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Wednesday
Jul012009

Internet Filtering and Open DNS

Keeping access to the internet safe and manageable for use in your business or at home can be difficult to achieve. There is a vast amount of adult material on the internet as well as the time eating social networking sites, and thats before we even start on the likes of chat systems such as MSN, ICQ and Skype! For most users this is very difficult to control and can also be very expensive.

There are a number of very good packages that can be purchased for high level control of internet access such as software produced by Burstek for business level internet access and also the likes of Net Nanny or CyberPatrol amongst many others for home use. All of these work very well but do involve purchasing subscriptions and applications like Burstek require a lot of configuration. So are there any other alternatives?

Open DNS is a fantastic service that I have now used in a number of situations and also use at home to improve the internet safety for my children’s use. To explain how it works I’ll first do a very quick run through how DNS works. Every website in the world is hosted on a computer somewhere with an individual numeric address, this IP address is always in the form of a 4 part number, eg. www.first4tech.co.uk = 65.39.205.54. When you type the address into your web browser the system uses a database lookup service called DNS to find what IP address it should use to find your website. In most business situations you will have a DNS server as part of your main server system but it will pass requests for internet sites to an external DNS server as it builds its own database. In a home environment you would normally pass these requests direct to your ISP’s DNS servers.

This is the point that Open DNS can step in. Rather than using your ISP’s DNS server you can choose to use the ones at Open DNS and by opening a free account with them you can set what category's of content your home system or business systems have access to. The setup is easy for home users with some very good instructions on setting things up via your broadband router or using a simple application they provide. For businesses it takes a little more configuring but is still quite easy to get working. FIRST4TECH are more than happy to set this up on our customer's servers. Once your network/server/PC’s are configured it’s simply a case of running though the Open DNS website configuration and setting what categories you wish to allow or block. Below is a picture of the custom configuration window.

If a user then tries to access a website that falls under one of the selected categories, the Open DNS system simply resolves to an address that displays a webpage explaining that the content is not allowed.  It also collects statistics of what websites have been accessed so it is possible to see if anyone is trying to actively get to blocked content.

Open DNS is definitely a light touch approach to internet filtering but for most people this is all they want from a filter.  I have found it to be very effective in what it does without the need to install loads of software or purchase license subscriptions. It also gives the employer the ability to put in decent content control without spending lots of money or increasing management overhead.

Why not check it out and see what you think at http://www.opendns.com.

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