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MaxProtect - Loopholes in the Filter Make This Product Falter

written by: Tony Bradley•edited by: Aaron R.•updated: 1/5/2008
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MaxProtect does an adequate job of protecting against the most obvious objectionable material and websites. However, there are some ways around the filter, and the interface is lacking when compared to competing products.

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    Introduction

    MaxProtect provides comprehensive protection for your PC. MaxProtect offers the ability to filter or block email, instant messaging, peer-to-peer networking, and other technologies and applications in addition to the standard web filtering. It allows you to configure profiles on an individual basis, letting you customize the level of filtering. MaxProtect  also provides the ability to view reports remotely and to receive email alerts, but it does not have the capability to log security violations.

    MaxProtect has yet to introduce a version compatible with Windows Vista, the current flagship operating system from Microsoft, and it also does not run on Mac OS X. The admin console is actually web-based, rather than an application running locally on the system, which comes with pros and cons.

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    Installation & Setup

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    Installation of MaxProtect is slightly different from some of the competing products. There are files installed to the local system, but there is also an account set up on the MaxProtect web site. To begin the installation, you have to supply a name for your Account. This isn't a user account, but the overall Account with MaxProtect for the installation of the software. In addition, you also need to create a name for the actual Administrator user account and enter a password. You then must supply a hint question and answer to use in the event that you forget your password. You then enter your license key for the software and click Next to continue the installation.
    [1-CreateAccount.jpg]

    MaxProtect does allow you to choose where to install the software. Some products simply install to default directories, but many users like to organize their hard drives and separate the operating system, application installations, and data. Regardless, you can accept the default location, or select a drive and folder to install MaxProtect to. Once you have selected a location, the rest of the installation proceeds relatively quickly and without incident.
    [2-InstallLocation.jpg]

    What's Not: 
    It is a little confusing having an Account that is not a user account while also having to create an Administrator user account. Changing the name of Account to something clearer, or providing some additional guidance would be helpful.
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    User Interface

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    The Max Protect User Interface is unique in that it is web based. When you open the Admin Console, you are taken to an encrypted web connection where you must enter your account name, user name and password. Once you are successfully logged in, the Admin Console is actually a website displayed over an encrypted HTTPS connection rather than an application running on the local computer.

    By default, two Groups are created; Default and Parents. You can customize the filtering and blocking profile for each group and add users to the appropriate group for the level of access you want them to have. If you need more profiles, you can also add new Groups. For example, if you have younger kids and teens, you may want to have one profile for the young children, one for the teens and one for the parents.

    On the positive side, MaxProtect enables you to monitor, filter or block a wide variety of Internet and web communications and it provides you with the flexibility to control or customize almost every aspect of the configuration for your profiles.



    What's Not: 

    I like for the software I buy to run on my computer. I am sure there are pros to having the Admin Console as a web based application hosted by max.com. However, the ability to access and work with the Admin Console is dependent on your Internet connection. A slow Internet connection could make working with MaxProtect a painful experience.

    That issue aside, the interface is complex and unintuitive. The left pane provides a sort of tree view of the Groups and Users, but it isn't immediately clear how you should use these links. Above the main console display is a box with links to access the different areas to customize your configuration. These links are duplicated from a menu bar at the top of the screen as well.

    Overall, I would prefer that the Admin Console run on my computer rather than from the Web, and the interface needs an overhaul to be cleaner and more intuitive.


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    Product Features

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    MaxProtect has an impressive list of features and the ability to block and filter a variety of content and applications beyond just website filtering. It doesn't do FTP or custom TCP port blocking, but it does filter and block websites, email, instant messaging, peer-to-peer (P2P) networking and pop-up boxes.
    [6-InternetFilters.jpg]

    n addition, MaxProtect has functionality specifically designed to identify and block child predators from communicating with your children. It will monitor for and block personally identifiable information (such as your home address, phone number, etc.) from being sent out from the computer.

