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Spy On Your Kids Using Your Wireless Router [Free Parental Controls]

spy on your kids for free using your routerWhen it comes to ensuring safety and responsibility on the Internet, proper education and a policy of mutual trust and respect are the best policies. But who am I kidding? The web is a vast playground of debauchery and anthropological horrors, and it’s a teenager’s prerogative to occasionally peer over the Gates of Mordor into the land of shadows.  From porn and bomb-building guides to Facebook and Twitter, the Internet is a vast cornucopia of potentially hazardous material. For the most part, I’m of the opinion that a little bit of minor mischief is harmless, and perhaps even character building, as long as they come out relatively unscathed. But if you’re interested in sheltering your child, there’s an equally lavish smorgasbord of parental control and net nannying tools at your disposal.

The logical route for today’s concerned, yet lazy, parent is to shell out hundreds of bucks for some off-the-shelf piece of software that they can install on their kid’s computer. The problem is that a quick Google search reveals a dozen workarounds for even the most expensive parental censoring spy tools. Making matters worse, by installing the software on their machine, you’re immediately tipping your hand by revealing that [A] you are watching them and [B] which tool you are using.

The better way to do things is to take a page out of the government’s book and surreptitiously and warrantlessly monitor all Internet traffic that goes out of your house. This is a better way because it prevents them from using a browser with an Incognito Mode or simply clearing the browser history (perhaps the first thing a mischievous tot learns how to do on the computer). If only there was some sort of gateway that stood between your house and the World Wide Web…oh wait, there is. It’s your router.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to retrieve the web traffic log from a NETGEAR WPN824v2 router and how to block certain websites for selected computers in your house—all without installing a single piece of software on your kid’s computer.

[Note: If you have a NETGEAR router, the steps will probably be similar, but may vary slightly. If you have another router, such as a Linksys, Cisco, Belkin or D-Link router, the steps will look completely different. But I’m willing to bet you can achieve the same outcome by poking around.]

Accessing Your Router’s Settings Page

From any computer, access your router’s setup page by typing in its IP address into your browser window. For me, it’s 192.168.1.1.  Try clicking that and see what happens.

accessing your router's settings page

If that doesn’t work, open CMD.exe and type ipconfig /all and look for the field that reads default gateway.

what's my default gateway?

A Quick Note About Your Default Password

You’ll probably be prompted to enter a username and password. You probably don’t remember what this is. Try admin / password or admin / 1234 or admin / admin  or root / root. You can also Google your router’s model number and “default password.” Once you’ve done that, you should definitely change it. On the NETGEAR page, it’s Maintenance > Set Password

change netgear password

Viewing Your Logs

To get a feel for what we’re working with, go ahead and Click Logs under “Content Filtering.”

view network logs

Initially, this is going to be a bunch of mumbo jumbo. But don’t worry, we’ll make sense of this. If you can already parse out all this info, then great. If not, read on.

What you want to pay attention to in this screenshot are the IP addresses for the Source. This is how we’ll track who was looking at what. Here, we see that all the activity is coming from 192.168.1.6. That’s my computer. How do we know? See below.

Viewing Attached Devices

Click Attached Devices under “Maintenance” to see.

view attached devices on netgear

This lists all the devices that are attached to the router. As you can see, 192.168.1.6 is JACK-WIN7, which is what I named my main computer. PHONEY-BALONEY is my iPhone. HP8D41B1, I’m assuming, is the netbook sitting open on my kitchen table. Or it could be my neighbor stealing my WiFi. At any rate, this is a useful page to remember.

To illustrate, I’ll visit yahoo.com on my iPhone and see if it shows up in the logs:

tracking network activity on iphone
Now, I’m going to hazard a guess and assume that you don’t want to spend your evenings sifting through the log, matching up IP addresses to salacious websites. Luckily, you can automate it somewhat by blocking sites.

Blocking Sites

Blocking sites and services on your router restricts access to certain websites or activity on certain ports. This is a rock solid way to police web activity because it can’t be circumvented from a computer. You have to access the router to change this.

