My quest to find an inexpensive or free way to provide a safer and content filtered Internet browsing experience for my family over our home high speed Internet connection has been solved! The answer? OpenDNS.

Today while I was enjoying a visit to the Oklahoma City Apple Store, I misspelled a website address I was trying to access on one of the beautiful 24″ flatscreen iMac computers. I noticed that when the website address was not found, a customized message was displayed suggesting an alternate spelling for the website address. I noticed this message was enabled by the OpenDNS service, and upon visiting their website, learned that the free OpenDNS service can be used to block network access to adult/objectionable websites for FREE. This is a BIG deal.

There are various ways to attempt to protect and prevent individuals on a computer network from accessing objectionable websites. Since our ten year old son got his own laptop about a month ago, this has become a bigger concern for us as a family. We haven’t had any issues with him accessing inappropriate material online, but I would like at least a basic level of protection to insure that he or our daughters don’t stumble onto an inappropriate website. As their friends start also using the Internet more when they come over to the house, I know this will be an ongoing concern.

When we purchased the Mac OS 10.5 Leopard operating system upgrade back in October, I was enthused about the parental controls features it includes. Those features are not available on our son’s six year old Mac laptop, however, because it is too old to run the latest operating system from Apple.

I have long thought that a network-level content filtering solution for home users is DIRELY needed and would be a great commercial product, as long as it would be affordable. The reason a “network-level content filtering solution” is needed is that in many households, multiple computers are used to access the Internet. As an example, in our own home over the holidays, we’ve had eight different computers owned by our family members and guests on our wireless network accessing the Internet at different times. Those computers have run different operating systems. The logistics of managing a single content filtering solution on the network compared to trying to keep up with parental control software on multiple computers is VERY different. Thankfully, OpenDNS appears to be EXACTLY the type of solution I’ve been looking for to provide NETWORK-WIDE content filtering and website access logging– and the price is right: It is FREE.

The getting started directions for OpenDNS are very clear and straightforward. This content filtering solution is usable irrespective of the Internet Service Provider you currently use. This approach utilizes DNS, or the Domain Name System, which essentially functions as the phone book of the Internet. Instead of using the default DNS server addresses provided by your ISP, with OpenDNS you utilize their DNS server addresses and are able to manage multiple features of your Internet connection as a result, including content filtering.

As described in the OpenDNS getting started directions, my first step was to reconfigure my home router to use the OpenDNS server addresses and update the router. This took about two minutes:

Only required changes to use OpenDNS

Then, I was able to create a free OpenDNS account and specify different options relating to Internet access through my home router. These included turning on a variety of different content filtering options:

Content filtering options with OpenDNS

Once these options were enabled, a customized “blocked” message was displayed in a web browser when an attempt was made to access an inappropriate or objectionable website:

OpenDNS blocked website message

One of the other options I enabled within my OpenDNS dashboard was statistics and logging:

Free logging of network access with OpenDNS

With this feature enabled, I will have access to information about all the Internet traffic requests which originate from computers connected to my home network. This is not only beneficial from the standpoint of knowing if anyone has attempted to access blocked websites – It can also potentially show me if any unauthorized parties (like my neighbors) are utilizing my Internet connection without permission and potentially engaging in illegal filesharing or other activities. This scenario is VERY doubtful, given the fact that my wireless network is secured with WPA2 encryption (which has never been cracked, as far as I know) but it is still handy. For those home or organizational users with open or less secure WEP encrypted WiFi networks, this functionality could be more critical and useful.

I am SO THRILLED to have found about about OpenDNS and successfully configured my network for content filtering in literally five minutes! I no longer have to search for commercial or free software which could be installed on the computers in our home to provide for content filtering, or figure out a way to add a free or commercial device to our local network to provide content filtering. I had even been considering running an old computer with IPCop to provide content filtering. Those options are no longer needed. Now, whatever ANY computers connect to the Internet via our home network, they will be automatically content filtered. If someone has a question about a blocked site, they can directly click a link to email me, as the designated network administrator.

OpenDSN allows direct contact with the local network administrator

I don’t see this email feature being used at our home, but in an organization like our church I can certainly envision the potential benefits of this functionality.

Yeah for OpenDNS! I am eager to let members of the Digital Dialog social network know about this powerful and FREE option for providing a basic level of home or organizational content filtering! Certainly commercial content filtering schemes can provide a more robust level of control over Internet access, but OpenDNS will allow local network administrators to whitelist sites as desired. I think this is a GREAT solution, and could even be used by schools to comply with CIPA – for FREE.

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  • http://allanahk.edublogs.org/ AllanahK

    I just found out about OpenDNS to make Skitch work on my Apple laptop running Leopard.

    After an upgrade of Skitch it was not able to upload screengrabs to MySkitch web page. By entering the DNS numbers Skitch was able to upload fine.

    A great find.

  • http://myfla.ws Arthus Erea

    OpenDNS really does rock. You should also check out the shortcuts feature. By using DNS, you can type in something like wiki and automatically be sent to Wikipedia. It is also very useful to monitor network traffic.

  • http://www.ncs-tech.org Kevin Jarrett

    Hi Wes!

    Terrific post. Thanks! I’m contemplating linking to it from our school website as I think many in our community would benefit from using OpenDNS.

    FWIW, another great free filtering resource for those running PCs is the Naomi content filter:

    http://www.radiance.m6.net/

    It is far less sophisticated than OpenDNS but requires almost no knowledge whatsoever to install and does not require a router since it is a locally-installed application. Even though it has not been updated in a while, I give it to friends and family running Windows XP all the time. It’s beautifully simple; if it detects porn it simply closes the browser. No message, no warning, just … gone. While the UI of OpenDNS is clearly superior, the families I’ve installed this for have had GREAT results. Imagine the scenario … someone is stealthily accessing their PC in search of illicit material … they go to load the page … and the browser closes! Hilarity ensues when said user contemplates asking someone why the web page they were using suddenly closed … then they realize that by asking about it, they implicate themselves … HA!

    Again, it’s much more of a ‘brute force’ solution and limited to XP machines, but, it works as advertised!

    Hope this helps,

    -kj-

  • http://www.opendns.com/ John Roberts

    Thanks for the great writeup of our service. Nothing much to add, other than OpenDNS works well at schools, libraries, and businesses, too.

    John Roberts
    OpenDNS

  • Pingback: Review: OpenDNS Adult Site Blocking « Filtering Facts()

  • http://www.filteringfacts.org David Burt

    I wrote of the review of OpenDNS filtering here http://filteringfacts.org/2008/01/01/review-opendns-adult-site-blocking/ I use OpenDNS filtering in my own home, and I think it’s a great home filtering solution for parents with younger children, but not secure enough for other uses without some additional lock down tools. — David Burt

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