Wednesday, October 27, 2010

PG Key SafeKey TOS Review

PG Key Safe Key

Cost $49.99 plus shipping if purchasing directly from PG Key
This is a one time cost. There are no subscription fees or per user charges.

On the website there is a special limited time Free Trial Offer.

Available at: Office Max, MicroCenter, Fry's Electronics and

Package includes a brief Installation guide

This is a tool that can be used for computer users of all ages.

Installation Medium

PG Key SafeKey is an auto-mounting USB drive that contains filtering and monitoring software designed to run on the Windows family of operating systems by Microsoft. A strong selling point of the product is that it brings a physical USB-based security key into the mix as an extra layer of protection. It is designed for people with little or no technical expertise to insert, install, and deliver an immediate basic level of protection.

Installation Platform

Due to the concerns of accessiblity and data safety, (my children and I share a computer and my husband has a separate computer)the PG Key was tested on Windows XP running within Oracle's Virtualbox, a virtual operating environment that allows a “guest” operating system to run natively within a “host” operating system. In this case, the host was Ubuntu Linux 10.04. Installation was very easy. It was a matter of inserting the key and, when the user was set to share the USB permissions with Virtualbox, the Windows guest operating system recognized the media and launched the auto-install. In a few short minutes, the procedure was complete. (The installation and trial was done on my husbands' separate computer).

Administrator Access

The web site, suggests that the administrator set up user accounts that do not have admin privileges when allowing children to use the computer. This cannot be overstated. Running a computer with the administrator account is actually quite insecure and exposes the machine to the bad effects of viruses. Nevertheless, unlike standard practice with Macintosh OS X, Linux, and other more secure operating systems, many Windows users do not have the understanding of how to secure a computer. That, plus the security holes in so much that is Windows, is a recipe for data loss.

The web site does not spell out in detail that one has to install the key software using the admin account and then switch the child to the limited user account. Note that such an account may mean that all the bleeps and bloops in the web browser may not automatically deliver and play content. From a security standpoint, this is not a bad thing. But be prepared to hear some complaining.


The makers of PG Key stress that " the key does not replace parenting; it enables it". This is true. There are far more restrictive programs out there that filter out certain Internet addresses and even whole domains. This is called “blacklisting.” China alone produces phenomenal numbers of viruses and Trojans, which then worm into computers and set up peer-to-peer servers for kiddie porn or sniff out email and social networking contacts as a pool of new scam victims. The Internet is today's wild west.

In the administrator account, with the filtering software running, it is advisable to activate the key on the company web site, Doing so will provide a more up-to-date, secure protection. Failing to do so will mean that the number of blacklisted domains will soon be dwarfed by newer ones ready to deal out nasty stuff, whether pornography or viruses.

The makers of PG Key tried to strike a middle ground between protection and usability. By default, however, this means that a number of sites with pornography are not filtered. Just by searching for sites with suggestive names, one can pull up some images within minutes after installation.

Searching for medical names of body parts yielded a broad number of sites, from YouTube to Wikipedia to other sources, that will show normal reproductive anatomy, morbidity (various diseases of the genitalia) that can be quite shocking for children, male and female anatomy (as a medical example) and so on. If someone has the intent, that person can quickly find a sort of salacious lewdness that is not the “run of the mill” trash site (whose language probably contributed to its being found, tagged, and blacklisted).

Here is where the viewing software comes into play. I felt that the text log reader was superior to the picture log because the snapshot rate allows a “surgical” targeting of a site with questionable content without pulling up more than a frame or two. If you increase the snapshot rate, however, you could theoretically fill up your disk, unless controls in the program prevent that. The text log, however, tells all. Reading logs may be an acquired skill, but it is a handy one.

Security Hole

I did, however, find a security exploit in the default key installation (without activation) when using the default user account with admin privileges. When you turn on the log viewer, the Internet filtering stops. One would think that viewing a log file would not require the logging file to release the access lock on the file. Nevertheless, if the parent does not have the child use a user account with less privileges to install and run software, that child can quickly work around the key.

Simply put, go to the log viewer and turn it on. Then use IE to go to any site you want. Sites that were blocked before I started the log viewer were not blocked anymore.

True, some of this behavior might also be the result of testing in a virtual environment. Nevertheless, one can create a far more secure environment on a Mac or Linux computer using various tech-heavy tools. If one must use Windows, as many Internet sites are written for it, then PG Key does add an extra layer of security. It also does a fairly decent job at the KISS principle.


PG Key does what it says and it is a tool, not complete protection. For someone who is just not tech savvy, PG Key brings some level of protection and monitoring. Nevertheless, for anyone with a fairly modest set of tech skills and your administrator password, PG Key can be circumvented in some cases and in others it just does not protect kids from some fairly graphic content. PG Key Safe Key has a fairly broad set of domain names that it prohibits, yet there are surprising gaps in that coverage.

PG Key does, however, have the potential to be quite effective. Part of its marketing has almost the feeling of “set it and forget it.” That does not best capture the reality of using PG Key . The reality is that, if your child uses the computer every day, you need to view the logs and update the lists every day. This is about work.

When PGKey is activated on an account if it's just removed then all computer access will be denied. So in reality it boils down to this, use the computer with the PGKey monitoring or don't use the computer at all.

It would be better to market PG Key as an easy way to begin good security practices with one's computers. The fact remains that computers and even smart phones, not to mention cars and other devices, are targets for malicious people and programs. Welcome to the brave new world. You either have to start knowing the environment or you will be left behind. The technology, when used right and when one follows all the small print on the web site, has some beneficial potential. But if someone tries to “set it and forget it,” their security attempts may soon be thwarted.

Nevertheless, PG Key is very well suited for providing children a safer environment on the Internet, but it does require some tech skills on the part of the parent to maximize the benefits.

I have chosen to not run PG Key currently due to sharing a computer with my children and the age and speed of the computer running without it. I personally monitor their activity right now, but will likely install it as they get older if I have a faster machine on which to use it.

Read what other crew members had to say about PG Key here.

Disclaimer: I received a free PG Key to use in order to write this review. I have not received any other form of compensation for this review. All opinions expressed here are solely my own.

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