OpenDNS – Simple, Free, Content Filtering

I used to use NetNanny for content filtering (services that block pornographic, gambling, violent and other objectionable content from the Internet) on my home computer.  It worked pretty good back when I had a home computer.  Now, however, like many modern homes, I have a home network.

I took a inventory last night of my networked devices and here’s what was in my house:  2 Macs, my work MacBook, 2 iPads (my iPad + my daughter’s school is now issuing them), 2 iPods, 1 iPhone, Nintendo WII, a Sony PlayStation, and an old Windows laptop tucked in a drawer.  Does that sound extreme?  Maybe, but I would argue its more common that you think.  In today’s world of networked devices, client-based filtering systems are pretty much useless.  If you install a content filtering system on your home computer how do you secure the rest of the Internet devices you have?  What happens when your kids friends bring their iPods and such over and connect to your home network?

Enter, OpenDNS, a free service that is simple to install.  They have simple video instructions and even instructions specific to the 20 most common home and business wireless routers.  This service can be used both for your home and your church.  And yes, the basic version is actually free!  If you need more than the basic (I didn’t), it will cost you a whopping $19.95 / year.

So what is OpenDNS?  Its a DNS server that includes website filtering.  For those of you that don’t know, DNS stands for Domain Name Service.  its basically an Internet address book.  It does the translation from a URL (i.e. http://www.vatican.va) to its IP address 212.77.1.244.   Behind the scenes your computer talks to that IP address.  Without a DNS server, your computers couldn’t find any website on the Internet.  Normally, when you install a home network or a network in your church, you configure your DNS servers based on what your local ISP recommends.  This is typically done on your home router.  With OpenDNS, you need to change your current DNS servers that your ISP gave you to those of OpenDNS.  Then OpenDNS will do the IP translational for you, but before it does, it cross-references the requested IP address to its list of objectionable websites and blocks those it thinks are objectionable or those you’ve added to your configuration.

It has a few different settings on what to filter, so it can be configured for your specific needs.  Services like these always have a challenge keeping up with all the new websites appearing, but it seems to do a very effective job of keeping out objectionable material.  If you can find the administration password for your wireless router, you can configure OpenDNS in minutes.  If you can keep that same administration password secret, you’ve effectively secured your network from objectionable content for any device that connects in to it..  All for free and all in minutes!

 

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Author:Joe Luedtke

Joe Luedtke is the Chief Operating Officer for Liturgical Publications (LPi). Joe specializes in Social Media and Web 2.0 and is currently leading LPi’s efforts to move into the on-line world. Joe works for the world's largest and oldest social network, religion, and believes that this social network could benefit tremendously from the the proper use of Internet technologies.
  • http://scrutinies.net/ Dorian Speed

    Very, very good information. I’m going to forward this to my husband, our in-house tech support.

  • Kevin Cummings

    I’ve been using OpenDNS at my home for a couple of years and it’s been very reliable (and fast).

    In order to ensure that my network is always filtered, I’ve set my router to update the entry at OpenDNS every time my IP address changes.  That’s not as complicated as it sounds, though.  There’s plenty of good information in the OpenDNS knowledge base and the forums.

    Oh, and one more thing, OpenDNS also helps to protect you from Phising attacks.

  • http://evangelizela.com/ Ricky Jones

    Wow, this sounds awesome. I’ll have to try it out since we’ve got my wife’s siblings in the house. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Ralph Young

    I’ve used OpenDNS for a couple years now, it’s a great service.  One thing it can’t do though – and I’m still looking for a good solution – is protect against a search that may return graphic images.  i.e. – a Google search without any restrictions will not be filtered by OpenDNS because Google is not on their blacklist (nor should it be)… any ideas on this one?  Thanks!

    • http://www.catholictechtalk.com/ Joe Luedtke

      Good catch Ralph. I didn’t consider that. I agree that Google should not be blacklisted, but this does create a small hole in an otherwise solid content filtering solution.

  • Scott S

    I have been considering OpenDNS for a while now! A close friend, who is a network engineer as well told me to about it, what does it do for online video sites? Does it have a hole on these plus the story (erotic literature or fantasy) sites?  Does it block medical sites that have sexuality in natures?  I have a big home / small business network plus a few clients who have big corporate offices in which I have noticed a problem with content.

    Thanks for the help in advance!

    • http://www.catholictechtalk.com/ Joe Luedtke

       Scott, I haven’t tested the story sites, but based on its overall performance at filtering, I would be shocked if it wouldn’t do this.  The medical sites are a tougher one though.  My guess is it will let medical sites in. It does have 3 levels of filtering severity.  Given its free, the only way to be sure is to give it a try.  Its extremely easy to setup.  If you do test it, we’d love to hear the report back on what you think!

      Joe

  • http://www.catholictechtalk.com/ Joe Luedtke

    I received this message via email regarding a concern on OpenDNS. This really wasn’t the original purpose of OpenDNS so it looks like there are some security holes in it. For people who want very secure Content Filter I do recommend NetNanny or CovenantEyes:

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    As a Catholic parent of 6 homeschooling [read always online] children, I thought I’d found the holy grail when I came across OpenDNS. Simple. Effective. Covers all networked devices. Perfect!! I told everybody I knew about this service. Then, the truth. I discovered [or should I say that one of my children discovered] that OpenDNS has a security hole the size of a mack truck. It can be bypassed by simply editing the DNS address of the device NIC from the router [nominally 192.168.1.1 or whatever] to some other public DNS; e.g., Yahoo’s or Googles or whoever’s. Unless the router has the ability to force all DNS traffic to the DNS programmed in the router, then the individual device NIC setup just passes right through the router and totally bypasses OpenDNS. The instructions for doing this can be found in 30-seconds by Googling “bypass Opendns.”

    While it is true that one could not allow any users in his house to be administrators on their own boxes, but this is really an unfeasible solution and doesn’t even account for the various pocket network-enabled devices.

    Anyway, I discovered by trial and error that my Belkin wireless router is not up to the task, so I’m looking for an upgrade.

    Parents should know aobut this.

    Best regards,
    Andy in Nashville, TN

  • Fix Nichols

    We are the worlds leading publisher of Squid ‘Native ACL’ formatted blacklists, that allow for web filtering directly with Squid proxy. Of course we also offer alternative formats for the most widely used third party plugins, such as DansGuardian and Squidguard. And while our blacklists are subscription based, they are as a result of our efforts, of a much higher degree of quality than the free alternatives.

    We hope to serve you,


    Signed,

    Benjamin E. Nichols
    http://www.squidblacklist.org