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I use the same laptop from home for work. When my adult children are suppose to help me at work, they are instead checking their emails, social sites, etc. How can I block all of that while on my work network but have it maintain unlimited access at home without changing the settings everyday? In other words, I would like all of us to not be distracted while at our work location.

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Please edit the question to indicate what operating system you're running on your laptop. –  allquixotic Jul 19 '12 at 15:09

2 Answers 2

Do you have access to work router settings? Some routers have parental controls built in and you can utilize it to block everyone at work from using selected webpages. If you must have control on your laptop you may want to look into dynamically loading hosts file but I'm not sure if it is possible.

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There are software packages you can run on the laptop itself which will prevent the laptop from visiting certain websites or categories of websites. However...

  1. No web filtering software is bulletproof, especially when faced with the persistance and motivation of a teenager / young adult. Your kids are much more tech savvy than you (I can practically guarantee it) and they are very resourceful at finding ways around these content filtering systems.

  2. The most robust filtering software is actually not going to reside on the laptop, but on the network infrastructure at the place where you work. The reason is, most people (even Standard User accounts on Windows) are resourceful enough to figure out how to disable or bypass "local" content restriction software, because the local client is the easiest thing to compromise when you have physical access to the machine. A commonly-cited information security principle is, "if the attacker has physical access to your machine, you've already lost" -- in other words, it's futile to try and keep someone from doing something with your computer if they have physical access to it.

  3. The fact that your "adult children" refuse to listen to your verbal commands to not visit distracting social sites is a fairly good indication of how they would react if you installed content filtering software and asked them not to modify/disable/bypass it. If you can't convince them to be responsible adults without a filter, you can't assume they'd be responsible adults with a filter that is able to be bypassed/disabled. And like I said, a determined user with physical access can bypass/disable local filters.

  4. Even if enabled and working properly, most effective filtering solutions require constant human intervention to remain effective. That's because any content filtering solution that works on a "blacklist" -- in other words, it allows all sites by default unless they are explicitly blocked -- is vulnerable to the "unknown agent" problem. The basic description of this problem is that there is always going to be some host out there on the Internet that your blacklist does not include, but which allows your users to access some undesirable content, whether the site is a generic "open proxy" (allowing the user to access any webpage on the public internet behind the proxy), or a specific site that contains content you don't want them to be able to access. Even if your blacklist contains an exhaustive list of unwanted sites that are available today, who is going to update it when a new service or web host comes online tomorrow that you would want to block?

The ideal solution would be to persuade the administrators of your network at work to install some type of content filtering software on the network box itself, and to make sure that your kids don't know the password to the router. That should at least provide some degree of protection, because a router sitting behind a complex password is much more secure from tampering than a Windows laptop, even if you only give your kids a Standard User account and require admin access to modify the content filter.

Lastly, keep in mind that any content filtering solution is probably going to be "dumb" by default and always keep the filtering enabled unless you explicitly disable it, and vice versa; so you'll have to enable it at the start of your work day and disable it when you get home. This can be repetitive and annoying and I don't know of any products that can automate this effort depending on the network you're connected to -- although I'm sure that would be a very welcome feature that some company may be working on or has already deployed....

I am not going to recommend any specific products by choice, because that'd be a product recommendation, and those aren't allowed here. You can use Google to find a good software product if that is your choice, however.

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