How can my friend get through his dad's Orwellian firewall?
December 8, 2009 8:54 PM   Subscribe

My friend's dad has decided he's not worthy of an internet connection. How can my friend get through his dad's Orwellian firewall?

Ok, so here's the situation. I have a friend who is a student living with his parents. He doesn't get along with his parents particularly well, and things have come to a head recently. They think that he is spending too much time on his computer, locked away in his room, and not spending enough time with the family. Because of this, they have decided to take an Orwellian view of the Internet they provide him. As of right now, he is not able to get through the firewall through any method but Steam (a fine program, steam chat really has come through for us here.) His browsers will not find anything, and all his 'net games are non functional.

A couple of things to consider; first, he has very few friends, and most of them he only sees online (yes, he plays WoW.) So while he does get out of the house when he can, the majority of his socialization is done online. Second, his grades have not suffered as a result of playing WoW. Third, when his family is together, it seems that all they do is sit around and watch the boob tube, which really isn't his cup of tea.

So, here's the question: How can he get around this overly restrictive firewall? I'm afraid I'm not intimately familiar with the local network infrastructure, and he doesn't have admin rights, obviously. Is there a good solid catch all application that can at least get his browser through? (it would of course be preferable to get all his apps to work again.)

Couple of tidbits. He is running Vista, he is able to connect to the LAN (but nothing outside it) via the wireless network (his dad won't let him have a physical connection), and the way he'll have to pull any applications from the net is by finding a wifi hotspot, so nothing too huge ;).
posted by bewarethewumpus to Technology (47 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
He'll need access to a machine on the outside. Google "ssh tunneling". Putty is the go-to client on windows.

Really though, he should look in to moving out ASAP.
posted by phrontist at 9:01 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Buy a cell adapter and data plan from a cell phone dealer.
posted by k8t at 9:03 PM on December 8, 2009

Move the computer to the TV room and make a deal with the parents. They watch him play WoW for 2 hours each night and he watches TV with them for 2 hours.
posted by Yorrick at 9:06 PM on December 8, 2009 [11 favorites]

When his family is together, it seems that all they do is sit around and watch the boob tube...

Bouncing off Yorrick's suggestion: agree to spend quality time doing whatever his parents wish to do... as long as the TV is turned off.

See who collapses first.
posted by rokusan at 9:08 PM on December 8, 2009 [17 favorites]

It's hard to say how his dad locked him out. I'm assuming he disallowed all TCP/IP traffic on the wireless altogether. Without admin router access, he's going to have a hard time doing anything.

What I would have done (and did do) when I was in a similar situation was install a keycatcher on the computer and waited for my dad to put in the admin password. You can also buy hardware keycatchers.

Other options could be talking to his neighbors and paying them a monthly stipend to use their wireless access, or staying at school longer and using the internet there.

Or he could buy a short cat5 cable and another router, used in access point mode on a different channel and connect to that network.

Really though, except for the second option, he risks having his dad find out and getting in even bigger trouble.
posted by JauntyFedora at 9:15 PM on December 8, 2009

How about a library card?
posted by captainsohler at 9:17 PM on December 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

Does he have a cell phone with a data plan? Most can be tethered, or hacked to tether, and bypass the local network entirely.
posted by CharlesV42 at 9:20 PM on December 8, 2009

Check out this article on

I would also advise him to get into his router. His dad may still have a default password on it(but I doubt that). He can also try to crack the password. Give Brutus a try.
posted by Funky Claude at 9:22 PM on December 8, 2009

I'm guessing the computer was bought and paid for by his parents too. If I were them and discovered that he'd been taking steps to circumvent the restrictions I put in place (and lets face it, if his dad is that savvy he will find out) my next step would be to take his computer away altogether or to put the computer outside his room where I could observe his use of it.

Put another way, is asking how to circumvent the security on someone else's secured internet connection an appropriate use of AskMe?
posted by JaredSeth at 9:35 PM on December 8, 2009 [7 favorites]

I did this with my son when he was younger. It wasn't because he didn't spend enough time with us, it was because he used up all of our frickin bandwith downloading stuff from demonoid that he never listened to or watched. Then he denied he had anything to do with it and refused to disconnect. All I did was to set up WEP, later WPA, and not give him the passkey. He retaliated by putting an old laptop in a corner, connecting to the router with an ethernet cable, which he then remoted into. Then, when our connection would get too slow, I'd reboot it. Since it was running windows 9x, he'd have to wait until we were gone to reconnect manually. Finally, when he turned 17, I let him have the passkey, but I still disconnect him on occasion.

