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Jun 22, 2009

Review: Netblox for Webfiltering

When a corporate IT department wants to control employee Web surfing, it installs a Web-filtering appliance. Manny can't spend all day on Facebook, Moe can't obsess over fantasy football, and Jack can't offend his coworkers by surfing for porn. The IT guys don't have to manage client software on every PC, and employees can't subvert the filter without physical access to the hardware. Zort Labs' NETBLOX ($149 direct; $75 per year after first year) offers the same kind of protection for broadband-equipped home networks. The hardware element gives it capabilities beyond any software-only solution, but its user interface and software feature set need serious work.

Installation couldn't be simpler. Unplug the Ethernet cable that comes from your broadband modem and plug it into the NETBLOX, then insert the NETBLOX's cable into the now-empty port in your PC or router. That's it.

Before the device will do anything, you have to register and configure it online. Thereafter, you can control the configuration and view reports from any Internet-connected computer. Once configured, NETBLOX offers almost all the features you'd expect in a parental-control system, including Web filtering, Internet time scheduling, instant-messaging control, e-mail notifications, and remote management. Alas, a closer look shows that many of these features aren't as effective as their all-software counterparts.

Universal Web Filtering

There's one serious advantage to Web filtering with a network appliance. There's no software, not even a small client like that used by OnlineFamily.Norton. There's no required OS, either; the hardware filters Internet traffic for Windows, Linux, Mac OS, or whatever. The Internet-connected device doesn't even have to be a PC. NETBLOX can filter Internet traffic going to your Wii, Xbox, DSi, or any other device that accesses the Internet via your home network.

The online configuration system lets you configure NETBLOX to block 39 categories of unwanted Web sites. For each category, there's an explanation of what is and isn't filtered. The descriptions help you decide which categories to block, but they also make a list that you have to scroll for many pages. Settings are stored online and take effect immediately on the home network.

Like the free K9 Web Protection, NETBLOX can't be configured differently for individual users. Everybody gets the same treatment, from toddler to teen to grandparent. That's terrible! As the parent, you can override site blocking by entering your PIN. You get odd choices for duration of the override: 10 minutes, an hour, a month, or a year! Since your override affects all users, keep it as short as is reasonable.

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