McGruff SafeGuard Review
McGruff SafeGuard is advertised as a free program. And the basic version is free, but then again so are Vista's parental controls. The free version only logs activity for the past 24 hours and lacks parental control features such as MySpace monitoring, weekly summaries, website blocking, and email activity. This will cost you $8.49 for three months, $7.49 for six months, or $119.00 for a lifetime subscription.
Like Bsecure, McGruff does not get along well with Windows Vista's User Account Controls. In fact, it asks you to deactivate it. While some users may be comfortable with dispensing with Vista's various application warnings, we think most users benefit from this functionality. Since plenty of products we tested do fine with the UAC, this gives us some pause.
Most of McGruff SafeGuard is managed through a web-based control panel. This has its advantages and disadvantages. Frankly, we're more comfortable with a solution that offers both, particularly since parental control software can potentially knock out your web access if not configured correctly. The web-based panel reveals a vast number of options for both control and monitoring. McGruff takes an interesting approach to its software. For one thing, it seeks to educate parents on web-speak that teens may use, including emoticons and acronyms. It also leverages community reporting features, allowing parents to give and read feedback on reported sites. There's also a method for reporting child predators.
On the circumvention front, McGruff SafeGuard was not the best. We were able to get around the site blocking in three fairly easy ways. On the plus side it really excelled at blocking images in web mail and through Yahoo! Messenger file transfer. Although it didn't always seem particularly smart about what it refused, and it seems that SafeGuard may render all downloaded files unopenable, regardless of the filename or content.
McGruff SafeGuard's site filter was interesting. It does not block search terms, and it allowed us to turn off safe search. Of course, even then it employs its own site blocking, and it was all over the map. In our false positive test it blocked a number of sites concerning "Enola Gay," the World War II Bomber. It blocked at least one innocuous site related to the classic philosophy text "The Gay Science." It was correctly permissible with sites related to "sex linked differences," and "chicken breasts" were also allowed. It tends not to like Wikipedia, however. Its link to an article on "Nazis" was blocked just as was the homepage of the American Nazi Party. But it did detect most porn sites we tried. There's no way that we could find to block or unblock specific categories, though you can block or unblock specific websites.
The conversation reporting on Yahoo! Instant Messenger worked fine, but we did not receive an alert when sending or receiving prohibited info, nor did it ever block information we asked it to. On the other hand, its Facebook monitor seemed to work fine (it purports to work with an incredibly large number of social networks including: MySpace, NeoPets, YouTube, and many more, though we only tested it with Facebook). It can also grab passwords from websites. There's a keylogger too, which worked creepily well even with our anti-spyware running. McGruff SafeGuard claims to offer email monitoring for a number of different webmail programs. With Yahoo! webmail it was able to capture some outgoing messages, but not incoming messages. In fact, we had trouble with a number of items, though it's hard tell if it's a bug in the program, or a conflict with our Norton Internet security software.
McGruff Safeguard offers technical support via email, and, if necessary, remote control of your computer for diagnostics. And they're very responsive; they were able to fix an error for us within 12 hours. All-in-all, McGruff Safeguard offers some compelling features, almost too many. Sadly, for all its good points it felt very buggy. Our support technician told us they'd recently made some changes, so perhaps they're getting the bugs worked out. We would like it to function along with Windows User Access Control, and more work needs to be done to prevent circumvention before we can recommend it for all but the most basic monitoring.
System Requirements: Windows 7, Windows XP, Windows Vista
|Programs Monitored:||IE, Firefox; instant messaging (Yahoo!, AIM, MSN, ICQ)|
|Special Features:||Keylogger; password capture|
|Social Network Monitoring:||Yes, monitors activities on many social networks|
|Reports/Alerts:||Daily summaries and custom alerts|
|Kid-Proof Rating:||Poor: very open to circumvention|
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