Ahh, healthy family communication. We hasn't it.
posted by zinfandel at 9:44 PM on December 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

First: grow up, get a job, etc.

That out of the way: it's hard to say without access to the firewall. Ssh tunnelling to create SOCKS proxy might work but no promises. Skype should work great, if he needs messaging & telephony.
posted by chairface at 9:47 PM on December 8, 2009

This previous question gives several other options, most of which aren't LA specific.
posted by nat at 9:48 PM on December 8, 2009

This seems like less of a hacking around his dad's firewall issue and more of a be an adult and solve the problem by sitting down and working something out issue.

I appreciate your friend's situation, having been in a similar situation in my own youth, but a dad smart enough to block his internet access is going to be smart enough to figure out that he's circumventing it. Just the fact that he still never comes out of his room is going to be a bit of a red flag, no?

I would think that your friend spending some face time with his family would be a small price to pay for otherwise living life on his terms. Without more details, I really couldn't tell you how he should proceed. Does he have siblings his parents think he should be spending time with? Would they be open to other ways of spending time together, and has he explored that (board games, card games, doing some kind of special movie-watching project together rather than just watching CSI: Wherever)?

I understand that this doesn't precisely answer your question, these are just the questions that are raised for me based on your post and based on my own experience having lived for a time as an adult in a parent's household.
posted by padraigin at 9:52 PM on December 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

When my mom took away my Ethernet cable almost ten years ago, I bought an 802.11b router and surreptitiously created our house's first wireless network. I moved out a few weeks later, and that was the best decision I ever made. But, concerning that internet feud, man, was I ever wrong. I mean, seriously. It was her freaking Internet.
posted by The Potate at 10:07 PM on December 8, 2009 [9 favorites]

When a computer gets on a network, under most circumstances it gets an IP address and a DNS server or two to contact for domain name resolution.
It looks like the DNS part was disabled, so he has an IP, and a route to the Internet (thus Steam working), but cannot type a URL into a browser and pull up a page.

Fastest fix:
Open network connections, go to the properties of the wireless adapter, TCP/IP properties and manually add the DNS servers: and

Of course, if he doesn't have admin access for his PC account, no dice.
posted by ijoyner at 10:17 PM on December 8, 2009

As the parent of an 18 year old who becomes absolutely revolting to live with unless there are disincentives to living as a square-eyed monster-shooting cave dweller, my sympathies are with the parents.

This is not a technical problem. This is a social problem. If dude wants a better Internet connection, he either needs to pay for his own or learn to negotiate.
posted by flabdablet at 10:56 PM on December 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Awesome, love the quick responses.

First off, thanks for suggesting he handle it like an adult and talk to his parents about it. I'm pushing him seriously to suck it up and work it out with his parents. He claims that they're total hardasses on stuff like this, but I find it hard to believe they can't be negotiated with. regardless, there's little more I can do than encourage here, so I'm doing the next best thing and helping him stick it to the man.

As far as removing himself from the situation, he is now actively looking for a job, but it's tough for a college student with no degree as of yet. and the fact that he doesn't have a good net connection is a hindrance.

Since he has no job, he can't afford a regular cellphone, much less a smartphone (if he had an android phone, it'd be no problem for me to set up a wireless tether for him). His computer is his, he paid for it with a part time job he had a while back.

Anyway, the goal here is to find a solution that will get him a connection that will work until he has the means to be out on his own.
posted by bewarethewumpus at 11:00 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

He claims that they're total hardasses on stuff like this

Young Master Flabdablet would have claimed exactly the same thing before he worked out that storming off in a huff and slamming the door behind you is a suboptimal negotiation technique.
posted by flabdablet at 11:05 PM on December 8, 2009 [7 favorites]

The solution here, for both parent and your friend, is social, not technological. Your friend needs to come to an understanding with his parents that makes both sides at least not horribly unhappy. Yorrick's suggestion is on the right track here: agree to split his time in some reasonable way so your friend gets some online time, his family gets some offline time, and the two of you get some hangout time away from all this mess. His parents may not be fully open to this idea at first, so a compromise might be to start with very limited internet use with an agreement to expand to increasing tiers of use at preset milestones in exchange for following the agreed to schedule. In other words, it could look something like (times essentially made up, he and his family can set them as they desire):
Week 1 - 1 hour internet/day for 3 days a week, 2 hours family time/day for 4 days a week
Week 2 - 2 hours internet/day for 3 days a week, 2.5 hours each weekend day, 1.5 hours family time/day for 4 days a week
Week 3 - 2 hours internet/day for 4 days a week, 3 hours each weekend day, 1.5 hours family time/day for 4 days a week
etc... as desired until some final equilibrium state is achieved
Any failure to adhere to the schedule: internet and computer goes away for, say, a week (except for schoolwork where supervised computer use is permitted) and the schedule will start over at week 1.
In theory, this gives everyone a bit of what they want, provides a harsh penalty for non-compliance, and lets his parents work themselves back up to allowing more reasonable use of the internet while insisting on family time and not feeling as though they have "given up."

