Friday, July 17, 2009

OpenDNS as a Filtering Tool - My Experience

So, here's my follow-up post on using OpenDNS. I got it going on my computer about four days ago. So really all I can share is my experience with getting OpenDNS up and running on my computer.

As I have posted earlier, my primary reason for going with OpenDNS is for internet filtering/parental controls and protection against phishing. OpenDNS does claim to make your surfing faster, but I haven't noticed it. If you want to learn more about what a DNS (Domain Naming System) is, read up on it here. If you want to read up on how OpenDNS works, click here.

Somethings I really like about OpenDNS:
  • It's basically an online tool so you don't have to download a big old program to run on your computer (the fine print: If you have dynamic IPs, you will need to download a tiny tool to communicate those IP changes to OpenDNS).
  • You can easily change filtering settings, blocking specific sites.
  • The community of users votes on the categorizing of different web sites.
  • You can viewlogs of the internet web pages visited and usage times.
You can choose to set up OpenDNS through your router (dsl modem) or on your computer through your operating system. Open DNS recommends using your router. This is a bit complex for someone who has never messed with their router settings. I don't recommend it if you don't feel comfortable with that to begin with. That said, if you never have gone into your router configuration, but feel up to it, you can do it! They have decent directions...and it's not too bad. But the easiest way to set up OpenDNS is on your computer. The OpenDNS website takes you through the steps for that. It's just a matter of changing the DNS settings. No biggie.

After you change the DNS settings on your router or computer, you could stop there (which wouldn't do you a lot of good if your primary purpose in using OpenDNS is filtering). But, if you want to give your OpenDNS usage some UMPH, you need to sign up for a free account. The signing in process is simple. Next, you have to set up your network so OpenDNS can talk to your IP. If you use an internet service provider, chances are, your IP changes (dynamic IP). In that case, you will need to download a small tool (OpenDNS updater) that will automatically update your IP with OpenDNS. (This is how the filtering settings you set will make it to your computer.) After installing the little tool, you can set up your filtering settings. They totally allow you to customize them. It's nice. You can also customize the message that a user will see when they try to view a filtered site.

My Experience:
Now, here's my experience with the set up: I set it up on my router. No problems for me since I have played with my router in times past. I installed the OpenDNS updater software. I set up my filtering settings. Then I tested the filtering by going to the dorky online dating site, OpenDNS blocked the site with my preset message: "This site has been blocked by yo Mamma. Go talk to her about it." Very cool. I thought I was all set, but when I'd reset or turn on my computer on a new day, the updater wasn't doing it's job. The only way to get the filter working was to manually open OpenDNS Updater and update the IP on my own. That's a pain. I tried setting the preferences in the Updater to start when window starts, but that does not work. For some reason, the preferences get refreshed at startup. It must be a bug in the software. So, the way I remedied this issue was by taking the OpenDNS Updater file and putting it in my startup folder. That forced OpenDNS updater to work whenever I start up my computer.

Like I've said before, any sort filtering of tool is not going to be the fix-all and shouldn't be expected to be. I use this in combination with the Web of Trust (which I've posted about) and pop-up blockers. All together, I think they're doing a pretty bang-up job of protecting our family in our casual internet usage. If someone were looking to get around these filters they definitely could. For example, after OpenDNS updates my IP with their servers, there is a 3 minute lag for my filtering settings to start working. So, one could get to whatever website he/she wanted without the filter in that three minute window. I don't think filtering tools should be used to control an adult or child. They are there to protect and teach safe internet usage.

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