    A unique function of MaxProtect is the screen capture. When a violation is detected, the software can be configured to capture an image of the screen, warn the user that a policy has been violated, and shut the offending application down. The screen captures can be reviewed in the reports, or can be configured to be sent out with email alerts.
    [4-ViolationActions.jpg]



    What's Not: 

    The Policy feature of MaxProtect is a little over the top for a home computer. Although the program is called MaxProtect for Kids, the Policy feature is more conducive to a business computer.

    Basically, you can enable a text message to pop up when certain actions are taken or applications are opened. The user must read the text of the policy warning and click “Agree” to continue on. You can choose to do this on an application by application basis and create custom text for each one. You can also select how long the user agreement is in effect, opting to have the policy message display every time the action is taken, once daily, or once weekly.
    [10-PolicySettings.jpg]
    [11-PolicyText.jpg].

    Again, this might be a great feature for a small business using MaxProtect. However, asking your eight-year old daughter to read and agree to an Acceptable Use Policy before being allowed to use the Windows Calculator is a bit much.


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    Performance

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    MaxProtect didn't noticeably impact my Internet connection or download speeds. It seemed to do a fair job of blocking the content it was supposed to block. Attempts to search for blatantly pornographic materials were met with a warning message boxes and the automatic shut down of the program. The offending screen was also captured as a graphic image for later review and as evidence of the offense.

    Although I don’t like the Policy feature for home use, I did configure it to display policies for some programs and it performed as expected. A text box would be displayed when a specified application was executed and I had to “Agree” to the terms of the policy in order to continue.

    MaxProtect seemed to do an adequate job at blocking obviously offensive or inappropriate material as long as you used the normal web browser and normal web searches.



    What's Not: 

    I was able to find ways around the filters in MaxProtect. For example, Google searches for “Victoria’s Secret”, or “lingerie” were blocked as “pornographic,” but a search for “bras” yielded some risqué results.
    [12-BlockLingerie.jpg],

    An even bigger loophole exists with sites like Google Images. A normal Google search for “large breasts” is blocked, however, a search for “large breasts” on Google Images displays the results with plenty of pictures of bare naked breasts.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, MaxProtect blocked access to Google Video as “pornographic” without even allowing me to enter search terms. You simply can’t visit Google Video. You can go to YouTube.com though, which is a video site owned by Google. Searching YouTube.com for breasts results in a number of video clips which are not filtered or blocked by MaxProtect.

    These holes and inconsistencies render MaxProtect more or less useless as a filter for any pre-teen or teen. It would take a computer-savvy child about 2 minutes to find a workaround to get past the filtering of MaxProtect.


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    Price to Value

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    Not much.

    What's Not: 
    At $49.95, MaxProtect for Kids is on the high end for price in this software category. However, the issues with the user interface and the even larger issues with the products ability, or lack thereof, to filter and block objectionable materials make this a poor investment.
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    Images

    Create account to install MaxProtectChoose location to install MaxProtectRun in stealth mode to hide MaxProtect from computer usersChoose how MaxProtect should handle content policy violationsSelect filter libraries to implementChoose the types or categories of content to filterDefine timeframes when Internet usage is allowedCustomize sites or content to be allowed or to be blockedConfigure email alerts and communications for MaxProtectChoose the policies to be used with MaxProtectCustomize the text of the policy message displayed to usersMaxProtect blocking access to lingerie siteMaxProtect report on Internet usageReport of screen captures collected when content was blocked by MaxProtect
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    Suggested Features

    Some key considerations MaxProtect should be working on for the next version include:

    • Vista compatibility.
    • Better filtering that can't be so easily circumvented.
    • Remove the Policy feature for the home product.
    • Run the Admin Console from the local computer.
    • Overhaul the Admin Console so that it is more functional and intuitive.
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    Conclusion

    While there are redeeming qualities to maxProtect, and unique aspects like the screen capture that set it apart from many of the competing products, I would not recommend this product. The clunky, web-based interface and the gaping loopholes in the filtering which are the primary purpose for MaxProtect in the first place, make this product virtually useless. There are better products for less money.
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    Related Products

    CYBERsitter, Net Nanny