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How To Protect Your Family Online for Free

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Protect Your Family

How To Protect Your Family Online for Free

I'm going to show you today how you can help protect your family and your devices by setting up the OpenDNS service on your home network without costing you a red cent.  Setting up OpenDNS is the single most valuable thing you can do right now to boost the security and wholesomeness of the Internet traffic coming into your home.  I hope you will take a few minutes out of your day to take steps to protect your family and your devices from malicious and unscrupulous people on the Internet.  If you want to set up OpenDNS but you have trouble following the steps, please reach out to me.  And if you found this guide helpful, please share it with others, comment, and like Millcore Computing on social media! 

Why OpenDNS?

Aside from my usual duties as IT support for Columbia businesses, one of the things I am passionate about is protecting kids from the evil that is out there on the Internet.  We are all well aware of the dangers that are out there and we've heard about cyberbullying, human trafficking, and seen the television shows about Internet predators.  But what can we do?  The first and most important thing to do is to be engaged with our kids.  It is our responsibility to teach them about what is safe and what is not, and educating them about what is safe and what is not on the Internet is no exception to that.  But not all conversations are appropriate at every age, kids don't always listen, mistakes are made when typing into web browsers, and malware creators are always looking at ways to exploit and trick us.

So it makes sense to apply some safeguards.  One such safeguard is OpenDNS (https://www.opendns.com/).  OpenDNS is like a filter for your Internet.  Here is how it works.

What Is DNS?

The Domain Name Service (DNS) is a service usually provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) that helps people use the Internet by providing a way to translate people-friendly names (like facebook.com), to computer-friendly addresses (like 31.13.69.228).  The Internet has to use structured network addresses like these, so that they know where to send your Internet traffic.  You can think of it like a phone book for Internet websites - you ask the DNS service for a name (like millcore.com), but DNS gives your computer the Internet Address (the phone number).  All of this happens transparently and thankfully unbeknown to us.

Generally speaking, every Internet website has a name and address in DNS, and the DNS service knows how to translate them all.  

What is OpenDNS?

OpenDNS is a different kind of DNS service that takes advantage of this design to implement a filter.  Since DNS is the service that ultimately determines where your Internet traffic will go, it is able to be selective about where it sends you.  So instead of sending you to sites that may be harmful or inappropriate for your family, it redirects you to a soft landing page, like this one:

opendns blocked page

The filter works like this - instead of just keeping up with what Internet site names have which addresses, it also keeps a list of categories and associate them with each.  So, foxnews.com is "News/Media."  hgtv.com is "Television."  travelchannel.com is "Travel."  Other sites get categories like "Adult Themes", "Academic Fraud", "Drugs", and "Adware".   And it keeps a list of sites that are simply outright malicious.  You get the idea.  But it is all configurable, so you can tune it to what you feel is appropriate for your family or support your individual values.

How To Set Up OpenDNS at Home

I'm going to walk you through the setup process step-by-step.  You'll probably want to set aside 30 minutes or so to get through the steps.  Here is the summary of the steps we'll go through today:

  1. Create an OpenDNS account.
  2. Register your home network.
  3. Install the dynamic DNS updater.
  4. Configure your Internet router.
  5. Set up categories.

Create an OpenDNS Account

Go to the OpenDNS Home website at https://signup.opendns.com/homefree/ and create an account.  You'll have to confirm your email address and choose a password.  Be sure to remember and safeguard your password.

Register Your Home Network

After you create an account and log in, click on the "settings" tab from a computer that is logged into the Internet through your home Internet connection.  OpenDNS has detected the current IP address of your home network automatically.  Click "ADD THIS NETWORK".

opendns add network

Follow the next instructions from the website - Give your network a friendly name and unless you know otherwise, leave the checkbox "Yes, it is dynamic" selected, and then download the OpenDNS Updater for Windows (or Mac, if that's your thing) for the next step.  After you've downloaded the installer, click DONE.

opendns add network 2

Install the OpenDNS Updater

Next we're going to install the OpenDNS Updater.  This step is necessary because most home networks have what is called a "dynamic IP" that changes every so often.  The updater keeps OpenDNS in the know about these changes, so that it can apply the right filter that you have configured (which we'll do in the last step).

 

It is best to install this software on a PC that stays in the home, so that it can keep your network up to date with OpenDNS's servers.  After you install and run the OpenDNS Updater, you should see your own OpenDNS account reflected, and the Network that you selected, like this:

 opendns updater

Set Up Categories 

Next we'll set up the actual filter.  Go back to the website and click on the Settings Tab, then select the network you just created on the drop-down next to "Settings For:" selection box.

opendns categories

This is going to bring you to the configuration selection area.  At first, nothing is blocked:

opendns categories 2

I recommend you spend some time becoming familiar with this area.  You'll want to be able to come back here to tweak the settings in the future and to know what categories are available to block.  You'll also want to be fully informed and intentional about the what you are protecting your network from and what you are not.

OpenDNS has tried to make this process easy by creating pre-configured High, Moderate, and Low profiles which block the appropriate categories according to the profile description.  You can see which categories each profile will protect against by selecting the "Customize" link next to the profile description.  Check them all out to get a feel for what this would mean for the traffic coming into your home.  If the category is checked, it means the category will be blocked from your network.   

I like to customize the "Moderate" profile, so my final selections look something like this:

opendns category 3

After you've made the right choices for you, be sure to click "APPLY" at the bottom.

Configure Your Home Internet Router

Next we need to configure your Internet Router to use OpenDNS DNS servers instead of your ISP's servers.  This can be tricky because the method of logging in and configuring the router is different depending on which model router you have.  You'll have to refer to your router's instructions or manual to determine how to log in and configure it.   You might also find it helpful to refer to OpenDNS's instructions on how to configure popular router models.  See https://use.opendns.com/.

You're looking for a setting called "Domain Name Servers" or "DNS Servers", or similar.  When you find it, you'll want to use these exact numbers for the primary and secondary DNS servers.  These are OpenDNS's servers. 

Primary DNS: 208.67.222.222
Secondary DNS: 208.67.220.220

Mine looks like this:

opendns router configuration

Testing The Configuration

After al that, it makes sense to test your configuration.  You can visit a few example sites that are hosted by OpenDNS to make sure what you expect to be blocked is being successfully blocked.  There are several you can check:

http://welcome.opendns.com will tell you whether your computer is using OpenDNS's servers.
http://www.internetbadguys.com will test whether the security features are enabled and protecting your network.
http://www.exampleadultsite.com will test whether adult content is being filtered from your network.

You're Done!

That's it!  Congratulations on taking action to protect your family and devices.  I hope you found the overall process to be relatively easy.  For the next few days, you'll probably want to keep an eye on the DNS updater - you'll want to make sure it says "Using OpenDNS?  YES". 

How was your experience setting up OpenDNS?  Let me know in the comments below!

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