It is a bit of a truism in the content filtering and parental controls world that there is only one 100% effective solution to preventing kids from engaging with online content: Don't ever let them go online.
Kids are very industrious, and with a certain level of know-how and permission, they will be able to get around content and time tracking filters. It may be that you are seeing strange things with your family member profiles related to their Insights or Time Limits and suspect that something might be going on, or it may be that you'd like to take a more proactive approach to your home's Internet activity.
How can I tell if my kiddos are trying to get around Circle?
Uncategorized or unfiltered traffic
Perhaps you have noticed that your kid is still able to access the internet after a Bedtime set in the Circle device has passed, or is viewing a website you've set as filtered. In these cases, it's possible your child might be using a tool like a VPN or proxy. If so, traffic will go directly to that service's site, instead of directly to the website being viewed.
What can you do?
In this case, you'll want to make sure that the "VPNs and Proxies" category is set to "Not Allowed". If this doesn't help, it's possible it's a site that hasn't been appropriately categorized as a VPN or Proxy. Please visit www.brightcloud.com and check the categorization of the website or IP address, and submit a report if it's improperly categorized. Note that this tool is used by Circle, but not owned or managed by us, and there is no guarantee the request will go into effect.
The same device keeps joining your network
If you notice the same device repeatedly joining the network (getting multiple push notifications from the Circle app, or seeing duplicate devices in the list of devices), it's possible either the device is utilizing Private Mac Address features, or your kiddo may be using software to "spoof" a new MAC address for their device. Since the Circle device identifies devices uniquely by their MAC address, it doesn't know to associate newly generated MAC addresses with the filters defined for your kids' profile.
What can you do?
It's possible it may be an expression of MAC Spoofing if the devices appear to have similar MAC addresses or IP addresses, or are Unknown Devices. (Watch out for a similar unknown device issue where a JoeyMOC or Hopper device appears in the device list.) This can be hard to combat, but since the symptom is obvious, you know what to look for on your child's devices. Any software that seems suspicious and has the intent of creating or changing MAC addresses should be located and removed.
If you find there is no software located on the affected devices, we recommend checking the device settings to ensure this is not a feature. You can reference our handy guide on how to do so here: "Unknown Devices" Found by Circle
As well, you might lock down the device with an admin account only you know the password for and give your child a standard user account with limited privileges. This will keep new software from being installed. Finally, you can empty your Home profile of known devices and then Pause the Home profile. Any new devices will then be restricted from access to the network. This should stop any MAC spoofing attempts in the future!
CircleVPN keeps getting disabled
There are a few ways to remove the Circle VPN from a device, and we've even documented them on our support site so that you, as the parent, can remove it whenever you'd like. However, in the wrong hands it can be done by anyone. Fortunately, removing the device management profile requires the device's passcode; so having a strong passcode unknown to your child can help in that regard. However, the VPN toggle can be turned off; in that instance, you should get a push notification to your managing devices that will state the Circle VPN may have been intentionally disabled.
Note: There are rare circumstances where the Circle VPN may not connect in a timely manner when switching network or data connections. If this occurs and remains disconnected for over an hour you may get a notification that the device needs attention. This does not mean the Circle VPN or MDM was intentionally removed. Check to make sure the VPN/MDM profile is still installed correctly.
What can you do?
Unfortunately, due to the nature of iOS, there isn't anything we can do to prevent this from happening, and thus we recommend talking with your children about this and establishing family rules and expectations using their devices outside the home.
The Circle device is physically tampered with
In rare instances, we see kids get "crafty" and physically damage the Circle hardware. This can include removing it far enough from the household where it loses pairing with the router; opening the Circle device and cutting wires/circuitry inside; or simply turning off the Circle device (which thankfully sends a push notification to managing devices when performed).
What can you do?
If this occurs, please get in touch with our support team using the contact information below, and we can consider the next steps together.
Profiles or devices are being changed without your permission
Circle 1st Generation
Sometimes kiddos might get access to your Circle app or install the Circle app on their own and request a passcode sent to your device to gain access.
Circle Home Plus
Other times, kiddos may install the Circle Parental Controls app and use your email and password to log into the account. They can do this with access to your email address as well, by resetting the password.
When they do so you might notice changes to profiles that you didn't make. Usually, these are more lenient restrictions like unmanaging a device or delete their profile.
What can you do?