Click Block Sites under “Content Filtering.” Here, you can enforce restricted websites by punching in keywords to add to your  block list. You can choose to block websites according to a schedule (Click Schedule to choose the times/days of the week to block) or you can choose to block them always.

using netgear firewall

Notice along the bottom that you can add a trusted IP address. In this case, I don’t want to block myself from these sites, just my untrustworthy kids. Remember that my IP address is 192.168.1.6, so we can punch it in here to give us full access. Note that this presents a potential workaround, as a clever user could find a way to get assigned that IP. Use at your own peril.

Now, when you try to visit a blocked site, you see this:

blocking sites with your netgear router

Note that one may be able to circumvent this kind of filtering by typing in an IP address directly (for example, to get to Facebook, just type 69.63.189.11 into the browser window). To avoid this, add the known IP addresses to your block list.

Tip: If you want to block all Internet access, say, after 9PM, use the Block Services tab and choose HTTP  from the dropdown. Then make sure you specify the IP address for the restricted devices.

block services with netgear

E-mail and Alerts

Using the E-mail tab, you can have your router email you the logs on a daily/weekly/hourly basis or each time someone tries to access a blocked website.  Or, you can send the logs manually from the Logs page. email alerts for block sites in netgear

Either way, the email will usually show up in your Spam folder, so be sure you filter it correctly.

diy parental controls

What I suggest doing, rather than actively blocking sites, is to set yourself up a Gmail filter that scans your logs for certain keywords and then stars them. This will save you a lot of time sifting through the logs manually and also prevents your suspects from knowing that your monitoring their activity.

diy parental controls roll your own net nanny

With a filter like this, you can get a daily report of your son or daughter’s web activity, as well as a flag each time certain keywords show up. All without them knowing.

Conclusion

Using NETGEAR’s built-in security tools, you can easily monitor all network traffic going into or coming out of your home. The advantage of this is that there isn’t any software installed on your child’s computer, meaning that it’s harder for them to detect and nearly impossible for them to get around. They could use proxy sites, but that’s a pain in the butt and easily picked up on if you look at the logs. The main limitation is that you won’t be able to see any web browsing that’s done on their smartphone or tablet via a cellular data network (e.g. 3G, 4G).

And I want to reiterate that properly educating your kid about safe web browsing activities is the first and most important step to keeping them in the clear on the web. A lot worse can happen to anyone on the web who doesn’t know basic web safety principles. And that goes beyond watching bootlegged episodes of South Park or a risqué CollegeHumor.com video. From viruses and phishing schemes to sexual predators and dangerous misinformation from irresponsible news journalists, there’s a lot out there that can harm your child and your family that can’t be stopped through Big Brother-style monitoring. Your energy is far better spent trying to teach your kid to be a responsible and thoughtful consumer of media.

But if you are ever suspicious that your kid is involved in something way over his or her head, these tools may be able to help you catch it before something disastrous happens.

Okay, enough preaching. Godspeed, you paranoid parent, and happy spying.

,

38 Responses to Spy On Your Kids Using Your Wireless Router [Free Parental Controls]

  1. groovinJackman August 8, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    It goes without saying that this would also work for employees, though I think there are more professional solutions out there.

  2. Jake January 18, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

    I’m having issues figuring out how to use the email function to email my Gmail account but you seemed to have it working for you in your snapshots. Mind lending me a hand?

    • Steve Krause January 19, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

      Hi @Jake – Could you ask your question with specific details in our help forum? – http://answers.groovypost.com

      We should be able to help you out there — and the entire community for that matter will lend me hand in troubleshooting your issue.

      Thanks,

      -S

      • Jake February 16, 2012 at 9:17 am #

        My Netgear router is newer than the one in this article but has most of the same settings. I have a parental controls option where I can set up alerts and logs through email. I’d like to set up email notifications of those logs “when someone attempts to visit a blocked site” to my gmail account but can’t seem to get the settings right. You have a picture above under “Email and Alerts” which seems to use a gmail account to receive those alerts. Any help you can give would be great!

  3. MEH January 20, 2012 at 8:35 am #

    Hi, Thanks for the article. My son was using opera mini browser to get around my parental controls.Unfortunately your article did not help and he can still browse, using this proxy browser. Is there a way of blocking opera mini? thanks

  4. SAMEA March 20, 2012 at 4:10 am #

    Hi, when I try to log in to my netgear router, ii shows only router login info and blocked site loin info, please could you let me know how to set it up to get the login info of all the websites visited.
    Thanks.