This is assuming your friend is not yet a legal adult. And yes, if your friend is above high school age, the true solution here is for him to move out as soon as it is practical to do so.
posted by zachlipton at 11:10 PM on December 8, 2009

Here's my recommendation: he should go to his parents and say "Look, I understand you want me to spend more time with you, but all you do is sit around watching television, which I hate. But I understand that's what YOU enjoy doing as a group, so why don't we just hook me up with a computer in the living room, so I can do what I like, you can do what you like, but we're all in the same space? If that's not enough togetherness for you because me staring at a computer screen is not your idea of socializing, then you know exactly how I feel when you stare at a television screen."

At least it can open a dialogue about his parents' expectations, because -- let's be frank -- no matter what you do with the router et al to circumvent his parents' restrictions, they can always take an additional hardware step and lock him out of the internet entirely so that no circumvention is possible.
posted by davejay at 11:16 PM on December 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

Oh, one more excellent method of circumventing his parents' internet controls: make friends with unfettered internet connections, and go hang out with them/use their connection, presumably while doing the same things (WoW and such, in the same raids, say.) His parents will be thrilled he's out "with friends", he gets additional face time with rl human beings, and he gets to keep his ol social circle.
posted by davejay at 11:18 PM on December 8, 2009

As the former total hardass in a parallel scenario, I can absolutely assure dude that any fooling about with tunnels and so forth would cause a noticeable increase in traffic, would be tracked down, and would result in the WPA key being changed to something he wasn't informed of.
posted by flabdablet at 11:19 PM on December 8, 2009

First, have him investigate Clearwire. Its a new service that gives you a wireless USB stick to connect to their service. I think its like $50/mo for two of the sticks and they may have cheaper plans. Pretty fast speeds too. I'd also consider making friends with neighbors and hopping onto their wifi.

Second, my attempt at addressing the root issue would be to have him try to tell his parents that he needs computer access to assist in his job hunt (so he can start being a responsible adult) or that he needs it for school work.

Barring that, he needs to consider couch-surfing if he can't move out and cannot tolerate the living situation. Particularly if they will not let him use it for job/school related tasks.

It is one thing for parents to try to encourage social interaction but if someone is an introvert, trying to force them to be otherwise won't solve anything. It will just cause them to harbor resentment and seek a workaround.
posted by Elminster24 at 12:01 AM on December 9, 2009

the fact that he doesn't have a good net connection is a hindrance....(to finding a job)

rubbish and blame-shifting. As you put it, he's an unskilled undergraduate. The jobs he is likely to get are not over the internet. If he literally can't ever check his email, then let him use your internet connection for it, or use his time out of the house to go to an internet cafe.
posted by jacalata at 12:07 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

When it truly becomes your friend's priority to live his life as he sees fit, he will go out and find a job, with or without the aid of an internet connection and cell phone. As it stands now, he's avoiding making that leap, and so has to pay the price of bending to someone else's rules. Finding a technical way to access the internet, rather than taking responsibility for his life, will only prolong the agony.

Don't mean to sound harsh. But I speak from experience.
posted by Paris Elk at 12:13 AM on December 9, 2009 [5 favorites]

I don't want to sound like a meanie, but I think you're being manipulated.

the fact that he doesn't have a good net connection is a hindrance

Libraries have computers that can check email and send resumes, and I'm sure he has friends whose Internet connections he could use to find and apply for jobs. Really, this is an excuse and nothing more. People get part-time college jobs all the time simply by pounding the pavement and finding them.

there's little more I can do than encourage here, so I'm doing the next best thing and helping him stick it to the man

Encourage him to man up and find a job without disobeying the people who pay the bills in the house. You're not helping him "stick it to the man", you're helping him get his way.
posted by secret about box at 12:27 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

i'm a high school drop out that started supporting myself when i was 17. in fact, i supported a house of 11 people (in 1100 sq ft apartment) who were running away from their parents and their "orwellian" rules. if he wants out, there are plenty of ways for him to do that. you don't need internet access to find a job. you don't need a degree. you need lower standards and a desire to make it on your own.