Circle 1st Generation
If this occurs, make sure that your texting number is correct in the Circle app under Menu >> Manage >> Account Settings since that is where the passcode will be sent. Also, ensure that your child has no access to your parent device (doesn't know its passcode) with the Circle app installed. Be sure to turn off message previews on your device so that your child can't request the passcode and see it from your lock screen. For iOS that's changed under Settings >> Notifications >> Show Previews.
Circle Home Plus
When using the Circle Parental Controls app, please ensure your email address password and phone password/PIN are all secure.
Next, put a Lock PIN on the Circle app itself from Menu >> Manage >> Lock PIN. If the issue continues check their devices to make sure they do not have the Circle 1st generation or Circle Parental Controls app installed. Finally, you may need to reset the Circle device and then set up as new to remove any access from apps that have previously had access that you don't know about.
Best practices for enforcing parental controls
One of the best things you can do to make sure your kiddos aren't trying to get around the parental controls you have in place is talk about them. Some good discussion can be had about the following:
- Why do you have these controls in place?
- Why is it important to be careful on the Internet and control how long we're online?
- Why is some material on the Internet inappropriate for a certain age or for your family?
- What kind of ways can your family work together to talk about the Internet and time online?
Even after these types of conversations some family members still might try to get around Circle, so here are more best practices for enforcing the parental controls.
Securing your network and admin device
- Make sure the passcode for your device or the devices that manage your Circle device are strong and not known to your kid. You can also implement a separate passcode within the Circle app itself, on top of the device's passcode settings: see this page for help setting it up.
- For Circle Parental Controls users, ensure the password for your email address used on the account is secure. Also ensure that the Circle Parental Controls login password is secure.
- Change the default password for the admin account for your router's configuration page. Contact your router manufacturer, check its manual or internet service provider for help doing this.
- Some parents have decided to not even mention the presence of your Circle device, and/or to physically hide/secure it in a fashion where it can't be found or accessed.
Set restrictions on devices
One of the best things that you can do is restrict administrator-level access to desktop computers, laptops, etc. and reserve it only for parents in the home. Administrator-level access allows a user to tamper with the basic functionality of the device's networking ability, including how Internet traffic enters the router. With enough knowledge and persistence, kids with admin access to a device can configure it to circumvent your Circle device.
Many kinds of Internet-enabled devices will allow you to create user profiles for individual family members and decide what level of access that family member should have. The process depends on the operating system of the devices, and you can use the links below to learn more about how to set this up on a couple of the most popular operating systems:
NOTE: Not all devices are capable of creating multiple user profiles. Please consult the manufacturer or operating system documentation for more information.
Set controls on your router
As with restricting who is an admin for the Internet-enabled devices in your home, we also recommend restricting administrator-level access to your router. Anyone with admin access to the router can configure how devices in your home connect to the wider Internet, as well as to each other, and these configurations can be used to prevent the Circle device from operating properly on the network.
We recommend only allowing parents to have access to the router's configuration by using a secure login username and password for the router that are different than the Wi-Fi name and Wi-Fi password. If you need assistance with this, please consult with the user manual for your router to find out how to change your administrator login name and password.
Limit access to VPNs and proxies
VPNs and proxies are technologies (both hardware and software) that act as go-betweens to provide security for online activity, protect user identity, and guard sensitive information related to their time online using the Internet. Because these technologies are employed to hide online activity, your Circle device will be unable to filter content while a user employs a VPN or proxy.
Fortunately, Circle is equipped with a VPN & Proxy filter category which blocks access to many common, popular VPN and proxy services. We strongly recommend using this to ensure that your Circle device is able to see your network activity properly.
You can find steps on how to prevent evasion by the use of VPNs and Proxies here: Resolving Evasion Issues (VPNs and Proxies)
NOTE: VPN & Proxy services are constantly changing. While we attempt to keep our system as current as possible, we cannot guarantee that every service is covered. If you encounter one that manages to bypass Circle, please let us know!
Other Security Software and Circle
Seeing a warning on your devices that, "DNS Cache poisoning attack" or "Detected ARP cache poisoning attack"? You might have a security software suite on the device causing this issue (ESET is an example). Disable the security software or make an exception for Circle using the software manufacturer's guidance.
Note about Secure Folders
A secure folder is where you can keep photos, video, files, and apps you want to keep private. Anything that is stored in this folder can only be accessed using a password.
Not to worry, Circle has you covered. As Circle is able to manage the outgoing traffic of a device, you are still able to manage internet activity if it is stored a secure folder. If an app is set as 'not allowed', putting it into a secure will not allow it to access the internet.