  5. Gary April 6, 2012 at 5:48 am #

    So I set all controls and set my new password, i have a Netgear router.
    All my daughter does is press in the little reset button in the back of the router
    and its game over, everything is reset or at least the password goes back to
    admin and i have to do this all over. Its useless!
    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    thanks,
    Gary

    • Steve Krause June 29, 2012 at 10:01 am #

      What you might try is setting up a white list on the browser instead….

  6. MROX April 9, 2012 at 12:19 am #

    I am following the instructions above to be able to view internet traffic on my wireless router (mostly sites visited by my 3 children). I came as far as opening CMD.exe and type ipconfig and looked for the field that reads default gateway as shown in your screenshot.

    For me this line shows up empty. Only Default Gateway and then blank.
    Would you know why this would be. I got my router (Netgear) from our internet service provider. Upon ringing their client service department, I was told that it was probably pre configured by them because seeing the log that I wanted would be totally comprimising my network security.

    I am trying to do everything you say step by step, as it is set out very clearly, though I have no idea what I am doing. Any light you can shed?

  7. tyler May 21, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    if someone resets the router, is all of this erased??

  8. Jimmy G June 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    Okay, First of all, it shames me to see so many comments on this article. I will not even bother to comment on why, but everybody wants to be a spy watching what other people do, let your children Grow up the same way you did, without someone censoring everything they do, it does not work. Yes all they have to do is reset the router and all of your hard work that you set up to watch what they do is gone. Children are curious and they are smarter than their parents today, so please do not go through all this trouble to try to watch where they are going on the internet because they will outsmart you and they will never forgive you for it. I was 11 when the internet was first accessible to me in my house and I spent days looking at whatever I wanted to, and I turned out fine, so don’t bother, just talk to your children.. that is all you have to do.

    • joe June 29, 2012 at 9:40 am #

      really, jimmy? how many kids do you have? do you take them to times square and drop them off, and tell them ‘i turned out fine, so will you?’ likewise don’t expose them to all that is on the internet. it’s much much worse.

      • mysticvortex13 August 11, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

        um, no. it is not. the internet can only affect what happens in real life if A: they are emotionally sensitive to popular opinion or B: they know nothing about the dangers of social sites and/or havent heard it to be inadvisable to use your real identity on the internet.

        i know this because me and my friends having been teens ourselves is still fresh in my memory.

        we adults take one glance at their apparent recklessness and instantly dismiss any shred of redeeming wisdom or humanity they have as non existant, when in fact, on average, we’re none the wiser than they are.

        actually, for that matter, they oftentimes know far more about the subject than we do.

        let me ask you this: do you consider YOURSELF in danger of abduction or some other harm of person on the internet? if not, why them? wisdom works in such a way that if one possesses it, knowledge and experience become slightly less relevant.

        knowledge is knowing a tomato is technically a fruit, wisdom is inferring that it’d probably taste terrible in a fruit salad. experience comes in more ways than just age, even if it is responsible for fueling both wisdom and knowledge.

        on top of all that, if we spy on them or block their sites, we not only will lose our children’s trust, we will also be inadvertently encouraging them to do these kinds of things all the more, perhaps even going so far as to actively hunt them out in real life instead of using the internet.

        instead, i recommend finding a way to inform them of the potential dangers of these actions, so that they can make good decisions of their own accord. granted, if you approach them directly they might not be inclined to listen but you gotta do what you gotta do..

        do not listen to this article’s bs. invocation of the word “responsibility” implies there’s something good about removing the freedom of your child. there is not. it will NOT keep them any safer than if you didnt.

        its so terrible i even feel like quoting the bible, despite being an atheist: “woe be unto him that call evil “good”, and good “evil”, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.”

        in other words, this article, like the criminal “justice” (revenge) system, and religion, pretends to be acting in the best interest of society while secretly encouraging you to strip people of human rights.

        what is purely of fiction cannot poison the mind. only what is factual, or at least partially thereof, can do that, for the healthy human mind inherently knows the distinction between the two.

