be a search function of websites visited and blocked, along with a search history. Likewise, the usage time of individual apps should be recorded, and an overview of apps that have been blocked, yet still clicked on, should be maintained. The table quickly indicates that Apple hardly records anything. Windows 10 is better in this respect. The system does record a lot, but the quality of information is partly very meager. The programs of Kaspersky Lab and Symantec basically do more extensive recording, although Symantec neither blocks applications nor maintains logs on these activities.

To block or not to block – access to adult content

Which websites are children able to access if parental control software is active? To find that out, the systems and products were required to filter out over 6,300 websites with unsuitable content. Afterwards, the goal was to evaluate and provide access to nearly 2,700 suitable websites. This test quickly shows how well children can be protected from improper websites. At the same time, the test demonstrates whether the products overreact, blocking too much suitable content. The parental control packages from Kaspersky Lab and Symantec offer many predefined filter categories, such as pornography, gambling, chats & forums and more. The lab conceived of 10 categories in total, as seen by the table below. As the operating systems are only on the lookout for pornography, they fail on all other unsuitable websites. Some of the additionally tested tools of other providers with parental control features offer fewer categories. Which is why they also filter poorly. Only JusProg and Trend Micro offer several categories. However, the filter rates of JusProg, a software package officially recommended by German government agencies, fails to impress, delivering 10 to 60 percent filter capability in many categories.

In the counter sample, most of the tools properly identify and display over 90% of the websites suitable for children. The rate for Microsoft and Apple is indeed higher, but in fact they are only concerned with the topic of pornography. They are indifferent to the rest.

Filtering websites is one thing, but actually, children shouldn't even find them in a search engine in the first place. For this purpose, there are providers such as Google, Yahoo or Bing, offering the "safe search" function. Many tools automatically activate this function – however, only for selected search engines. This is also the case with the tools of the operating systems. Windows 10 likes everything but Google – Apple, on the other hand, exclusively prefers Google. The certified products from Kaspersky Lab and Symantec can identify the known standard search engines, such as Google, Yahoo or Bing and more.

In terms of reports, the evaluated tools from Kaspersky Lab and Symantec, along with the operating systems, display the visited and blocked websites, along with a search history. Only Apple lacks the last two items.

Control of private data transfer – when children don't think before they act

Children often divulge lots of personal details in the Internet and in social media without thinking about it. The Kaspersky Lab and Symantec protection modules for social media prevent this. The tools of the operating systems are powerless here. Likewise, the entry of previously-defined private details such as addresses or telephone numbers on websites or in forums is not checked or prevented where necessary. Only Symantec is capable of this.

In reality, however, children should not even end up on websites or in forums, for example, that ask for unusually large amounts of personal data. Good website filtering can prevent this. As previously mentioned, this only works in the system tools with respect to the topic of pornography. The certified applications from Kaspersky Lab and Symantec provide more reliable protection, as they prefilter more effectively in many categories.

Finally, the attempt to siphon off personal data should be documented, in that the websites visited ought to at least show up in a report. This is something all the tools are capable of – even those of the operating systems.

Measures against too much digital distraction: control of user time of devices

To prevent children from spending excessive time on the computer, the testers call for good software to provide a suitable control package consisting of time control for device use, a functioning app control, as well as blocking of websites and good reporting functions on overall PC usage.

The usage times, mostly specified by profile, are easily managed on the parental control solutions from Kaspersky Lab and Symantec, as well as on the system tools. Apple and Kaspersky Lab provide the app control capability, including blocking. On the other tools used for comparison, the existence of an app control was not surveyed.  With Microsoft, apps can be globally administered according to age, but not individually blocked. Symantec had to pass on this feature. Which is why Symantec was also unable to log the usage time of apps, a feature that was in turn provided by all others.

With the help of a good reporting function, it can be quickly determined whether a child has accessed many websites to do school work, for example, or only for playing. With the certified protection tools, this function is somewhat more precise and informative than within the operating systems.

Parental control software certification

Kaspersky Safe Kids and Symantec Norton Family passed the advanced test and were awarded certification.

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Kaspersky Safe Kids

The newly-certified parental control package offers many flexible protection functions and good reports

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Symantec Norton Family

If desired, the parental control software keeps track of all prohibited actions and notifies parents

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Microsoft Family Safety

In many cases, the protection tool in Windows 10 only offers the status of on or off – that is not flexible

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Mac Parental Controls

The reports for parents lack detail

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Parental control software certification

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Kaspersky Safe Kids

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Symantec Norton Family

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Microsoft Family Safety

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Mac Parental Controls

Money traps on the Internet

Children are naturally an attractive cash cow, as they are easily enticed. For online games or in gaming apps, for example, digital accessories are often pitched for small sums of money. In order to prevent this, parental control software must be able to also control apps and to block unsuitable websites, such as sites for digital add-on tools. An ad blocker ought to also immediately fend off advertising aimed at luring children onto special websites.

As previously mentioned, only Apple and Kaspersky Lab can control apps. Microsoft can only filter them globally according to the age and the profile, or shut them all on or off. The filtering of unsuitable websites is not possible for the system tools, as they are unable to identify the necessary filter categories. The protection tools from Kaspersky Lab and Symantec are uniquely capable of this. Only the internal tool from MacOS is equipped with a necessary ad blocker – Kaspersky Lab, Symantec and Microsoft don't offer one.

Never take digital candy from strangers

Children often unsuspectingly enter into digital contacts. It is a trait repeatedly preyed upon by adults who with the help of falsified profiles present themselves as a child of the same age. The testers have termed this danger area "Protection against online grooming (sexual exploitation)". This means that strangers curry favor, sending digital gifts and thus trying to extract information from a child. With the right information or embarrassing secrets, children are then blackmailed to obtain nude photographs or more. In order to provide good prevention, parental control should feature a social media tool that controls personal data entry, identifies explicit content such as nude pictures, and logs the entire data transmission, webpage access and other operations.

Only Kaspersky Lab and Symantec offer a useful social media tool in their lineup. A supervision tool for the entry of previously-defined personal details is in fact only offered by Symantec. A tool that analyzes images and can identify their content is indeed technically possible, yet cannot be found on any solution in this test. The reporting functions of the operating systems have hardly anything to report in these cases, as they lack most of the functions for logging the incidents. Kaspersky Lab and Symantec are definitely a step ahead on this score.

Secured privacy – identity theft can happen in the blink of an eye

Most of the attacks in the Internet are targeted towards valuable information, such as access details for banks, shops or other service providers. For these attacks, the perpetrators tend to hide behind other identities, which they have naturally stolen previously. The hacking tools deployed are always quite similar: e.g. infected e-mails, banner ads with malware or counterfeit websites requesting the entry of personal data, access details or passwords.

That is why the experts call for various protection measures within parental control software to counter the above-mentioned threats. This includes a traditional layer of defense against malware, an ad blocker and a function or tool that protects personal data.

The systems from Windows and MacOS have internal tools intended to protect against malware attacks. Windows does indeed use its protection tool, Defender, but it offers neither an ad blocker, nor does it protect personal data. In addition to its tool against malware samples, MacOS also offers a privacy tool and an ad blocker. The applications from Kaspersky Lab and Symantec rely on the user's already using their protection software and deploying parental control as an add-on tool, because they each offer a powerful combination.

Both only offer an ad blocker in their protection packages – not in the parental control software. The so-called privacy tool for the protection of personal data is only offered by Symantec.

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