i was a total internet kid, long before everyone had an email address. i was grounded constantly. i used every excuse i could think of - "i need it for school" "my friends will worry if i'm not around" "i'm bored at school and i was just learning visual basic, but i need to get to my newsgroups to study it" "what do you care, you're never home anyway". if i could go back and have a conversation with that girl, you know what advice i'd give to 15 year old me? fake it till you make it. pretend for an hour or two every night and a few hours on the weekend that i really couldn't think of anything more awesome than sitting on the couch listening to my parents bicker about what to watch. i would offer to make dinner. i would do my mom's laundry. i would be a total suck up. if he does that, the rest of the time will be his.

i'm gonna wager that the complete and utter restriction of the internet wasn't the first gauntlet in this war. i'm gonna wager that many requests to cut his usage down came first. now he's paying the piper - he has to go on radio silence for a little bit and make them think they won. once that happens, he'll have some of his freedom back.

if not - seriously - he needs to move out.

also, there is nothing orweillian about his father restricting the internet he pays for. throwing that word around (three times) shows how immature you/he is being about this.
posted by nadawi at 12:40 AM on December 9, 2009 [19 favorites]

Best answer: Would it be worthwhile showing him this thread? Even if some of these suggestions are not what he is looking for exactly they would certainly be food for thought and could be a catalyst for him to do something positive about his situation.
posted by Captain Najork at 1:18 AM on December 9, 2009

This doesn't go directly to your question, but to your friend's general situation.

I grew up with very, very, VERY restrictive parents. Know what *always* worked to get those restrictions dropped? When the restriction became inconvenient for them. No matter how much they claimed it was based in some kind of moral or principle.

Example: "You're too young to get your driver's license. You're not obedient enough to get your driver's license. Girls shouldn't be driving alone at night. Wait, we're going to have to spend an hour each way driving you to your SAT prep class? You're going to have to get your license and drive yourself, young lady."

Or when they refused, *refused* to let me build a ramp for our arthritic dog, until the point came where they started having to carry the 100 lb dog up the front stairs. Suddenly the ramp was a perfectly fine idea.

So- it might be helpful for him to figure out a way that it would be extremely inconvenient for them either that he didn't have the internet, or for them to have this firewall in general.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:12 AM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

If he's a college student, he might have a computer account at school. He can follow phrontist's advice of figuring out how to do ssh tunneling to a school computer and access the internet that way.

But, if it was me, I would just use the computer lab or library at school. He can also take his computer to school and use their internet connection. That would enable him to look for a job, and stay late to chat or play games. (And maybe meet some other WoW players in the lab, in person! make friends! talk the people running the lab into giving him a part time job!).
posted by bluefly at 2:32 AM on December 9, 2009

If his town has multiple ISPs, get a separate line installed.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:23 AM on December 9, 2009

There is no good technical solution to this problem. Finding a software workaround is essentially a game of whack-a-mole, where your friend tries one thing, and his dad blocks it, rinse and repeat. Except unlike with filesharing where the torrenteers have complete control over their connectivity hardware, your friend does not have full or even significant control over his. This would be true almost regardless of the computing question at issue: software is great and all, but the guy with control of the relevant hardware can always win eventually. As such, your friend will never be able to get what he wants without talking to his father.

This is called "discipline," and it's what parents who love their children do for them. Your friend is not at a place where he makes all his decisions for himself. His dad may be being an ass about it--I don't know your friend, so this action could be entirely justified--but your friend does not actually have any right to be online while he is living in his father's house.

As such, he needs to either 1) find a way to deal with his father, or 2) move out, with all the breaking of relationship that entails. I'd recommend the former.

I'd also recommend getting out of the house. Online socialization is not actually an adequate substitute for the real thing.
posted by valkyryn at 5:56 AM on December 9, 2009

Why can't he use machines at his college if he is a student? Even if he only has a desktop at home, he can go into a lab for Internet access, especially if it is hindering him from getting a job.
posted by kellyblah at 5:57 AM on December 9, 2009

They think that he is spending too much time on his computer, locked away in his room,

first, he has very few friends, and most of them he only sees online (yes, he plays WoW.)

I hate to say it but I agree with the folks.

He needs to get a job. He needs to socialize outside the house. He needs to suck it up and spend time with his family.

You are only getting HIS side of the story.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:01 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

He can't live his life on his own terms until he can afford to do so. He is an adult living in his parents' house and so he is bound by their terms, no matter how ridiculous. While I personally can think of few things more torturous than having to spend "quality" time with my parents (and I'm about twice your friend's age), he's going to have to go along with their tactics until he can get job flipping burgers or whatever and save up some cash to find someplace else to live.
posted by crankylex at 6:39 AM on December 9, 2009

Would be helpful to study up on the basic principles of negotiation. His father has a specific goal in mind. Whether or not his methods are justified/effective is kind of hard to determine in this forum. But learning what his father's goals are and then finding a win-win solution is the wisest path. Technical subversion will only put his overall safety net with his parents in further peril. And it sounds like he needs to keep his safety net for a while.
posted by cross_impact at 7:04 AM on December 9, 2009

I would listen to nadawi. As my dad used to say, you catch more bees with honey than vinegar.

