Review Circle Home Plus – Monitor Your Kid’s Internet Usage through scary ARP Spoofing


hey everybody it’s LA and side-bend and we’re taking a look today at the circle home plus this is a white cube that you attach to your network and it allows you to monitor and control what your kids or anyone really does on the internet and it also works when they’re not at home – if you install their app on compatible mobile devices it’s pretty effective at what it does it’s rather difficult to circumvent but not impossible but I am a bit uneasy as to how it does what it does and we’re going to explore all of that here in just a second but I do want to let you know in the interest of full disclosure if this came in free of charge through the Amazon vine program however all the opinions you’re about to hear are my own nobody is paying for this review nor has anyone reviewed or approved what you’re about to see before it was uploaded so let’s get into it now and see how this device works so let’s take a closer look now at the hardware this is a second-generation product the first one was called circle by Disney this new one is a little faster it’s got Gigabit Ethernet for transiting data which will help you take advantage of your superfast broadband connections and it does a lot of its data transactions in the cloud which makes me a bit uneasy I believe the other ones stored a lot of your personal data locally this one will send it off to a

cloud server their privacy policy says they’re not going to trade or share or sell that information with anyone but I don’t like the fact that this personal information is leaving your home and getting stored somewhere else that will include the device identification numbers but also all of the websites that the monitored devices are visiting and that’s the kind of stuff that I’m not comfortable just turning over to everybody even if it’s secured some house so that’s red flag number one red flag number two on this is the fact that you will pay a hundred and twenty nine dollars here for the hardware and then after the first year you essentially have to buy it all over again through a ten dollar monthly fee to maintain most of the features that you already paid for when you bought the hardware you’ll lose a lot of functionality if you don’t keep paying after year one and I think that’s a terrible practice in this industry the only reason why I’m continuing this review at this point is that I think it’s kind of neat how it operates and I think it’s worthy of some discussion but really the business model here I think is flawed and I don’t like companies that basically make the product defective after year one if you don’t keep paying them for the privilege of owning it so that’s my two cents on that there’s not much to this thing you just plug it into power and into your network and then it can start working to limit what your kids are doing online it will identify every device on the network and you can pick and choose which ones you want to have some control over the crazy thing is that they thought about some of the simpler

circumvention techniques that might be out there so the first thing is is that even though it has a power button here it doesn’t work so you can hold down that power button as long as you want it will not shut off the other thing that’s crazy about it is that if you pull the cable out of it it still operates because there’s a battery inside and if you take the ethernet out it will just switch over to Wi-Fi and not only will it stay on it will also make the kids internet connection slower because it routes everything through a slow 2.4 gigahertz Wi-Fi connection so it’s very difficult to just unplug it and turn it off it will also push a notification to your phone I guess it’s got 1 on my watch here to let you know that it was disconnected so you can call up your kid and say what the heck are you doing plug it back in it will stay on for probably about an hour to two hours maybe maybe 3 hours depending on what’s going on in the network so it will take a while for it to finally die and then of course all of you are monitoring and blocking will go away but I think at that point the kid will be in pretty deep trouble because that notification did go out so it was kind of neat just to see how they thought about some of the more basic circumvention techniques you can put this somewhere where the kid will know where it is and they will still not be able to circumvent it by simply unplugging it so that was kind of neat to see here now originally I thought this might be a router replacement or something

that would sit in between my router and the rest of the network but that’s not how it works it’s actually a lot more targeted in its filtering so right now I’ve got this laptop here being monitored by the circle and if I go over to maybe the Wall Street Journal’s website for example what’s going to happen here going to get filtered out because I’ve assigned this laptop to a profile that doesn’t allow the user to look at news sites likewise if I try to go to match.com here it will do the very same thing it’ll filter us out but what’s neat is that all of this is happening just for this laptop so if I take out my phone or laptop and go to those sites I won’t be monitored by the circle at all in fact the traffic goes straight to my router but any computer that I have assigned to the circle is going to basically have its traffic intercepted by the circle first before it goes out and it does that through a process called ARP snooping which I’ll show you in a second so right now we have the app here connected up and you can see this laptop is currently assigned to my daughter Kira’s profile and if I go into that and make it an unmanaged device what will happen is that restriction that we just were under will be removed but I don’t have to do anything on this laptop to change the game here so if I just close the browser here and just load up another one and we go over to the Wall Street Journal now you can see the site loads up just fine so it does all of this transparent to the user just by making the laptop think it’s talking to the router when it in fact is not and let’s take a short technical diversion so I can tell you and show you exactly what it is doing to intercept that traffic so what you’re seeing on screen right now is my

