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Posted on November 15th, 2013 by Barry Collins

Sky Broadband Shield review

Photo 15-11-2013 12 27 45

Sky has this week become the second major British ISP to launch a network-level content filter, with the Sky Broadband Shield. As a Sky customer and parent of two young girls, I was keen to find out whether it was any better than TalkTalk’s pioneering, but largely ineffective, HomeSafe.  So, performing the same tests that we used in our recent round-up of parental control software, I set about Sky’s filters.

On the face of it, the Sky Broadband Shield could barely be easier to set up. You login at Sky.com, click on the Broadband Shield section and choose from three levels of protection: PG, 13 or 18. Being a network-level service, the filters apply to any device connected to the home network – there’s no way to include or exclude specific laptops or smartphones, for instance.

Sky warns that the filters may take a few minutes to take effect. What it doesn’t warn you is that you have to clear your browser’s cache for the filters to work properly. An hour after switching on the filters on my laptop, I was still able to access Facebook, while the social-networking site was blocked when I tried to access it from a cleaned browser on my Windows 8 tablet. Non tech-savvy parents could easily be caught out.

Sky also blocked all of the proxy sites we tested against, but as with most network-level services, it’s not difficult to find a way around its filters

As with all the parental controls suites we examined in our recent Labs, I tested the Sky Broadband Shield against the same 145 sites, using its strongest possible setting, in this case PG. Its blocking performance was strong: it blocked all of the 74 pornography sites we threw at it, and was reasonably strict in most of the other categories too. It did let through four race-hate sites, and a few pro-anorexia and pro-suicide sites, but these are arguably the hardest to guard against. It also let through all of bookmakers’ sites, although gambling isn’t listed among the categories Sky blocks — perhaps because Sky has its own betting site?

Sky also blocked all of the proxy sites we tested against, but as with most network-level services, it’s not difficult to find a way around its filters. A Google Image search for “xxx”, “porn” or other salacious words delivers a barrage of highly explicit images. Whilst most of the sites lurking behind the large thumbnail image results are blocked, it only took us a few minutes of clicking to find sites that have slipped through the net. Likewise, a site called TheFrisky.com hosting an article called “The Truth About Blowjobs” is hardly what we’d call suitable for a PG rating.

On the plus side, Sky didn’t record any false positives on sites delivering information about sex education or suicide prevention, and the Sky settings allow you to permit or block individual URLs or whole categories. While our request to let Facebook through was granted almost immediately, our attempt to block the www.pcpro.co.uk URL was less successful, with Sky merely ripping out the style sheet and some of the images on our test tablet, and letting the site load fully on other devices.

Sky also does a reasonable job of guarding on mobile devices. The Twitter and Facebook clients on my iPhone failed to update once I’d blocked the social-networking category, and mobile web browsers blocked access to the sites, too. Sky puts a nice clear warning in the browser, stating that the website has been blocked and under which category it’s been blocked, with clickable options to login and amend your settings and report an incorrect categorisation.

Overall, then, a mixed performance from the Sky Broadband Shield. It blocked the vast majority of unsavoury sites we threw at it, but when finding hardcore pornographic images is as easy as typing a few choice terms into Google or Bing, what does that matter? At the very least, parents would need to impose extra controls to make sure children couldn’t switch off safe search options in the browser.

Sky’s Broadband Shield, alongside other measures, might offer some protection, but the Prime Minister’s daft promise that children will be “safe” after parents switch on these government-sought filters has never looked more foolish.

Sky’s blocking scores

Pornography: 100%
Gambling: 0%
Gore: 80%
Pro-suicide: 80%
Pro-anorexia: 90%
Hate sites: 50%
Tasteless humour: 40%
Proxies/VPN: 100%
False Positives: 0% (Less is better)

Posted in: Newsdesk

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11 Responses to “ Sky Broadband Shield review ”

  1. Graham Says:
    November 15th, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    Interesting, especially the false positive score. My mother’s TalkTalk filter once blocked the menu for a local restaurant under the heading of ‘Alcohol and Tobacco’, so these things can be quite annoying!

     
  2. Paul Ockenden Says:
    November 15th, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    One of my website clients is a pub chain, and one of its outlets is called The Black Cock. You can imagine the problems that people have trying to get to its website.

     
  3. James Johnson Says:
    November 15th, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    Did you do search with Bing or only Google ?
    Last thing I knew Google operated on a https and most of its search results were cached.
    The issue seems to be with the search provider acting as a secure proxy whilst not categorising it’s content.
    Effectively you’re lowering Skys mark for factors they have no control in.
    (I would test Bing myself but don’t think the reason would hold water with my wife)

     
  4. Paul Kirkley Says:
    November 15th, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    Can only expect that when parent with good intentions who want to use this kind of block will give up again when they realise they can’t use facebook/twitter themselves. It needs to be easy to filter by device, preferably at the router level. For example, my son wants a tablet for christmas, but I’m unsure because I wouldn’t be able to easily impose the same restrictions I can on his laptop running Windows 7.

     
  5. Saqib Says:
    November 16th, 2013 at 8:40 am

    You say the filters only work after clearing the cache of a browser. I’m interested to know how that works as once the filters are in you should only be able to see the cached content and not the live content on a uncleared browser.
    Unless of course the filtering is done by DNS redirection. Did you test access to the banned sites by directly entering their IP into the browser? This would be a very simple workaround to the blocks.

     
  6. tony Says:
    November 16th, 2013 at 10:39 am

    After this is enabled, can someone talk me through how how is an exception set for the devices owned by the adults in the household?

     
  7. Mitch Says:
    November 16th, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    To deliver what parents and MPs are looking for will require a bit of further development in AI as by the looks of it this is mostly based on URL filtering and considering that a lot of sites combine data from a lot of sources these days this is never going to be 100% effective.

     
  8. Gareth Bowen Says:
    November 17th, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    Does the filter work if I performed a nslookup of the URL via somewhere like Kloth.net and browsed to this IP Address?

     
  9. James Johnson Says:
    November 18th, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    @Tony…
    This is a network level feature that affects every device in your home (it’s applied before the router) so you can’t create an exception.

     
  10. Pete Loader Says:
    November 19th, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Set it to 18 as anti malware + anti phishing looked attractive, supplementing on device protection, a bit of belt & braces :) Turned it off when my partner complained she could not receive shopping emails.
    Having implemented these technologies at work I understand how they operate, and the plethora of settings/options that are available. It seems to me that what appears to be a pure URL Category Filter is at worst best efforts only, at best a tick for having a go.
    You have to think of the internet as a large Venn diagram. The whole is the web. The first subset is the bit you have categorised, and the next subset is the bit you would like to block. That means there are two other categories. Those you haven’t categorised, and those you haven’t categoriesed that you would like to block. A task that is like painting the Forth Bridge possibly?
    What is required is a full expose of what Sky, et al, are implementing. These give parents the belief that they are really safe.

     
  11. Jason Says:
    November 21st, 2013 at 10:30 am

    For those who want device level control try K9… Do a google search for K9 to find a free tool that works on the 4 most popular OS’s.

     

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