THE PROBLEM AND THE SOLUTION
You can install an internet filter on your family computer. But that’s not going to affect your kid’s iPod. Or your exchange student’s tablet. Or any other device that’s connecting through your router. It will only filter the one device it’s installed on.
Well, I just discovered that there’s a better way to help protect your family from the worst parts of the internet. It’s not too hard to set up. And it’s free.
It’s called OpenDNS.
HOW IT WORKS
Let me explain, from one layman to another.
I usually imagine that the internet uses words to communicate. For example, my website goes by the name of www.jwashburn.com. But I only think this way because I’m a human.
My computer knows my website by a different name: One-seven-three Dot One-nine-four Dot Six-eight Dot One-twenty-one. (Kind of like how Bruce Wayne is known as Batman.)
So when I type www.jwashburn.com into Chrome, my computer sends that to a DNS (a domain name server), and the DNS says, “Oh, yeah, I know that site’s real name. One sec, and I’ll send you to the right place.”
So all communication from your browser to the rest of the internet gets filtered through a DNS. Your ISP (internet service provider) probably has you using some default DNS of their own. Google also happens to have a DNS that they invite people to use (for faster lookups, they say).
Well, OpenDNS is another option.
And it has one particularly great perk: If you send a request for a site that’s on their bad list, they won’t send you to that page. Instead you’ll get another page that says, “Hey, we’re OpenDNS, and that site has been blocked for such and such a reason.”
What’s more, you only have to set it up once, and it will affect every device connected to your router. That means it will filter your iPad, your iPhone, your Android phone, and everything else. (That is, as long as they’re connecting through your WiFi rather than a cellular plan. Speaking of which, you should get your family on Republic Wireless for $10/month.)
I noticed, too, that OpenDNS is used by many businesses and schools, which I somehow found reassuring.
HOW TO SET IT UP
I’m not going to give you a complete walk-through (since it’s slightly different for each router). But I’ll get you started.
Go to their website and click on the yellow WEB FILTERING and then on HOME. From there I went to OpenDNS Family Shield because it said it was pre-configured. (To be honest, the other free option, OpenDNS Home, seemed to be the exact same service. I can’t tell the difference. Anyone know?)
As you proceed, make sure you choose the option to put it on your ROUTER and not just on a single computer. (By the way, if you don’t know, your router is the box that blinks when the internet is working.)
From here, it gets tricky, because every router will have a different setup. Choose your router from the list (or choose one that’s similar, which is what I had to do since mine wasn’t on the list). Then follow those steps to “set your static DNS to 126.96.36.199.” (That means whenever you want to go somewhere on the internet, your router will ask OpenDNS for directions.)
Pro tip: I’m embarrassed to even mention it, but you might want to use Internet Explorer for this setup, instead of Chrome. Old routers are more likely to get along with IE.
OpenDNS is free.
It’s pretty easy to set up.
And it filters all the devices in your house.
Go here to get started: http://www.opendns.com/
UPDATE: I haven’t experienced any problems, but some users said it slowed down YouTube and Netflix (though this may have been fixed). If you do make the switch to OpenDNS, watch these sites in particular for playback issues.
Also, I guess I should’ve mentioned that the best solution is to teach correct principles and let the children govern themselves. After all, no filter is perfect. OpenDNS is a nice safety net, but it isn’t guaranteed to block everything that’s inappropriate.
Some of you may have noticed that I’m in over my head, as far as the technical side of all this goes. If you have anything to add about that (or anything else), please drop a comment below.
This site has a toolbox of 120 tools and tricks for the concerned parent to keep their children safe online. Might be worth looking into as well . . .