While the Internet has an abundant supply of useful places to go, it’s also a haven for seedy, ugly places that you don’t want your family visiting. There are options for filtering, however many of them cost money and require you to install software. This is not the best solution for everyone. Fortunately, there is an alternative. OpenDNS is offering filtering of adult web sites for free and without having to install software.
How does it work?
To explain how it works, I need to explain what DNS is. DNS stands for Domain Name System. Every computer on a network (the Internet is an enormous network) has an address that they use to find each other. It’s very much like the address the postal service uses to find your home. Since computers speak numbers, your computer’s address is a series of numbers. While this works very well for computers, it isn’t very effective for people. Since we like words, a naming convention was developed. After all, it’s easier to remember and type http://www.amazon.com than it is to type 18.104.22.168. DNS is the system that looks up the numbers that correspond to the address you type into your browser. On large networks including the Internet, DNS servers are used. They contain giant lists of valid websites and the numbered addresses they use. Every time you visit a website your request is sent to a DNS server that finds the address of the website you are looking for and sends you there. When you sign up for Internet service, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) provides you with DNS to make the Internet useful to you. Normally, they do this behind the scenes and you don’t have to worry about setting up anything. You enter the name of the website you want to visit and your ISP’s DNS servers handle the look ups. With the content filtering by OpenDNS, you use the DNS server from OpenDNS instead of the DNS server from your ISP. OpenDNS maintains a list of adult websites, and when you try to visit a website, it checks your request against its list of bad sites. If it’s a bad site, it blocks you from visiting.
How do I set it up?
You have two options. If you have just one computer and you don’t use a router (mostly with dial-up), it’s a simple change to your computer’s network settings. OpenDNS has good instructions on how to do this.
More commonly these days, you have broadband and a simple home network with a router. In that case, you’ll want to set up your router to use OpenDNS. Setting up your router is a better way to go. Every device that uses your network normally gets filtered, because every device on your network will go through your router unless the default settings have been changed on the device. This includes cell phones, iPods, video game consoles, iPads, and computers. Again, OpenDNS has very simple step by step instructions specific to router models. Chances are, they have your router listed. Setting up your router means you don’t have to change every device on your network individually.
Is that it?
While a good solution, it’s not perfect. There are ways around it. For instance, you can override the DNS settings on most devices that connect to your network. However, to do this, you need to be running in an account with administrative privileges. If you took my advice from my earlier post, What is an Administrator?, you won’t be running your computers as an administrator. For portable devices such as cell phones, this gets more difficult to stop. If your kids setup your router for you, they can log in and change the DNS settings to get past the filtering. Setting up a router isn’t overly complicated, it’s something that you can do. New offerings such as the upcoming Linksys Valet series of routers by Cisco are touting their quick and easy setup. Those should be at your local retailer such as Radio Shack and Target soon. At the very least, you should at least change the password so they can’t make changes that you don’t want. Finally, people are now taking the Internet with them wherever they go in the form of mobile phones and other devices such as the 3G enabled iPad. When these types of devices enter your home, it’s very difficult to filter access, particularly if you don’t own the device. However, if you feel that filtering the Internet is a good idea, this is a good solution. Just don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s foolproof.
There is a downside to this arrangement in that changes are completely out of your control. You can’t change what you can access and what you can’t. If you want more control, OpenDNS does offer a free basic package with controls over what gets filtered and what doesn’t. Setting that up is a post for another time.