Goodbye Gryphon (an honest review from an exhausted user)

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I'm done with Gryphon. I really want to like their products. I've tried to be patient, but their software has made it impossible to do that. If it were just an issue of slowness or kludginess, it'd be annoying but tolerable, but it's so buggy that it's completely eroded my trust in their ability to do what they promise - to be "your family's first line of defense against digital dangers".

We purchased one of their routers several years ago, sold on the above. Initially, most of the features went unused aside from creating a few profiles with different levels of access (high school vs elementary school, etc) and adding a few devices to each. After all, there are "1.2 million blocked sites stored locally on Gryphon, and aggregated website reputation ratings from multiple sources including other parents", so you get a lot out of the box. Awesome.

The more we've come to rely on its various features though, the more obvious it's become how broken it is. Here's a list of problems we've had in the last couple of years.. the ones I can remember anyway.

Disappearing Schedules

Nothing in the app is particularly easy to use, and scheduling is no exception. It's confusing to setup, with a rule (seen as a "Note" in the second image below) about how setting up a time span after midnight defines access for the early morning, whereas a time span that crosses midnight actually defines access for the late evening into the next day's morning.

To see why this is confusing, imagine this and compare it to the screen captures:

  • Creating a schedule for 11p - 6a on Thursday (image 1) applies it to late Thu night / early Fri morning.
  • Applying the same 11p - 6a schedule to Friday as well (not pictured) applies to late Fri night / early Sat morning. No surprises.
  • But then changing the Friday schedule to 12:30a - 6a (image 2) applies it to very early Fri morning instead, which now conflicts with a portion of the Thurs schedule, popping up a somewhat confusing confirmation prompt (image 3).
  • Choosing "yes" applies it (image 4) and completely removes the conflicting Thurs schedule (image 5), which means the 11p - 12a portion of late Thursday night is now gone too.

I could create a separate schedule for Thurs night to cover the 11p - 12a spot, but why should I need to? Why couldn't the app figure that out itself? In fact, why not just show a spread-sheet style grid with 7 days on the left (rows) and 24 hours across the top (columns) and let users fill in the times (cells) when they'd like to disable Internet access? The software can do whatever it needs behind the scenes to apply the selections.

Okay, that's annoying and requires some mental gymnastics, but it's not a showstopper.

This is, though. The kids wanted to stay on a little later with friends one night. There's a feature for overriding a user (aka profile) schedule for a single evening, but it can be confusing and inconsistent too. So I made the above changes instead, intending to change the schedules back the next day. When I jumped into the app the next morning, well... notice anything missing? Yep. Everything. I restarted the app a couple times, tried refreshing it, but even though the schedules for other profiles were still there, the one for this profile was just completely gone.

Was it a glitch in the UI? Would restarting my phone fix it? Wiping the app cache? Reinstalling the app? Rebooting the router? Who knows.

Did it delete the profile when I tried to view it, or did it happen the night before when I changed it? Did it happen in middle of the night? I have no answers, so I just recreated the schedule. Will it delete it again? Delete them all (an issue we've had in the past)? Several days later, 3 other profiles had their schedules vanish too, although it didn't affect this one again or a few other profiles.

I contacted support about this (and several other issues), and a week later they said there was a firmware update to apply. I had the router install it and reboot immediately, cautiously optimistic. The next day, another profile disappeared and one that was set to disable the Internet at 11p had inexplicably changed to 8p.

This is the kind of stuff that drives a person nuts, wondering if they accidentally pressed something or did something wrong. Except in the above case I took screen captures, fully prepared for something weird to happen.

Ignored Schedules

We had an issue not too long ago, where a certain profile was set to disable the Internet at 11p on school nights, but someone got carried away and stayed on talking to friends later than they should have. But wait.. how was that even possible?

I rechecked the schedule for the profile, and it was absolutely set for 11p. Then I checked the logs and it was absolutely allowing Internet access from a device in that profile anyway, an hour later than it should have been.

That led to a good conversation about self-control and cultivating good habits, but also having extra leeway when other things (like grades and life in general) are going well, so uh... thanks Gryphon for busting again? I now have huge doubts that the schedules actually work, even when they aren't being randomly deleted.

Inaccessible Devices

And then there was my work laptop, sitting just a few feet away from the Gryphon mesh device I purchased last year, that kept getting assigned to the main router sitting 30+ feet away on the other side of the house. The point of a mesh system is that devices should be automatically assigned to whatever device is closest, and there's no setting in the app to give it a gentle nudge, so I dealt with a weak connection and disconnections from meetings for a couple weeks.

Source: Wireless mesh networks explained | PCWorld

Out of ideas, I selected the device in the app and hit the "Delete" button, intending to let it be rediscovered and reassigned. The device disappeared from the UI... but still had Internet access. So now I had a ghost device that didn't show up in the app anymore (so I couldn't do anything with it) and yet still had Internet, despite having the system configured to block devices by default.

The solution? Later in the day, I rebooted the router. When all else fails, reboot, right? Then the work laptop popped up as a new device and had no Internet until I assigned it. On a more positive note, it seemed to be using the mesh router after that. ๐Ÿ™„

Blocked Sites (that shouldn't be)

After a firmware update recently, the kids couldn't get to a bunch of sites they regularly access. I opened the app and noticed a couple dozen sites that were blocked, many of them educational sites and other services which weren't even in the list before.

