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Originally published November 15, 2013 at 3:37 PM | Page modified November 16, 2013 at 8:38 AM

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User seeks help avoiding website distractions

Website blocking software is easy to find online, and browser controls also can be used, writes Patrick Marshall. When it comes to blocking ads, banners and lots of other online junk, HOSTS files are an option — but one most people might find too complicated to be practical.


Special to The Seattle Times

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Q: I cannot stop myself from viewing certain types of Web pages, and it takes up time late at night at a time I need to sleep. Yes, I need to protect myself from this needless counterproductive intrusion into my precious time.

I have a PC Lenovo Ideapad laptop with Windows 7 installed. It is a very user-friendly computer. And I have tried everything to get this to work using the instructions in the user manual, and so far all I can do is block every website.

Of course, I do not want to do that. I have seriously considered disconnecting home Internet service, but I really do not want to do that, either, since Internet access is so important in today’s world. Can you help me to block certain websites and throw away the key? (Or at least make it very difficult to get to them.)

— John

A: There are a variety of programs available that you can use to block specific websites or types of websites. Just search the Internet for “website blocking software.” You’ll find both free programs and some that cost up to $50. Some of the programs also offer controls over filtering, keyloggers and other parental-control features.

You can even block specific websites in some Web browsers, including Internet Explorer. Once in Internet Explorer, open the Internet Options utility and click on the Content tab.

Bear in mind, though, that if you block websites in your browser, you or anyone else can get around the blocking simply by using another browser.

If you’re using Windows 8, you can use the Family Safety feature to block types of sites or specific sites. Parents will also find controls to set hours when children are allowed to the use the computer and to restrict access to games and Windows Store applications.

If you have Windows 7, Family Safety may or may not already be installed on the computer. You can check by clicking on the Start button, then All Programs and finally Windows Live. If it’s not there, you can download Family Safety at www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=29231.

Of course, the weak link in this system is that anything you’ve configured you can reconfigure. So you’ll want to have someone you trust set a password to ensure the protection isn’t removed.

Q: I’m surprised that I’ve never seen you point out the huge merit of having a good and effective HOSTS file on any Windows-based computer. I’ve used the one from MVPS.org for years, updating it often (winhelp2002.mvps.org/hosts.htm). It blocks so much annoying junk (ads, banners, third-party cookies, third-party page counters, Web bugs and even most hijackers). Oh, and it is still free.

— Denny Wheeler

A: For readers who aren’t familiar with HOSTS files, they are text files used primarily by organizations to block selected activity across the Internet. And, yes, some individual users who know what they’re doing can use the HOSTS file for the same purpose.

The main reason I haven’t recommended use of a customized HOSTS file is demonstrated by the extent of the instructions to be found at the site you specified. Customizing a HOSTS file, and keeping it from being snagged by anti-virus software, requires more expertise than many of us have — or even want to have. Plus, the file has to be regularly updated.

A better solution would be for the operating system itself to maintain an updated HOSTS file that blocks all that nefarious garbage. But then we’d hear screaming about the Evil Empire controlling our Internet connections, don’t you think?

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by email to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/

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