As a parent of 6 and 8 year old children, I’m at that stage where I fear for their online safety as they increase their use of the various Internet connected devices at home.
All aspects of online safety start with educating our children but web filtering is a way to prevent them from visiting sites either accidentally or on purpose, that you’d rather they didn’t see.
Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as BT, TalkTalk, O2 Broadband etc. offer web filtering as part of packaged protection for your family (in addition to anti-virus and phishing) but they often require setting up software on each and every PC, which means phones, consoles etc. aren’t protected.
And sometimes they don’t fully protect you from all the bad sites out there due to the lists of sites they maintain not being comprehensive, up to date or tailored to your specific needs.
Let’s say you have a combination of any of the following at home:
- Computer (Windows PC, Mac, Linux)
- Tablet (iPad, Android, Surface…)
- Smart Phone (iPhone, Android, Windows, BlackBerry…)
- Games consoles (XBox, Wii, Nintendo…)
- Smart TV connected to the Internet
Ask yourself the following questions:
Do I have a service that filters content coming into my house from the Internet?
If the answer is yes, does it protect every single device that is connected to my home network?
One way of checking is to try to visit a site you wouldn’t want your children seeing from the devices they have access to but I’d recommend doing this once they’ve gone to bed for obvious reasons!
If you discover that they can access sites you’re not happy for them to view (this could be anything from the more harmful adult sites to sites such as YouTube and even social networking sites such as Facebook), what can you do?
What You Can Do
For a couple of years now, I have been using a service called OpenDNS. I chose this 3rd party service for several reasons:
- It’s completely independent of your chosen ISP which means if you choose to change your ISP, you can continue protecting your home in the same way
- It doesn’t require you to install software on any device
- It protects every device that connects to your home network, no matter what it is
- It is provided by one of the World’s leading suppliers of Interent security services
- It’s very easy to set up (just two fields to change in your router configuration)
- I could start with the free service and upgrade to get extra features as required
I’ve found it to be extremely reliable, very flexible and because the company is continually updating their catalogue of filtered sites, my kids have never ended up anywhere I was unhappy for them to go. It’s not the only solution out there by any means but it’s worked well for my family which is why I’m sharing the experience.
How Does It Work?
Whenever you type in something in the URL of your browser, for example www.google.com, the first thing that happens is that a request is made to something called a DNS (Domain Name Server). You can think of this as the Yellow Pages of the Internet and it looks up the numerical computer address for google.com (it’s IP address), similar to the way the post office has to translate a post code into a destination for your mail, as shown below.
When you subscribe to an ISP like BT or TalkTalk etc. they will send you a box (gateway) that connects your home to the Internet. This gateway is pre-configured to use the DNS of the service provider.
By simply changing the DNS (there are two of them; Primary & Secondary), the requests are sent to OpenDNS servers instead where they are checked against your account setup and if everything is OK, the request will be forwarded on and you’ll get the page you asked for back in return.
If the site is on a black list i.e. not allowed, you see a page something like this:
But the great thing is that this doesn’t just work for web browsers onPCs, it works for anything making a request to get anything from the Internet. And that means it works for all those games consoles, TVs, phones, social networking, Skype, chat etc. You get to choose what you let in and keep out.
How Do I Get It?
OpenDNS have a free starter offer and you can sign up for it on this page. Once you’ve created an account, all you have to do is follow their instructions to change the DNS IP addresses on your gateway to 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52. You’ll probably need the user name and password that was provided when your ISP sent you your gateway in order to do this. And that’s all there is to it!
How Much Is It?
OpenDNS for the family starts from free and you can pay around £12 a year to upgrade to get a whole load more features such as reports and premium support.
So, if you think this could be useful for you, why not give it a go? I’m in no way affiliated with OpenDNS and don’t benefit in any way whatsoever by recommending them. I just like to share the good stuff I find out there.
Thanks for reading!
If you’d like to aks me a question or would like help setting up OpenDNS at home, please drop me an email using the form below and I’ll respond as soon as I can.