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laptop’s ARP table and what it’s doing is translating the IP address for my router to in from a physical address so that data can find its way to that router so for example when I go out onto the internet my router has to bring me that data and the computer needs to communicate with the router so it looks for 192.168.1.1 and then it looks it up in its ARP table to figure out what the physical address is so that those packets can get switched over and everything can flow back and forth now what’s happening with circle is that when we implement the management of this device a circle will trick my computer into thinking that the router is at a different address so you can see we just activated the the profile for this laptop and if I look at my ARP table now after doing that you’ll see that that physical address changed so what’s going to happen here is that when I try to go out onto the Internet the circle here is going to look at what I am trying to get to and if it decides the Wall Street Journal for example is blocked then I’m either going to get the block page or an error like I’m getting here but I’m not going to get out to the Internet but if I go to something that circle allows like Disney comm what’s going to happen here is that the circle will see that I’m trying to go to Disney it’s going to be okay with that and it will now route the traffic over to the router and I can go ahead and visit Disney comm and that is how the blocking works it’s doing nothing on the computer other than tricking it into redirecting its traffic to the circle instead of your router now this is a tactic that a lot of hackers use when they gain access to a local area network because if you can set up one of these Arps poofing attacks you can start listening in to data flowing between two different devices on a network it can be very dangerous and that’s why I’m a little concerned that this thing is so cloud dependent if something were to happen to that cloud and somebody can burrow into it they suddenly have thousands millions however many they’re selling of these devices on networks that are

essentially little ARPA tacking devices that cannot be turned off and will continually be monitoring traffic between devices on a network that is what scares me about it and they’re doing this to make it more convenient for users to monitor what their kids are doing and you have to decide whether or not that risk is okay with you they say it’s secure but everybody says their stuff is secure and that’s one thing that really kind of bothers me about this now one thing I discovered is that it’s very easy to get around this monitoring by plugging in different network adapters into a computer so here’s a great example what we were doing a minute ago was having circle monitor all the traffic coming in and out of this Ethernet adapter on the computer and as you can see I tried to go to match comm and was denied but if I pull this out and we go back to the computer’s built-in Wi-Fi check it out we’ll be able to go to match.com no problem because we didn’t specifically monitor both the internal Wi-Fi and this USB adapter that I plugged in and these things are cheap you can get these for maybe ten bucks and you can get Wi-Fi adapters for around the same price that also plug into the USB so if your kid is savvy enough they can plug that in when you’re not home browse everything they want and then when you get home they’re back and blocked again because you didn’t see that device pop up on the network you will get a notification when those other devices appear but it will give you the name of the computer that you already knew so you might think oh I’m already blocking that computer when in fact the

computer’s name is being passed along with a new Ethernet or Wi-Fi device so if they plug in a new device you’re going to have to block that one too otherwise they’re going to very easily get around it as we just did here the other thing to note is that this ARP table is something that your kid could edit themselves in fact there are videos on YouTube about how to edit ARP tables to circumvent the circle and it’s not hard to do at all and once they set up a manual entry for the router the circle will be unable to redirect traffic anymore and that’s something a you know maybe an older savvy your kid can probably figure out so I think this is probably going to be very well-suited for little kids that will not know how to edit an ARP table but I think if you get into the 7 or 8 and over territory they’re gonna start getting pretty resourceful especially if they know there’s a way to easily and permanently get around this device you’ll notice that you’re not seeing traffic showing up in the log in everything but nonetheless it’s not foolproof it’s certainly better than other solutions might be but it is something that your kids if they’re smart enough and they probably are will be able to get around fairly easily so just keep all of that stuff in mind as you make your purchasing

decision let’s go down a little bit further here and see how the app works and how we can set up some of the parameters here so this is the home page of the circle app when you first load it up you’ll notice that I set up three different profiles kem t will dive into K which is my daughter Kira’s profile which has been the one that we were looking at on the laptop and what it will do is give you a bunch of information about Kira’s activities here so you can see that I have five devices assigned to account you’ll also note that the laptop is on there twice because it had two different network adapters attached to it you can see the first one here under MAC address and if you look at the MAC address under the second one it is different even though the device name is the same and again you have to do that to prevent them from plugging in devices that are not being monitored you’ll also note that the iPad has a VPN logo next to it and we’ll look at that in a second but basically what it can do is allow you to use android ipads and iphones outside of the network yet still be under the same monitoring level and that’s pretty cool because if your kid goes away with the iPad to Grandma and Grandpa’s house I will still follow all the same rules that it does at home and we’ll look at that again in a little bit more detail in a

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second you can also see the amount of usage that she has done and it breaks it down by category so we can see that she was on YouTube for an hour in 30 minutes she spent a little bit of time on Disney that was when we went to the website and he can get an idea as to what they are doing you can also drill down here and see what websites they were visiting as well one of the things you’ll notice when you are looking at websites that they’re visiting is that some of this stuff might be miscategorized or it might be coming through because there’s an ad on the site that calls something from one of these other addresses so you shouldn’t always be alarmed if you see something concerning there as you’re walking around filter here are some of the top-level things that we’ve assigned to the account so right now I have kira assigned as a kid and you can see that I am disallowing certain apps and allowing others and I could also block certain categories too so if I don’t want her looking at travel for example I can just click not allowed and it will not let her on any travel sites I can also restrict videos completely and then you can also look at specific apps so I could allow YouTube but not allow general video sites for example you can’t really though drill down into a specific website or at least see what they’re blocking this is all stuff that they maintain on their end they don’t give you the list of sites that they allow or not but what you can do is click on the little filter icon in the upper right hand corner and you can add and remove specific websites so for

