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OpenDNS Filtering: A Review For Home and Church

Parents wanting to protect their children from undesirable material on the Internet used to have a fairly easy task:

Install filtering software on the computer!

In 2012 that is simply not enough.  Why?

wiiBecause access to the Internet is no longer limited to the PC/Mac but now includes the following devices:

  • iPads & iPods
  • PS3 Consoles
  • Wii Consoles
  • Kindles, and
  • MORE….

Each and every one of these devices  can access pornography, other sexually explicit material, hate sites, hacker sites, and more.

When we consider how to protect children and teens who are using these devices we come across a problem:

They all directly access the router to get to the Internet, wired or via WI-FI.

So, any filter that we put on a PC is totally useless for protecting users of these other devices.   They simply bypass the PC entirely.

Fortunately there is a simple, elegant solution:

Use OpenDNS!

OpenDNSOpenDNS is not software.  It is a special, filtered DNS server that you use to go online.

HUH?  What’s a DNS server?

Well, DNS stands for Domain Name Server.  DNS servers are critical to the operation of the Internet and, for want of a better metaphor, function like giant phone books.  When you type in www.space.com your computer goes to a DNS server to get space.com’s NUMERICAL address on the Internet.  It’s like looking up a phone number.

OpenDNS is a server where you, the user, can set filters at the “phone book” level.  It essentially creates a custom phone book for you, based upon your filtering choices, and uses that for ALL Internet traffic in your home, or on a specific system (such as a laptop).  There are over 50 categories you can filter!

When you sign up for Internet service your router (or gateway) will default to your provider’s DNS server.  In using OpenDNS you change the settings on your router to point to a specific DNS server, the one that OpenDNS is running.  It’s like hard-wiring a phone number into your network.  It can only dial THAT NUMBER to get to the rest of the Internet.

Since most of us have dynamic IP addresses (our “net number” changes from time to time), you will have to download and install a small piece of software that monitors your IP address and keeps OpenDNS updated.  But, you only have to do that on ONE computer!

How do you use OpenDNS?  First you decide which level of service you want:

  • OpenDNS Basic (FREE!)
    .
  • OpenDNS Deluxe ($9.95/year for a family pack (individual or household
    with up to 5 users) or $5/user/year for businesses, schools, or other organizations)
  • OpenDNS Enterprise (Starting at $2,000/year)  <<< Probably not for you and me!

The Basic and Deluxe editions are both very effective.  The Deluxe adds some additional features that you may or may not want.  The most important to many users will be tech support via e-mail.  It is easy to start with the Basic and move up to Deluxe.

There are pros and cons to any solution.  Here are a few of each:

thumbs-up-downPROS:

  • Regardless of whether you get BASIC or DELUXE, it is a great value!
    .
  • It is pretty platform independent.  The OpenDNS Updater is available for Windows, OS X, and Linux.
    .
  • Even the basic version gives you a wide range of filtering categories to choose from.
    .
  • You can have a whitelist (can go there) or a specific blacklist (can’t go there) in addition to the standard categories.
    .
  • It provides filtering for every device on your network, wired or WI-FI!
    .
  • It is a FASTER server!

CONS:

  • Unlike PC-based filtering, OpenDNS does not provide the capability of setting time limits (hours/day or time of day).
    .
  • Except for the Enterprise edition, there is no method of reporting
    activity via e-mail.
    .
  • There are extra steps needed if you are accessing a VPN.
    .
  • It does not provide the means to filter, or turn off, any of the non-web components of the Internet, such as peer-to-peer file-sharing, e-mail, chat, etc.
    .
  • Some provider-supplied routers/gateways do not permit you to designate a particular DNS server. (ATT Uverse is among these due to its use of IPTV protocol.)  This is overcome by setting the DNS on each computer/device (where possible).

I recommend OpenDNS to everyone who is trying to protect your family from inappropriate material on the Internet.  While it is not a complete, full-featured solution, it was not intended to be!  It is a great method of filtering both computers and non-PC systems simply and cheaply.  Because it is a network setting and not a software filter, there is no problem using other software-based filters such as NET NANNY.  I recommend the two-level approach.

scandalAlso, OpenDNS can provide a church or school with a lot of piece of mind.  It can be set to block proxy and anonymizer sites, thereby preventing one of the ways kids love to get around filters!  While the cost may be higher ($5/seat/year), consider the impact to your church/school (reputation and giving) if there is a scandal.

What do you have to do to use OpenDNS?  For the home user it is relatively simple.  Before you start you need to have the logon and password for your router/gateway.

  1. Go to www.opendns.com.
  2. Read up on it and, when you are ready to sign up, click on the USE OPENDNS tab.
  3. Select which version you want to use and click SIGN UP or BUY NOW, as appropriate.
  4. Follow the instructions for configuring your router or computer (as appropriate)
  5. Set up your filtering on the DASHBOARD.
  6. Download and install the OpenDNS Updater client.

That’s it.  Churches, schools, and businesses should have their network administrator contact OpenDNS for the best solution for their organization, depending on your organization’s size.

I have found almost all of my questions answered via their support site and knowledge base.  Those that were not answered were more geared to writing an article about the product, not using it.  You can search for specific instructions for devices such as the Wii.

So, how do you protect your family?

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