The best FREE parental control software

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Recently I was assigned the task of finding and installing a good parental control program on a laptop that was being given to a 13-year old boy as a birthday present. Since my children are both adults now (wow, it’s a little weird to write that), we really don’t have a need for that type of program in our home any more. So, I started to do the research and tested a few programs. I came up with one that I think will meet the needs of most families. Best of all, it’s FREE.

The program is called K9 Web Protection and is available for download here. To get the free download, you have to fill out a brief form and they email you the license key which is required in the installation process. Also, during the install, you have to come up with a password that only YOU (the parent) will know. Choose one that your child would never guess, but that you would remember. After the installation, you have to reboot your computer.

Once you restart, the program is running and you really don’t need to configure it initially. I tested it by going to a few “normal” sites: – site loaded normally, although I saw no images or ads (but this may have been due to the AdBlock Firefox add-on; I rarely see ads on websites anyway). – the front page loaded fine, but when I clicked on the “Entertainment” category, that page was left blank (I think this was an issue with the site, not a block from K9) – page loads fine, but search results may or may not be accessible.

Then I tried some sites that have some good content, as well as some content that you may not want your kids to see: – as you probably know, this site has some wonderful videos and it also has some pretty awful ones. K9 blocked it. This is what you see (you can click on the image to see it full size):

You also have the option to change the settings for this particular site for 15 minutes, or you can authorize the site permanently:

But, as you can see, any special authorization requires the password. This is a good feature, because there may be a legitimate reason your child needs to see a particular video on YouTube. In any event, what he or she is seeing is only by your authority.

I browsed the web for quite some time, and K9 didn’t really hamper my ability to use the internet the way I normally do (I did have to manually authorize the StumbleUpon function, but that makes sense too).

The next question of course is, “That’s great – but my kid is pretty good with computers, so he/she could probably just disable the K9 program.”

I don’t think so.

The first, most obvious thing to try is to just turn off the program. If you hit Ctrl + Alt + Delete, the new window that opens is the Windows Task Manager. The K9 program won’t show up under the Applications tab, but if you click the second tab over, called Processes, you will see it in that list. It is called “k9filter.exe”. If you click once to highlight the program name, and then click the button that says “End Process”, that is supposed to just shut down that particular program and you go on your merry way. At least that’s what would NORMALLY happen.

If you try to “End Process” the K9 program, you run into a problem. When you click the button, the process does seem to end. But so does your ability to connect to a website – ANY website. It’s like you aren’t even online. In order to get back the ability to see any websites, you have to restart the computer. And of course when you restart the computer, you are also restarting the K9 program.

What about just uninstalling the program? Any kid knows how to do that through Control Panel. Well, not so fast. Uninstalling K9 requires the password that only you, the parent, have memorized. So that won’t work either. I would feel pretty safe with this program guarding my child from the nasty stuff that’s on the net these days.

Just one slight downside – since all web pages that are viewed on your screen have to first pass through the K9 server and be approved, you may notice a slight slowdown in website loading speed. But this is negligible, and well worth it for the protection that it provides.

Is this type of software review helpful? If so, is there any particular program (or type of program) that you would like to see reviewed here? Please let me know in the comments section, just below the video.

This week’s video is not funny. It’s actually a commercial. It’s pretty sad, and it will make you think.

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ONG Eng Ju
July 14th, 2008

Dear Scott,

I would say that installing new software is the 2nd-most dangerous thing you can do you a computer (the 1st-most dangerous thing is uninstalling old software). In my mind, I therefore think that a piece of software meant to handle uninstallations would be very useful.

There is a free software for doing uninstallations called “The Simple Uninstaller”, but I can’t find any reviews for it. The website for downloading the software is

Would you be able to do a review for it?

With regards
ONG Eng Ju

Scott Johnson
July 14th, 2008

Thanks Ong – I will look into that.

July 15th, 2008

Another tool for parents is Open DNS, also free. Very much worth a look, if you haven’t already.

Scott Johnson
July 15th, 2008

Thanks JB!

Roger Harrison
July 18th, 2008


Thank you for the nice review. My team at Blue Coat Systems develops K9 Web Protection, and we are very happy that we have been able to make it freely available for home users.

You mentioned one potential downside for K9: That because web “all web pages that are viewed on your screen have to first pass through the K9 server and be approved, you may notice a slight slowdown in website loading speed.” You are correct in your conclusion the overhead for this rating request is negligible. These rating requests almost always take under 250 milliseconds, and the response is then cached by K9 for the next 24 hours, so subsequent requests to the same site require no overhead at all for ratings. I run K9 on a couple of old 600MHz Pentium III boxes at home with no noticeable degradation of browsing speed.

Best regards,

Roger Harrison
Director of Data Quality
Blue Coat WebFilter/K9 Web Protection

Scott Johnson
July 18th, 2008

Thanks for the input Roger – and thanks to your team for developing this software to protect our children from the dark and nasty side of the internet. It’s great that you can offer it free for private use.

July 28th, 2008

I can’t find Accessibility Options on my Control Panel (XP).

December 3rd, 2008

Only stubbled across your site today. I am searching for a “parental filter” program. Within a month, I just downloaded [and paid for] AVG Internet Security [just read a previous post of yours…it didn’t say why “not to select IS vs. 8.0”] after several attempts to install its Firewall. I am an adult [not a 13 year old] but want to still make myself unaccessible/accountable to going to certain web sites. Is K-9 still your recommendation? Thank you in advance and I’m “Favorite”ing your site!

Scott Johnson
December 4th, 2008

Yes, I do still recommend the K9 software. Good luck!