|At a glance|
|Product||Circle Media Circle With Disney () [Website]|
|Summary||Network appliance providing content filtering and scheduling of Internet access based on filters and user profiles.|
|Pros||• Easy to set up|
• Automatically detects Smart Home devices and excludes from management
• BedTime schedules
• No subscription fee
• Remote management requires no setup port forwarding
|Cons||• Management is iOS only|
• Device assignment can be tedious
• Filtering results somewhat sporadic
Typical Price: $99 Buy From Amazon
5/13/16 - Product does track website visits
Determining and enforcing age-appropriate and scheduled Internet access for your children can prove to be a difficult challenge for parents. Which categories of content should they be able to access? How much Internet time per day should they have? How can you ensure they aren't using the Internet after bedtime?
Many routers have some very basic parental controls built-in. You can schedule when to disable Wi-Fi, and you might be able to block or allow specific sites. But often those rules apply to everyone on your network. DNS-based content filtering offered by companies such as OpenDNS can provide category filtering, but don't provide general access management.
Circle, a network appliance designed to help you manage access to the Internet on your home network, started its life as a Kickstarter project. Unfortunately, it didn't reach its funding goal. But the product surfaced late last year as Circle With Disney. Circle's debut press release explained the partnership:
"...Additionally, through a licensing partnership with Disney, Circle also provides families with Disney entertainment that parents trust and children love. Circle with Disney will deliver a curated selection of Disney content including videos, blogs, gifs, emojis, music, games, characters and lots more through a unique experience called MyCircle."
Circle is designed to work with virtually all routers and connects to your network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet. According to the company, Circle's"secret sauce" is "ARP Spoofing". According to Wikipedia :
"...ARP spoofing, ARP cache poisoning, or ARP poison routing, is a technique by which an attacker sends (spoofed) Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) messages onto a local area network. Generally, the aim is to associate the attacker's MAC address with the IP address of another host, such as the default gateway, causing any traffic meant for that IP address to be sent to the attacker instead.
ARP spoofing may allow an attacker to intercept data frames on a network, modify the traffic, or stop all traffic. Often the attack is used as an opening for other attacks, such as denial of service, man in the middle, or session hijacking attacks. ARP Spoofing is more often associated with Black Hat Hackers who use the technique for "Man-in-the-middle" attacks."
The image below, courtesy of Wikipedia.org, shows a typical router and one that has been compromised by a "Malicious User". However, the Circle uses ARP spoofing not for a malicious purpose, but rather to monitor all traffic on your local network without requiring any special network configuration on your part.
ARP Spoofing diagram (courtesy Wikipedia)
Circle has a "How it works" document on their site that is well worth reading. It demystifies ARP Spoofing, presenting it in terms more friendly to consumers than most technical documents. One of its introductory paragraphs contains all of the information many people will need.
"When Circle is configured in a home, it identifies the router and begins to pose as the gateway to the other devices on the network. This allows Circle to receive traffic for the Internet and to inspect it. Any traffic that Circle allows is sent on to the router, which in turn sends it on the Internet."
The white plastic case for the Circle is a perfect 3.25" cube with rounded edges. With the clean lines and white case, at first glance, it looks like it might be an Apple product. It's a very simple design, so callouts almost aren't necessary but I've included them anyway. The Circle has a power button, a single LED indicator and a USB Mini plug for power. The Ethernet port is covered by a plastic tab and has built-in link and activity indicators. The Circle ships with a USB power cable, 2.0A power supply and Ethernet cable.
Setup is a fairly simple process, but you'll probably need about 10-15 minutes to set it up and configure your first user profile. Like many new networking products, your configure Circle with an app, not a web browser. Note you must have an iOS device running iOS 8.0 or later in order to configure the Circle.
Once you launch the Circle app, it walks you through the entire process. Here are the basic steps:
- Attach to the default "Circle-XXXX" Wi-Fi network and enter the default password "mycircle"
- When prompted select your home network from the list of Wi-Fi networks discovered and enter its network key - this is the network that the Circle will be managing.
- When prompted, connect to your home network.
- Setup an account with Circle. This requires your name and an email address. You must also provide a phone number capable of receiving a text message. Circle will send you a four digit code that you enter to validate account creation.
- Create the first user profile.
Note there is no submit-your-credit-card step. Circle is free of ongoing subscription fees.
During the setup process, Circle will identify all of the devices on your network. For my network, I have quite a few Smart Home devices running and Circle was smart enough to recognize them and automatically place them in an "Unmanaged" category that won't be managed by the Circle. Other devices that should go into the unmanaged category would be network printers, NASes, your router, any VOIP phone devices, streaming devices and wireless access points.
As Circle discovers devices on your network, it makes an educated guess about the vendor of the product based on its MAC address.But you can rename any device so a name that's more easily recognized than just the vendor's name.
On a large network, identifying the actual hosts to be managed (such as "Samsung S7" in the screenshot below) can be a time-consuming task. I've documented all the MAC, IP addresses and associated host names for all the devices on my network, so my renaming task went quickly. If you're not as organized, Circle has a web page you can visit from each device (assuming it has a web browser) to see how Circle has named it.
As you create a user profile, you can choose from one of four preset filter levels: Pre-K; Kid; Teen; and Adult. Each filter level has age-appropriate, pre-configured platforms and categories that you can edit. The composite screenshot below shows the category and filters for the "Kid" profile. Note that each profile level has its own color scheme that you'll see repeated in other screenshots. You can adjust the categories and filters as you want, then save it. In addition, you can also add specific websites you want to block.
Circle Kid profile filter configuration
In addition to assigning a filter level to a user profile, you can also set Internet use time limits for platforms or categories. The platforms and categories are the same for all filter levels. The screenshot below shows that for profile "Sue" assigned the "Teen" filter level, time limits have been set for various applications. Sue is allowed four hours of internet time per day and time limits are imposed for the aapplications shown. Each time restriction is individually configurable. For applications and categories without restrictions, the default is the limit of allowed Internet access.
Time limits set for Profile "Sue"
What's one sure way to get your kids to bed? Turn off their Internet access. For each user profile, you can choose to enable/disable the BedTime feature. Once bedtime arrives, Internet access is shut off for that user profile. As with any of the settings, you can enable/disable them, change time restrictions and bedtime settings. Just be sure to click Save.
Set Bedtime and Wake up time
In addition to the four preset profiles, there's also a default "Home" profile. All new devices discovered on the network are automatically added into this profile using the application, category, time restrictions and BedTime settings you define.