    • Steve Krause June 29, 2012 at 10:01 am #

      Hi @bb6138a0b7ad8a29c3d26c78beb7f4da:disqus. Thanks for the comment however I’m with Joe on this one. I don’t agree with you at all.

      Sure, children do need to have freedom to learn and grow however I wouldn’t be doing my job as a parent if I didn’t work hard to protect their young minds from garbage on the internet including violence, porn etc… There’s a reason I let them watch Curious George vs. Debbie does Dallas.

      Looking back to when I was a kid (80’s and early 90’s), yes there was a lot of trash out there however however it was very hard to access vs. just flipping on the PC and typing a simple query into Google.

      Now looking forward I plan to loosen my control over both their online and offline life however as it stands today, I keep a tight grip on what they are exposed to. After all, that’s my job.

    • Max February 17, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

      I agree with you. I had and still do have messed up internet searches, but im perfectly fine.

  9. Kat July 16, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    The only problem with tutorials such as these being on the net for parents, parents must also be aware that there are such tutorials for their kids to undo these blocks. There are better ways to do this, such as merely blocking certain keywords without the spying on content. Tell them you’ve done it, and say they can ask you to unblock content if they want/need on it (for example: blocking sex-related terms can block biology sites they may need for research. I’ve had it happen to me.). It also does not hurt to have the computer somewhere easily visible that you, as parents, can regularly walk by.
    But be aware: at some age they will find those things you tried to hide. they will access porn, they will find the violent pictures. It will happen eventually, so don’t keep insisting they stay as sheltered as they were at 12 when they reach the age of 17.

  10. Kristina August 6, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    Mount the router on the ceiling out of reach. DUH. ;)

  11. Miliroxx28 October 14, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    >:) Parents are IT professionals, and I felt like this was necessary to give them a “taste of their own medicine” xD

  12. Christy March 3, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    Hello! I am the biggest idiot when it comes to computer anything I swear..lol..your post was very educational. I have a very insecure boyfriend who is always spying on me and checking to see if im being unfaithful. Time and time again he will gain access to my emails or facebook and I finally think Ive figured out how hes doing it.
    My question is, if I go on facebook while connected to our wifi from my cell phone will he be able to access my facebook directly from the traffic history or does the history show any of my passwords I use

  13. Netto Cash March 7, 2013 at 1:11 am #

    First, this is not a page out of the government’s book as you like to put it. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP), the company you pay for internet service, would be the culprit monitoring you.

    Couple of things about router logs…

    1) this is VERY basic monitoring.. that fails to identify websites that use shared hosting or that do not reverse dns to the websites domain but instead the actual hosting domain which is pointless since most hosting admins honor their clients privacy

    2) router logs also are worthless if person uses one of the 1000s of web proxies available fast n free (proxy dot org)

    3) router logs expire quick so you wont always know what IP they visited unless you monitor them 24/7

    this method of monitoring is a complete waste of time, thankfully I had enough sense to skim through it, rather than waste my life reading this worthless tutorial

    If you want to monitor people with your router, your best bet is to get a program like “dsniff”, its for advanced users only, but its certainly more effective than your router firewall. Honestly, understanding computers is not for everyone. So don’t beat yourself if you cannot setup dsniff. Just pay a professional to do it or find an alternative to spying

  14. Ty March 24, 2013 at 5:38 am #

    This is rather ineffective to be honest. Not only have to watch for router tampering, proxies, but could just connect to an open router. Ipod touch anybody?

  15. Laurence Cope April 17, 2013 at 2:01 am #

    Netgear Router stats and logs are so basic they are rubbish! What Netgear should do is provide a historical graph of network usage per device so we can see how much traffic and when each connected device uses. At the moment our internet in the office is slow and I have difficulty knowing what machine or person is using it.

  16. jlkxv May 25, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

    Need software to monitor all router traffic in real time, needs to be 100% free, please give link

  17. James Smith May 30, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    Before I start I would like to say that im turning 18 within the month and I only want access to sports, games, and youtube.

    Hi, im looking to get around the netgear live parental controls that my parents have set up. However, I would like to do it in a way that would allow me access the internet without their knowledge. They use the account frequently, but would never check the logs.

