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My wife has decided to get the kids a set of android tablets for christmas. These are Coby Kyros 4GB wi-fi only models. The kids are ages 6-10 so I don’t particularly want to let them have free reign of the internet or the app stores. I also want to make sure the tablets are protected from the various forms of malware.

Ideally I would like to be able to establish a white list for the websites they are allowed to visit, and make it so that they are not able to add any apps or modify the white list without parental intervention. However I am not familiar enough with the android platform to know where to start on any of this.

Google has helped me find out that apps exist which claim to be able to restrict access to other apps, but almost all of them have comments indicating that they are very easy to bypass. Likewise I have been seeing mixed reviews as to the effectiveness and value of the antivirus options that are out there. So far I have not been able to find anything about building a whitelist, or restricting content accessible from the web.

So I am asking for suggestions as to specific topics/apps that I should be reading up on, and/or other approaches that I can take to reach these goals.

EDIT: I should note that this model does not come with the android market pre installed, it has some third party app store on it. It does come with an apk manager installed, and I have played with one of them enough to get the market and gmail onto it. So I should be able to get most anything installed/removed if I can figgure out what it is I actually need to do.

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5 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

As I noted in your other thread, your best bet is probably to manually set a web proxy server via the devices network settings that filters by keyword or whitelists. Even if they do go to another person's house or try to get on another network, they will be unable to browse (especially if you are hosting the proxy server yourself on your own network; in that case, they most likely won't be able to browse to anything at all).

From wikipedia:

In computer networks, a proxy server is a server (a computer system or an application) that acts as an intermediary for requests from clients seeking resources from other servers. A client connects to the proxy server, requesting some service, such as a file, connection, web page, or other resource available from a different server. The proxy server evaluates the request according to its filtering rules. For example, it may filter traffic by IP address or protocol. If the request is validated by the filter, the proxy provides the resource by connecting to the relevant server and requesting the service on behalf of the client. A proxy server may optionally alter the client's request or the server's response, and sometimes it may serve the request without contacting the specified server. In this case, it 'caches' responses from the remote server, and returns subsequent requests for the same content directly.

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The overall outlook is not so great for you, AFAIK.

The Market has content filtering, check the Settings in the Market app.

For the browser, that's a wholly different kettle of fish. The built-in browser doesn't have any kind of filtering available. 3rd party browsers might, but they'll be trivial to sidestep (by simply opening the built-in browser).

The next best thing you can do is filter the tablets at the router, if it allows for that. However, that's only useful when they're at home (or other places where you can control their internet connection).

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Yeah, setting up filtering on the router did occur to me. But as you said it falls apart as soon as they leave the house, or figgure out how to link into the neighbors connection. –  Rozwel Dec 8 '11 at 17:34
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You should also be able to change the hosts file on the device: /etc/hosts –  Bryan Denny Dec 8 '11 at 21:06
    
@BryanDenny: Only if the device is rooted. In which case, it might also be possible to remove the built-in browser. –  afrazier Dec 8 '11 at 21:24
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This isn't really manageable from a technical perspective (you could go some way towards it by sorting out your own firmware, using something like Cyanogen) as we often point out over on security.stackexchange.com once an attacker (in this case, your children) have a device, they control it.

So, my alternate course of action would be as detailed in this question over on parenting stackexchange - start off with visibility, using the devices together, and education - that will go much further towards making your children safe than any technical control you can implement.

What I have done with my 3 (now 5, 9 and 11) was let them use computers in the main room while we were there (aged 3 - 5) and then unsupervised until about 8 (but knowing we would be walking in and out) and over 8 year's old I trust them not to be stupid.

It helps that their dad is a security and privacy specialist who often provides awareness training in this area :-)

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+1 User education is an important step, but the tablet's nature as portable, concealable devices means the "we are walking in and out" bit doesn't work as well, sadly. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 9 '11 at 18:56
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Use OpenDNS on your router at home. As long as they are accessing the Internet from home then you can whitelist or greatly restrict what sites they can visit. I use OpenDNS currently to restrict my children's access with the browser on their Nintendo 3DS. Since it is at the router level it doesn't require any support at the device level.

If they are accessing wifi outside the house then there isn't much you can do - for example at the library. But they could just as easily use an unrestricted computer at the library instead of the restricted tablet.

If you can remove the app store from the device, and then just manually install the apps you want them to use, that is probably the best way to go. You will be pretty close to a walled garden.

Additionally I would suggest you perform an "audit" on the devices weekly or at least regularly. Check out what is installed, and look for any worrying activity, or lack of normal activity. Also use that as a chance to talk to the kids about the devices and see if there are new apps they want you to get for them. If you install a new game or something every time you audit their tablets then they will be looking forward to it! Actual communication generally trumps technology.

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I was going to suggest the same thing. +1 –  halr9000 Dec 13 '11 at 19:17
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Try using Surelock And Surefox. They will lock it down and give you a white list provisioning.

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