Friday, March 21, 2008

OpenDNS: A safer internet

I spend a fair amount of time on the internet, probably associated with my N.A.D.D. -- which pretty much means that I'm hooked on the "content firehose" that is the internet. I'm amassing knowledge (and not wisdom) at an unhealthy rate, and I know it -- who cares that the world's longest ear-hair is 10 inches?

Anyway, it shouldn't take anyone long to discover that the internet's a fairly dangerous place in more ways than one -- ask me sometime about the first hit I got on a Yahoo! image search for "family" a few weeks back (with SafeSearch supposedly on!). If you're part of the internet generation reading this, you probably won't be surprised.

Of course there are lots of internet filter options, but so far it's been pretty hit and miss. Mostly it's software that's installed that you have to buy or subscribe to (or both!). Who wants to do that? Besides all the options on the Mac get mediocre to poor reviews.

Enter OpenDNS, a simple free service that takes care of most of the problem for you.

Here's the lowdown:
  • Content filters sit on your local machine watching the incoming traffic for keywords that meet a certain criteria, and if it finds them, it refuses to pass the data along to your browser.
  • DNS filter services (DNS = domain name server), on the other hand, replace your ISPs default DNS with their own servers, which keep track of which sites are okay and which are not -- if your computer requests a site that is objectionable, the DNS server points your browser to their "safe" server instead.
How does this work? The internet is just a bunch of computers connected together, passing files around. When you type in "", your browser asks your OS to lookup the IP address of, and your OS asks the DNS (domain name server). That's where the DNS filter service steps in, mis-directing your browser (in a good way) to their own safe servers.

OpenDNS* is a free DNS service that does this. You can block dozens of different types of categories, add white-list items (sites that will never be blocked), and keep logs of blocked requests if you like. To use it, just type their DNS server addresses into your DNS server fields in your router configuration window or in your network setup (you may need help with this part, if you don't know what this means).

How do they make money? By putting ads on the blocked or mis-entered pages -- so if you type "", you get a google search results page with ads that pay them if you click on them. I'm totally fine with that.

One of my favorite parts about this is that you can set the DNS servers on your router, so all computers in your house are protected, and it's pretty tricky to sidestep. Also, there are a ton of users already, but if you run across something that made it through, you can submit pages to the service for review.

Granted it won't catch everything (including my Yahoo! example above, unless I want to block all of Yahoo!), but it goes a long way in the right direction.

* is a similar service that I used to use, but it doesn't allow all the fancy customizations.

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views since Feb. 9, 2008