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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Kid Safe Internet: OpenDNS for the Home

A few months ago (back in December), Google rolled out Google Public DNS and it encouraged people to use it for a faster Internet experience. This was the first time for many that the term DNS became a household word. DNS stands for Domain Name System (click for Wikipedia Entry). DNS is sort of like a phone book for computers on the Internet. It looks up the web address that you type in and turns that into a number computers can use to locate the website. For instance, when you type "" into your web browser address bar, DNS turns that into the number If you enter that number in your web browser, you will go to Google's home page. Without DNS, we would have to type in a series of numbers for every web page that we visited -- sort of like looking up the name in a phone book and punching in the number on the phone.

So why would you want to use Google's Public DNS or another service like OpenDNS? 

The two basic answers to this question are speed up your Internet experience and improve security.

A third answer is available if you use a service like OpenDNS ( -- web filtering. This is a great option if you have children at home who have access to the Internet. Both of my kids have Nintendo DSi's that can access the Internet. The Nintendo DSi has a web browser built by Opera on it. My nine year old son likes to search YouTube and Google for funny videos like boys making funny noises or things blowing up, etc. It isn't too hard to imagine him typing in something "innocent" and receiving a picture or video that is completely inappropriate or downright nasty. Or he might hear something on the playground at school or on the bus and type it in ... next you know, something you don't want the kids exposed to is on the screen. While every parent should supervise their kids on the Internet, it isn't possible to do it every moment -- especially if your kids have a portable device that can access the Internet. OpenDNS solves that problem for our family. If the kids accidentally (or purposely) type in something inappropriate, the web page is automatically blocked based on criteria my wife and I set. All in all there are about 50 different categories that can be blocked ranging from academic fraud (paper mills) to gambling to lingerie to sexual themes. In addition to these sorts of categories, OpenDNS automatically blocks illegal activities and malware. 

OpenDNS has two basic options that will interest the home user: the free account and the $9.95 per year (that's right -- per year) Deluxe account that gives you more customizable options. Besides the "custom" option, where you decide by selecting from 50 categories what to block, there are four basic pre-set options: High, Moderate, Low, and None. High level filtering: Protects against all adult-related sites, illegal activity, social networking sites, video sharing sites, and general time-wasters. Moderate filtering: Protects against all adult-related sites and illegal activity. Low filtering: Protects against pornography. None: Blocks nothing, but still offers the benefits of faster DNS service and malware protection, etc. With the Deluxe version you can add Whitelisted sites, etc. My house uses the "Moderate filtering" option with some minor customization.

Examples of Blocked Ads and Pages
(Note Nasty Banner Ads Blocked)

One of the best things about OpenDNS (besides its price) is that it requires no special software, etc. Instead, you change the settings in your router to point to the OpenDNS servers. This provides protection to any computer, even guests' computers, in your house. So you don't have to worry about your children's friends coming into your house with their computer or portable Internet device and downloading the latest album or movie leaving you to get in trouble with the RIAA or a large fine to pay for piracy.

Example of a Blocked Webpage

The Internet offers many wonders but also many dangers for the family. It is great to have a tool like OpenDNS for the home to help keep your family safe from bad and dangerous things on the Internet. Another advantage is faster Internet surfing, protection from Malware and illegal activities. Considering you can use it for free, go give OpenDNS a try.

Use OpenDNS

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