I've been recommending to friends and family that they use OpenDNS.com to help safeguard their homes from adult content. A few things have changed since I originally started using their service and I thought I'd write up a little article to help everyone understand.
Lets start with the "why". I'm not going to focus on the reason to have some filtering technology. Instead, I want to help educate on the different types of filters and why I prefer OpenDNS. Basically, there are two types of technology being used to filter content. One methodology is to install software on a computer that monitors the computers network activity and redirects filtered content to a blocked page. The second approach is to not intrude upon the computer's installed programs, but to handle the filtering at a network level. OpenDNS.com falls into the second category. I prefer it because I don't have to manage every computer in our home and I don't have to have software that potentially slows my computer down.
There are pitfalls to both kinds of filters. It is important to remember that filters are meant as a safeguard against accidental exposure. There is no technology that will be completely adequate against protecting against purposeful seeking of adult content. I believe however, that filtering content at the network level is a little more effective in todays environment of gadgets that can connect to the internet. People commonly have cell phones, game consoles, multiple computers, music players, and other miscellaneous devices that can access the internet. It's impractical and near impossible to install software on all devices. In addition, if someone brings a computer into your home and connects to your network, they are also filtered by default.
How OpenDNS works
First, a quick internet terminology primer. DNS stands for Domain Name Service. When you type a website into your browser, your browser connects to what are called "name servers". Those DNS servers look up the computer address of the name you typed in and return it to the browser, which can then connect to the server providing the website you wish to visit. Every computer must have domain name servers available or the browser will be unable to resolve websites by names. You'd have to type in everything manually, e.g., http://184.108.40.206/ (That goes to Google currently).
OpenDNS provides DNS servers that do the same as the DNS servers you're already using. The difference is that when you type in a domain for a service that should be blocked on your network, their name servers direct you to a page that explains the website is blocked.
When I originally started suggesting OpenDNS.com, their name servers blocked adult websites when you simply started using them. They changed some months ago to not block any content unless you request for them to do so. You must create an account on OpenDNS.com and choose to block inappropriate content.
How do I get started
I couldn't adequately explain all there is to know within this post, but I want to highlight a few things.
- First, OpenDNS has a quickstart website with instructions. Go there next: http://use.opendns.com/
- Most home users have a router that provides access for all the computers in the home. Use that first. That provides the most coverage for your home and the various devices you might have. You can follow the steps individually for your computer too if you like, but if your computer gets it's network information from your router (most do), then you only need to do the setup once.
- You need to understand how your ISP provides internet access. You'll have to learn if you have a dynamic or static IP Address. If you look at your router or network configuration, and it is configured with "DHCP", then you probably have a dynamic address. Of you choose "manual" configuration and an ip address is typed in, then you use a static address. If you have a dynamic address, you'll need to add software to your computer to notify them of your ip address changes. They provide this:
- Once you've created an account with OpenDNS.com and have things set up, you can enable filtering by going to the dashboard and adding your network. Don't forget this step!
- This doesn't protect your cell phones when you're using the cell phone data plan!. Contact your cell phone provider for protection there. Most have it!
Hope this helps!