example let’s say I don’t want to block the Wall Street Journal but I want to block other news sites I can add the Wall Street Journal here to this list and that will allow it to be looked at even though we’re blocking news in general for example they have different profiles for teens and adults as well so they add a few more apps to the mix that you can choose from but generally the app detection is minimal it is mostly relying on these website categories to best do it I’m sure there’s going to be things that slip through as they always do with these devices but I think a lot of the big popular apps and sites will be manageable here through the app now if you look down at the history here we can get a look at what she visited and what was allowed to see and then we can also see what was filtered out as well so we can see that she made some attempts to get to match.com it looks like it blocked some analytics from Twitter that might be coming through another web site and you can see it blocked a number of other ad engines as well here so you’ll see a lot of stuff that your kid may not be browsing too but you can see what was filtered out and the time that it was so it does give you some good detail there you can also set a bedtime for when the kid is not going to be able to get on the Internet and you could also assign for example a Playstation or Xbox console to them which will of course not block them from playing games locally on the device but it would block fortnight for example because if you turn off the Internet at 10 o’clock any device assigned to them will not be able to get out on the internet after that time and if you want to reward them for doing something nice you can go

over here to reward and extend the time or maybe make the bedtime time later or something like that so you have the ability to give some flexibility to it and if the kid is driving you nuts you can hit the pause button and all of their devices will be blocked from the internet while other devices can get on now note though that this is all done on a computer or device level basis so if you have a computer that the whole family uses you can’t restrict Kiera without restricting dad so just keep that in mind you will need to unrestricted device if you want to go and use it for yourself because it doesn’t detect what user is and if we jump back to the home screen you can also pause the internet for everybody that’s being managed by circles so if the kids are really revolting you can hit one button and get them all under control in the upper right hand corner is your device list and you can scroll through here and find things that are not currently being monitored so all the monitored devices here are up top with the kid that we assign them to and then below that are all the other things that are not currently being monitored so for example if I wanted my macbook to get assigned to Ellie I can click on that and then click on Ellie and that one will then get ARP

spoof and she can now have her traffic monitored on that device as well you’ll also note here that the laptop is on here twice because I had to set up a separate profile for each of the network devices that I was attaching to it and again that’s something you’re gonna need to keep an eye on to make sure your kids are not putting in some rogue network adapters to get around you were monitoring now I did find the mobile app that they use to be very effective and if you’ve got an iPad an iPhone or an Android phone or tablet you can apply the rules no matter where they are and it actually works quite well and it does that through an a VPN implementation so if you look up at the top of my iPad screen here you can see next to the Wi-Fi icon is the VPN icon and that will be always running on the mobile device and we tried to go to the Wall Street Journal a second ago and we got the block page right now though this iPad is not on the same network as the circle hardware it is on my local guest network which is out of reach of the circle yet all the rules are applying bedtimes site monitoring usage history everything that I would get out of the computer on the local network here is getting transmitted back by the iPad a little bit earlier I took out my Android phone we put it up on the cellular network it was working just as well so I

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think it’s very effective no matter where they are and unfortunately though it only works again on mobile devices that are running iOS or Android I also tried to just shut off the VPN by going into the iPads control panel and switching off the VPN and when you do that it will turn itself off for a second and then it will turn itself back on you just can’t get rid of it and you’ll also get pushed a notification if the kid is trying to do that as well so it’s very hard for the kid to get around this thing the only thing they could do is delete the app and there are ways on both Android and iOS to prevent the apps from being deleted without some kind of password or other kind of authentication so if your intent is only to monitor your kids on their mobile phones and tablets then you don’t need the hardware here at all because you can download the app that monitors all these devices for free you can try it out for 30 days for free and then after that you can figure out if you want to keep the subscription going at ten bucks a month and it will do everything we just talked about but again only on iphones ipads and

android phones it will not monitor computers or Chromebooks outside the home but as we saw this device can be rendered useless pretty quickly by a savvy kid and I don’t think this hundred and thirty dollar investment is going to go very far with you especially if your kid is motivated to figure out ways to get around it by the way when you stop paying the subscription on the box here you lose a lot the only things that it will do after the subscription period ends is filtering usage and history and I don’t think the mobile VPN app will work either after that subscription period ends so I think you could save yourself a lot of money and headaches here get the mobile monitoring app for the mobile devices and just give up on the computers and other things that are much more difficult to monitor in a way that I think a lot of us parents would like and that’s where good parenting and good supervision really comes into play unfortunately and that’s really the only true solution to all of this concern that we all have until next time this is Lion Simon thanks for watching this channel is brought to you by the lawn TV supporters including gold-level supporters the four guys with quarters podcast EMU dev org Tom Albrecht Brian Parker in Cali an Kumar if you want to help the channel you can by contributing as little as a dollar a month it over to LAN TV slash support to learn more and don’t forget to subscribe

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