    I have tried to find passwords throughout their computers and came up with nothing. I also tried to put in my computers ip adress into the browser window and was propted for a username and password once again.

    any help would be appreciated,
    James Smith

    (If you want to post regarding anything in the nature of listen to your parents, please save your breath. I don’t need a life altering post that could forever change the way I look at life. Thanks you unaproving parents/people for backing away from your keyboard)

  18. James S June 25, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    Is there a way to block the undesirable (according to me, the mom) parts of Facebook? Or do I have to block the whole site?

    • Steve Krause June 25, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

      yeah… not a super easy problem to solve because you will never stay ahead of the undesirable areas. Better to whitelist the sites your kids can visit vs. try to blacklist the ones you don’t want the kids on.

  19. Dj Thomas July 20, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    Does the log show the specific page that my child is using or just the name of the website

  20. Shelley August 2, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    I can get to the weblog page no problem, but how can you decipher the log into an actual website? Here is an example of what I am looking at.
    [DHCP IP: 192.168.1.107] to MAC address 94:39:e5:0a:98:3a, Friday, August 02, 2013 07:06:33
    How do I get to the webpage from here?

  21. Angela September 29, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

    I’m following all this but i don’t see the log tab or the one for the devices

  22. Max February 17, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

    I laugh at you over protective parents. I have watched porn for many years and i have not changed or been screwed up from it. I turned out fine and my one friend who drinks a lot and does drugs had over protective parents. Give your child some freedom.

    Remember parents, kids are always 2 steps ahead.

    Look up “The Silk Road” thats what you should look out for.

  23. The Kid That Knows February 23, 2014 at 2:34 am #

    I’m a kid, and I have a wireless router, and when I read this, I started to freak out (i got on all the websites that the asshole publisher of this howto is afraid of) and I decided that I needed to learn how to access all of this before my parents, so thanks to Jack Busch, I figured out how to access my routers main page, and when I needed to log in, I read the access code on the router, logged in, changed the access code, then I deleted the router log, and I no longer needed to worry, since I now have control over the router, I don’t need to worry about any of this “parental control” shit anymore, I can spy on my family with the router logs, and when i’m finished reading them, I can delete them myself, and if any websites are blocked, I can unblock them myself, and I can even listen in on their private phone calls using my router, and since I know the password, it cannot be changed by anyone, other than me, I know that my ISP knows everything I do online, but I also know that my ISP cannot share any of it, unless they are ordered to do it by court, and I don’t do anything illegal online, neither does any of my family members, so I won’t have to worry about that, and if any spyware is installed, I could always uninstall it, anyways, I feel like an NSA agent, being able to spy on my family is really fun and interesting, but it’s not all just to be bad, it satisfies my curiosity, and now I know what to get my mom for her birthday. :) But seriously, stop trying to keep us kids “safe”, I don’t do anything online to get worked up about, but I do get on some really “embarrassing” things sometime, and if my family knew about this, it wouldn’t do any good for me at all! So please stop trying to spy on us, unless you have a really good reason for it, other than to just be an asshole, although if it wasn’t for this, I never would have gotten steps ahead of my parents in such a way. Thank you Jack.

  24. Brian June 1, 2014 at 7:17 am #

    Easy there, kid. All your family would have to do is hard reset their router (something a trained monkey with a paper clip can do) and your megalomania would come to an end. Or call an IT professional, which is more likely.

  25. lloyd June 18, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

    hi! can you help me to do that but using zyxel router please?

    thanks..

  26. mike June 19, 2014 at 12:07 am #

    Does it pick up history from apps like instagram that my kid uses a lot?

  27. Jeffrey July 12, 2014 at 12:32 am #

    It sure does Mikey ;-)

  28. Sarah August 12, 2014 at 10:47 pm #

    I have a gmail account I am trying to get logs sent to and it is not working. can anyone help. im using “smtp.gmail.com” as the outgoing mail server.

  29. Zidan October 23, 2014 at 8:42 am #

    This is wrong on so many levels…even the title of this article seems like it’s trying to get people to realize how wrong this is, but it’s serious? Parents, I am dissapointed.

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