I had to spend 45 minutes going through every profile, one by one, re-enabling the sites, dealing with the slow UI and periodic timeouts, while a gnawing question grew in the back of my mind. Was I going to have to go through this again tomorrow? Next week?

A couple days later, when things seemed okay, we realized no one could search for books at our local library. They could see the library site, but the search feature was broken. Was the site down? Maybe some unexpected maintenance on their end?

I checked the list in the app, but there was nothing blocked for our library's domain. Then I typed in the subdomain (search.whatever.com) that the library uses for the search page, and that was marked as blocked. @#$%

Unhelpful Errors

From time to time, the app alerts me of vague issues but no information with which to make an informed decision. I'm a technical person. I know what port scanning is and why it's wise to keep ports locked down if you don't need them open.

What I don't know is why a kindle (in this case) would be trying to scan ports inside the network, and the app isn't helpful about directing the user anywhere for more information. Okay, maybe that warrants more research. But what in the world does "anomaly detected" mean for a Chromecast device? Google's hacking our network for sure, lol. Changing "Monitor" to "Ignore" doesn't seem to prevent it from popping up again later either.

This is not the "simplified network security" they promise on their site.

Kludgy UI

There are many, many times when I go into the UI and what I see doesn't reflect what I know to be reality. A schedule for bedtime or homework isn't right. I wait 10 seconds to see if it needs to update or something in the UI, but it doesn't. I swipe down to refresh and then it updates. Why should I need to do that? I now doubt every screen, swiping down everywhere I can in the app, just in case something's out-of-date. Which leads to another fun issue...

Swiping my finger upwards on most screens will scroll down just fine. But swiping my finger down to scroll back up on certain screens has a random chance of either scrolling the screen up or refreshing/reloading it. While it's refreshing, I can scroll up and down just fine, but then it finishes a few seconds later and reloads the screen, taking me back to the top. It's maddening.

And for these reasons... I'm out

Dealing with a few of these problems a few times is asking a lot. But taking them all together, happening more frequently, is way too much. I don't know if the schedules are going to disappear, or already have. Should I double-check right now? Even if they don't disappear, I don't know if they're being correctly applied. Sites that shouldn't be blocked suddenly are.. are sites that should be blocked actually being allowed? The vague errors like "anomaly detected" aren't helpful either, especially on a Google IOT device that certainly isn't hacked.

I'm annoyed to be left with something I can't trust, that's proven unintuitive and unwieldly - ironic given the statement that this was created because "Our CEO ... found existing solutions were often unintuitive, unwieldy, and worst of all, ineffective. Most systems were also difficult to use..."

Thanks for trying Gryphon, and I sincerely hope you get your software figured out, especially since you've sent a dozen emails over the last month about how much money you've made, and about investing and crowdfunding efforts. I'm going to hang on to the hardware (which generally works great) even after I find another solution, and hopefully in a year or two it's a more stable product. ๐Ÿคž

What's next?

Gryphon isn't the only game in town. Quite a few routers provide parental security controls to varying degrees. The ASUS ZenWifi AX6600 looks promising, especially since there were plenty of customer reviews on Amazon that specifically said the parental controls are good. I checked out their doc on how to setup parental controls, and it seems like it only supports restricting categories of sites, not individual sites, so I skipped it.

Other devices, like the Bark Home, work in tandem with your router (and it seems to support a lot) to provide what Gryphon basically provided. The reviews seem generally favorable, but there's quite a few for their app that give me the same vibe as the Gryphon app. It seems like, for a lot of the devices I looked at over the course of the last week, the hardware is solid but the software is not. Maybe I'm just being paranoid, but I'd really like to avoid a repeat situation.

After a day of research I settled on the Synology RT2600ac, a router with good specs, from a company I've heard of (they sell highly rated NAS servers, as well as other network equipment), and the reviews for the parental controls are overwhelmingly positive.

My favorite review is from Dan, who took the time to list out everything he did, why he did it, and he even included screenshots which is enormously helpful, especially for someone (like me) who wants to see exactly what he's getting into.

I wrote this post in bits and pieces over the last week, before I saw this Synology router. What I wrote earlier, about what would make the Gryphon scheduler interface more intuitive.. this (from Dan's review) is exactly the kind of thing I was picturing in my head. The UI should lay it all out, let the user select the time ranges, and then work the requisite magic in the background. Nice.

Source: Dan F, detail-oriented Amazon reviewer

It was out of stock on Amazon, so I purchased it directly from Synology. Same price and delivery date, more for shipping but less for tax. Looking forward to trying it out!

There's a newer, more powerful version called the RT6600ax, but it's more expensive and more than I need. It supports the WiFi 6 standard, versus the RT2600ac supporting WiFi 5, but it seems that the main benefit (of course, not the only) is better performance in busy environments.. like malls and offices. We have a lot of devices in our house, but not that many, lol. Might be worth comparing though, if you like having options.

Now if you'll excuse me, another anomoly was just detected. The toaster's probably trying to hack the fridge...

Author

Grant Winney

I write when I've got something to share - a personal project, a solution to a difficult problem, or just an idea. We learn by doing and sharing. We've all got something to contribute.


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