British Invention Defends Children From Online Threats

"Members of the public are to be congratulated on being sufficiently conscientious to report sites containing images of child abuse to the Internet Watch Foundation and the IWF is to be praised for raising awareness of the issues and its very worthwhile role," says Mark Brooks, International Technology Manager of Manchester-based GSEC1.

"There can be little doubt of the daunting nature of the challenge of policing the web and charging and prosecuting the criminals who profit from the misery of innocents. However, it is a cause worth fighting for and parents should take comfort from the fact that there are official bodies working to keep their children safe."

Parents face the problem of it being impractical to constantly oversee their children's online activities. Potentially damaging online material can take many guises, including websites, chat rooms where grooming can take place, blogs, abusive emails sent by other schoolchildren, and even videos of children being bullied by others taken on their mobile phones - so called happy slapping - and then posted on the Internet

Mark and many of his colleagues at GSEC1 are themselves parents and appreciate the reality of their children wanting to surf, ostensibly for school projects or just to catch up with friends and classmates. Their concerns gave rise to the four year development program resulting in the development of the XGate, a device which monitors real time children's online activity and alerts parents if relevant by email or text message to inappropriate material and/or behaviour in terms of website content, chat room activity and emails and their attachments.

The XGate will:

- flash an alert page (which reads for example ''Your attempt to access the site (for example www.hunks.com) has been BLOCKED by XGate Web Content filtering CATEGORY- Pornography) on the PC screen should a user try to access a website with pornographic content; the page will stay on the screen until the child decides to navigate away from the site

- email or text the website address to parents to advise them so they can discuss with their children later

- block emails with pornographic or bullying content and attachments via its intelligent email filter

- text or email parents if inappropriate or 'trigger' language occurs while their children are in chat rooms and at risk of being groomed; known grooming language includes phrases such as 'sex', 'secret', 'meet', 'mobile phone number', 'age', 'webcam', 'are you alone' etc

- control access to specific websites at pre-agreed times to children, e.g. education websites only between 18:00 and 20:00 for support with school assignments

Mark Brooks explains how GSEC1's XGate offers this level of control: "The XGate features an intelligent web filter, which is a dynamic solution checking against a centralised database containing millions of websites that are constantly updated, categorised and rated according to their content. The XGate comes with a control centre where parents can select websites and email content which is to be off-limits, for example sites with pornographic or bullying content. Should a child then attempt to access such a site the XGate cross references with the dynamic database, identifies that it is prohibited material, blocks the site, generates the alert page and informs the parents.

"In the unlikely event that a particular website requested does not currently appear within the categories listed in the database, the web filter intelligently uses a 'smart' algorithm to rate the website and will block or allow the website accordingly, and also update the central database - all in real time."

Access to the control centre is via a password chosen and known only by the parents so that children cannot override it and change the categorisation. Should, however, a parent want to allow a child access to a site as a reward, for example a specific games website, the parent can enter the domain name of the site in the 'exceptions' section of the control centre and then remove access if they wish thereafter.

"The issue of child security while on the Internet is an ever changing landscape and we believe that it is right that leading organizations in computer security, such as GSEC1, should play their part," adds Mark. "Used safely, the Internet is a wonderful tool for children. The introduction of the XGate enables parents to be in charge of their children's online activities, thereby managing any concerns they may have of the Internet."

Unlike traditional security solutions for home PC users, XGate is not a piece of software that sits on the PC and slows it down. It is a hardware device which plugs into the PC and includes an ADSL modem, enabling the user to safely browse the Internet as fast the connection allows. The XGate retails at £99.95 and is available via Amazon while visitors to www.xgate.com can find details of other outlets.

Key benefits of the XGate approach include:

- it is a unified approach to home Internet security so doing away with the need for the user to buy disparate pieces of software or worry about integration, compatibility and licensing issues.

- A single XGate meets all home broadband Internet security needs and allows up to 4 computers to be connected

- A single renewal relieve the user from tracking multiple software subscriptions

- It's a stand alone device which stops threats before they reach the computer. Unlike conventional security software which will only identify threats when they have actually infiltrated the computer system

- the XGate is currently ADSL compatible as GSEC1's research highlights that the greater proportion of the country has that type of Internet access and so it can offer a wider population of children the protection they need. The next iteration of the XGate will be compatible with cable Internet connectivity and wireless.