Fight Fire with Fire: Synology SRM Routers

Fight Fire with Fire: Synology SRM Routers

Finally, a powerful, inexpensive drop-in solution for home internet control!

Fire is destructive.  This fact makes it a bit puzzling to think that sometimes the Fire Department will actually START fires to help control fires!

But did it ever occur to you that technology with all of its dangers actually follows the same principle?

Although it can seem counter-intuitive to suggest deploying MORE technology to help mitigate the risks of technology, let’s explore how we can better use this wise idea.

The Problem

Conscientious persons – and certainly parents – who choose to leverage the benefits of access to the internet are soon confronted with the need to monitor and prevent inappropriate use.  And, certainly, when children are accessing the internet, this becomes even more important. 

How do we choose the BEST products to protect us and our children from evil?

Let’s take a look at some options – or, in other words, let’s learn more about fighting fire with fire.

Overview of Parental Internet Controls

Many different options are available and comparing them all is beyond the scope of this article, but we will list a few briefly: OS-based parental controls, DNS services such as Cisco Umbrella (formerly OpenDNS), apps such as Covenant Eyes or Accountable2You, appliance-type hardware such as the Drawbridge routers from Compass Foundation, and Bark products.

Router products include other consumer or “prosumer” grade routers, many of which have parental control functions built into them.  Of these options, OS-based controls and apps protect only the individual device that they are running on, while routers and other appliance-type options protect entire networks.

Maybe you have experience with some of these already. If you do, you are probably already aware that each of these options comes with its own set of pros and cons. They also vary in both price and amount of skill needed to deploy them. Some of them also require a subscription which quickly turns a low monthly price into a huge total cost over a number of years.

 As I said, comparing all these options is beyond my scope, although we may look at more of them in future articles.

Instead, I will give you 4 reasons why I believe the Synology SRM routers represent what could be the most powerful and cost-effective solution for small-to-medium size networks requiring granular internet filtering and control.

First, Some Definitions

Some of you reading this may be interested in protecting your family but have very little tech background or digital knowledge. Here are some definitions for terms that we will be using throughout the rest of the article.

  • Firmware: A type of software that is permanently stored on chips or embedded in hardware devices.  In other words, it isn’t stored on disk or other “soft” media.
  • Router: A hardware device with network ports and embedded firmware that is used to route network traffic between two different networks or sub-networks.  For example, a router is used to connect your home network to an ISP’s network.  The ISP’s routers, in turn, connect its users to the Internet.
  • NAS: An acronym for a Network-Attached-Storage device which is basically a file server.
  • GUI: The Graphical User Interface that a user interacts with – in simple English, it is your computer desktop with its icons and menus, etc.

Let’s Look at the Synology SRM System

SRM stands for Synology Router Manager and it refers to the firmware installed on the network router – refer to above definitions.  (If you are familiar with Synology DiskStation® NAS products, those run on software called DSM [DiskStation® Manager].  Synology’s SRM has a similar look and feel to its cousin, DSM.)

Synology SRM

If you have any experience with typical consumer-grade router systems, you know that they are all different, have their own quirks, and can be difficult to configure unless you’re a networking expert.  Not so with the Synology SRM system (whew, great sigh of relief).  It looks and feels – and truly is – more like a friendly, modern, intuitive operating system all its own. 

As you can tell, I could go on and on about this amazing product and all its benefits, but let me just say that it is far and away the nicest router firmware (operating system) that I have ever used in my 25+ years of working with such products.

But we are interested in parental controls.  And this is one (of many) of the areas where the SRM system really shines.

Pros: Four Reasons SRM is the Best for Parental Controls

#1.       It’s inexpensive.  (Hint: no subscription required!)

Synology offers several models of routers that run on the SRM firmware including the high-performance WRX560 currently available for $219.99 on Amazon, the MR2200ac mesh capable router at $119.99, the all-around workhorse RT2600ac at $149.99, and the new ultimate beast known as the RT6600ax clocking in at $299.99. 

This writer uses the more than capable RT2600ac and currently runs a SOHO network with an average of 25 or so active clients on any given day with it.  (For users with multiple active clients in their home such as laptops, desktops, and possibly mobile devices as well such as tablets and phones, something in this category is probably most appropriate). 

Other products that offer this level of control generally require a subscription.  For example, another option, Microsoft Family Safety, offers a free version, but reports indicate that it is crippled in various ways.

#2.       It’s easy to deploy and to use.

The SRM firmware reminds the user of Windows XP with its primary colors and simple, straight-forward GUI. Step-by-step setup instructions are available inside SRM by clicking on the Help question mark icon anywhere in the firmware, and also online at the Synology Knowledge Center

But online help for Synology SRM is abundant on platforms such as YouTube (see the incredible channel called “SpaceRex”).  One can find step-by-step tutorials to do just about anything on Synology products.

3.         The Safe Access app provides robust, granular internet access control for all devices on the network.

Safe access app

                                                            The Safe Access App

The power and simplicity of the Safe Access App for parental controls can’t be overstated!  The app walks you through setting up profiles for either individual devices on your network, or groups of them. 

For example, if the children in the house are all subject to the same website block list and internet use schedule, their devices can be combined into a profile called “Children” and treated as a group.  Once profiles are set up, it’s easy to set the internet access schedule and configure the web filter using categories and specific sites to block or allow. 

This works in either whitelist (parents block everything and only allow a certain list of accessible websites) or blacklist mode (parents allow everything and only block a certain list of sites).  It also works in conjunction with standard, pre-configurable web filter categories. 

The Dashboard provides reporting and notifications of any filtering activity and can be configured using Email, SMS, Desktop, or Mobile push notifications. 

There is nothing desirable for parental controls that is missing from this app!

#4.       No software has to be installed on devices.

As a router-based solution, all services are provided by the router, at the internet gateway, covering all devices on the network.  This means that as a parent or administrator, you have one central control interface to manage every device on your network.  This is in contrast to individual device monitoring apps.

With apps on individual devices, one must ensure that each one remains installed and updated, and of course each one needs individually monitored.  Also, any user that brings their own device onto your network is not protected or filtered and may access objectionable content on your network using their unfiltered device.

Cons: (Everything has at least one downside).

1.         The Synology SRM system only provides protection on the network where it is installed.

Although there would be creative ways to set up filtering for roaming devices on Synology SRM such as setting up a VPN (which is already built in to SRM), generally speaking, if you need parental controls on devices that will roam outside of your network, you will most likely require proxy-based or mobile applications to achieve it.

2.         You really need an external storage device to get the most out of the device.

The Synology routers don’t come with internal storage for installing and running the various apps that they offer.  Instead, they provide an SD card slot and USB slots.  SD Cards and USB flash drives work just fine, but users report that an external USB hard drive is the best solution for long-term performance and stability. 

Summary

This product has so many other incredible features that are too numerous to list here, including file storage and sharing capabilities and much more.  I actually have a 1TB USB 3.0 hard disk connected to mine which adds all kinds of amazing functionality. 

For our family, this product has provided us with home internet control we used to only dream of for a one-time affordable price.  I recommend you consider the Synology SRM routers as well if you are looking for first rate parental controls for your home or institution.[1]

– Josh Scott Lewiston, UT

Join the Digital Dayz community today to ask questions and learn more about staying mentally and spiritually healthy in the digital world we all navigate every day!


[1]      I have not been paid to recommend this product and have no relationship to Synology or any of its affiliates.

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