Another old know that saying "given an inch, take a mile"? That's exactly the situation you're friend's looking at. I wouldn't go at this from the, "Hey, if I watch tv for an hour, can I use the Internet?" Try simply sitting down and watching TV with the parents for an hour. Try to make it some level of exposure your friend can endure on a regular basis. Given time, the parents should be like, "hey, he is outside his room. ok, Internet!" When given the Internet back, still keep on the family time, lest it be taken away and he has to try even harder to gain it back. Give a little back, and he can gain all the hours he needs for some WoW raiding.
posted by jmd82 at 8:07 AM on December 9, 2009

It's Dad's bandwidth, and Dad can do as he pleases, so Jr. should buy his own Internet. Is there a landline in the house? You can get dialup connections pretty cheap. Or pay for a separate broadband connection.

Worthwhile: Show Dad that he's using the connection to do schoolwork and connect with friends, not just surf porn.
posted by theora55 at 8:08 AM on December 9, 2009

Response by poster: I'm going to do as Captain Najork suggests and have him read this thread. I've sent him a link, and hopefully he'll decide to work it out. I'm going to offer to be an advocate if he wants my help in negotiating the issue.

failing that, I'm betting that an ssh tunnel would work until he removes himself from the situation.

I'll let him decide what the best solution will be for him.
posted by bewarethewumpus at 8:21 AM on December 9, 2009

This sounds like a social problem, not a technological problem.

He can not win. In general, it is really dumb to get into an arms race with the people who have what he wants and have no incentive to give him anything. Seriously, what is he going to do when they take away his computer totally?
posted by cmiller at 9:16 AM on December 9, 2009

Whenever "The Man" is putting a roof over your head and putting food on your plate, then "sticking it" to him in order to play online games is the lamest fucking thing in the world. Don't waste your time on him.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:33 AM on December 9, 2009 [6 favorites]

He's a college student? And his parents are still treating him like a child? Granted they're probably paying for everything, but it's still a horrible situation to be in; after high school you deserve some space/freedom no matter what your arrangement. If his parents don't realize that, then he needs to move out.
posted by ripple at 10:05 AM on December 9, 2009

Just out of curiosity, see if he can visit websites by IP. Put in his URL bar. If that connects to google, it means he just has a DNS restriction.

But I don't think circumventing his dad's firewall is going to help anything. He'll have internet for a few days and then his parents will tighten down on the security.

Instead I think he should strike a compromise. If they lift the firewall for a few hours a day, he'll hang out with them for just as many hours. Or something to that effect. Maybe he could move his computer to the living room. He'll still be with them, but he won't have to watch TV he's not interested in. I dunno. Maybe it would help if he explained to his dad that being a hardass isn't going to want to make him socialize with them.
posted by valadil at 10:08 AM on December 9, 2009

Peacefire may work from the technical angle of things, at least for getting access to the web, but nthing the negotiation thing. I can empathize with your friend to a degree, but in a way I'm glad that I didn't have access to things like the internet and WoW when I was his age, because I would have ended up even more asocial and isolated than I was.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:28 AM on December 9, 2009

He can not win. In general, it is really dumb to get into an arms race with the people who have what he wants and have no incentive to give him anything. Seriously, what is he going to do when they take away his computer totally?

Actually, moving away from home and into the dorms worked great for me--even if I did have to take out loans to cover it. "I'm taking away your keys/phone/internet/computer" stopped working when I didn't live there.

(Though my mother still flips out when I'm "on the computer all night" when I go home--but luckily, I can respond that I'm a grown-up now, and that I'll leave if she doesn't like my sleeping schedule, and, generally, she respects that.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:38 PM on December 9, 2009

PhoBWanKenobi - i think cmiller was implying that "He can not win" as long as he stays at home. i think we all pretty much agree that if he finds a way to move out, this problem goes away.
posted by nadawi at 6:54 PM on December 9, 2009

I'm betting that an ssh tunnel would work

Yeah, for about a day. Then Dad notices the traffic spike. And if Dad is the least bit like me, that's when the WPA key gets changed to something nice and long and random, and dude doesn't get told what the new one is.
posted by flabdablet at 7:42 PM on December 9, 2009

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