I love free stuff. Especially if it makes my life easier, or solves some problem I’m trying to work through. I’m always on the lookout for things that are easy to set up, easy to use, and effective.
One free service that I love is called OpenDNS. It is a service that helps protect your home Internet connection from adult content. To understand how it does this, we need to learn a little bit about how the Internet works. I’ll try to make it interesting, but let’s be real – this is geek stuff. If you don’t care about the details, feel free to skip down to the next section. You won’t hurt my feelings.
How DNS Servers Work (Long-Winded Technobabble)
DNS, or Domain Name Servers, are an essential component of the Internet. They do a lot of the behind-the-scenes work in delivering information you want to see to your computer. They are similar to a directory or a map, guiding you to the location you want to go. Here’s the basics of how they work.
Website files are hosted on servers. Every server on the Internet is assigned an address, called an IP address. These addresses are made up of a bunch of numbers. For example, Facebook has many IP addresses. You can access their site by entering facebook.com into your browser. But did you know that you can also access Facebook by entering the following IP address into your browser?
I think that’s pretty cool, but imagine having to remember that set of numbers and type it into your browser every time you wanted to catch up on political dribble. It would get pretty crazy pretty quickly.
Enter the DNS server.
DNS servers take the IP address (all those numbers) of a website and point it to the common name of the site, like facebook.com. Common website addresses are easy to remember, but your computer doesn’t access websites that way. Your computer looks for the IP address of a website to retrieve information.
So the process goes something like this:
- you enter a website address into your browser
- your computer heads out to a DNS Server with the request
- the DNS Server locates the IP address of the website and sends it to your computer
- your computer directs you to the correct website
Typically, every Internet provider has their own DNS servers. There are also several popular public DNS servers. OpenDNS is an alternative to your own DNS server. It keeps track of every website, and determines if it is safe for you to visit.
How OpenDNS Makes Your Internet Safe
You made it. Are you still awake? If so, congratulations. Hopefully you learned something. Now it’s time to see how OpenDNS does its job.
As we learned above, your computer visits a DNS server before actually taking you to a website. OpenDNS works by blocking your computer from websites that it has found to be inappropriate. It does so like this:
- you enter a website address into your browser
- your computer heads out to the OpenDNS server with the request
- the OpenDNS server locates the address of the website and determines whether it is safe for you to view
- your computer either goes to the safe website, or receives a message that the website has been blocked
That’s it. Pretty simple, and very effective. So how do we set it up? I’m glad you asked.
The OpenDNS service is free for personal use. The product I recommend that you set up is called OpenDNS Family Shield. It can be setup and used on a computer-by-computer basis, but I prefer setting it up on your home router. Now before you check out, I know some of this stuff can get complicated. You may not have a technical bone in your body, but I promise you this is super-easy to set up.
On the setup page at the OpenDNS website is a link for setting up your home router. Clicking on that link will take you to a page that lists router manufacturers. They have taken the time to create setup guides for all of the major manufacturers of Internet devices. Rather than me trying to explain the setup for every device, I suggest using one of their manufacturer-specific guides for an easier process.
The bottom line is this: you will be replacing the DNS server information in your router with the OpenDNS server addresses. The effect of this is that any device that connects to your router is protected. Voila. Super easy. If you have trouble as you are setting this up, feel free to ask for help. I will gladly assist in any way I can.
Just A Tool – Not The Only Solution
A word of caution. This is not a foolproof way to completely block inappropriate content from ever reaching your computer. There are ways around this service. That’s why I think it’s so important to always be talking with your family about the importance of Internet safety and responsible Internet use. Explain to them what you’re doing when you set this up. Tell them why. Involve them in the process and it will open a dialogue that puts you on the same page.
I’d love to hear your experience with this and other services you have used in efforts to protect your family. Remember, this isn’t the only solution, but is part of an overall strategy to protect your family. I’m rooting for you and the safety of your family online. Let me know if I can help.