There has been a trend for some time whereby creators of parental controls software use the internet much more actively as a tool for monitoring and setting limits on what children can do online. This began as simply a means to send information via email when certain restrictions were breached, but increasingly the software installed on a PC now works as a very simple client with the real work being done via a web site.
This was true of Sentry Parental Controls which we reviewed recently, and also applies to Forensic Software's CyberSentinel. During installation, parents need to set up an online account before downloading CyberSentinel, a small application that then records and transmits data that can be accessed via any computer connected to the net.
Once the CyberSentinel is installed - a very simple process - the user logs onto the CyberSentinel website to configure access. The essentials that one would expect are all in place: inappropriate web sites can be blocked, as can chat and instant messaging, and all outgoing and incoming information is monitored. In addition, times for internet access can be limited in CyberSentinel to specific hours via the site without the need to set anything else up on the client PC.
If there is a problem, CyberSentinel emails you immediately. What's more, it will take a desktop snapshot of the PC under surveillance, which can be accessed when you log onto the site, along with records of all recent activity. Key words are stored in an online library, which you edit and update as you require.
The CyberSentinel client application can be run visibly or in stealth mode (Forensic Software, quite rightly, recommends the former). While this can appear a little heavy-handed - the child has to agree to a usage policy before being able to access the net - it also means that the important task of creating responsible use for using web sites, chat and instant messaging can be established from the outset.
Ease of use is key here, and CyberSentinel is flexible enough for most needs, although its features are not quite as extensive as some other programs. In particular, while very good at monitoring online use, there is no obvious way in CyberSentinel to control access to such things as applications on the PC - although computer games in particular may contain questionable content, especially of a violent nature.
As with all applications of this type, payment is via annual subscription. CyberSentinel pips Sentry at the post here, at £25/year, and CyberSentinel does include licences for five PCs in the price. If you have more computers around the home that you want to monitor, then CyberSentinel may be the preferable option, but if you would like more options to configure how your children use a computer, Sentry Parental Controls eases ahead.