The internet and social media are one of the crowning inspirations God has bestowed upon mankind. With the internet anyone can quickly find a recipe, information for school reports, and best of all, great communities of faithful Catholics so that a person might not feel lost alone, adrift in the raging morally indifferent waters of our society. However, not all parts of the internet, and many which are far too easy to access, can and will tear apart marriages, rob young children of their childhood innocence, and also lead to addictions. It is the job of good Catholic and Christian parents everywhere to do everything possible to protect their children, and even each other, from those darker parts of the internet.
Sadly, I know this from hard experience. I was fortunate to grow up in a home where my parents could afford computers in the late 80′s and early 90′s. We were a cutting-edge family when it came to technology and we loved the sound of the dial-up modem as it beeped and whirred eventually resulting in the iconic, “You’ve Got Mail!” blaring through the computer speakers. In middle school, despite my father using a teen level restriction on my AOL account, I discovered the dark pit of internet pornography. This lead to what I can only refer to as an addiction, even as I publicly professed my Catholic faith and even taught Confirmation class for my parish. It was only after a lot of prayer and what I feel was a special grace given to me by God through the sacrament of Matrimony that the addiction finally subsided. Even today, certain images in sidebars of news blogs, advertisements, and other sites can act as temptations to go down the rabbit hole once again. So, when I say that I am dead set on helping families prevent this kind of tragedy from happening, I mean it with conviction.
In this particular article, I will present parents with a great free way to filter out most harmful internet content to all of the devices in their home simultaneously. Well, anything connecting through a wireless router anyway. Sadly, this technology does not extend to smartphone internet on the cellular network. It does, however allow parents to take a much firmer grasp on what is allowed in the home. The solution I speak of is through a website called OpenDNS.com and the basic service is, and has always been 100% free.
To explain how OpenDNS works, I first have to explain a little bit about how the internet really works. Most computer users open up Firefox,Chrome, or Internet Explorer, type in CatholicMom.com and the computer just goes there, without the user even taking a moment to wonder how or why. Well, let me share a secret with everyone, THERE IS NO CATHOLICMOM.COM!
OK, maybe that is a bit extreme. Let me put it this way, if someone were to look in their smart phone or cell phone contact list, they would see a list of names. If they want to call John, they simply select John from the list, and the phone calls them. However, in reality that name isn’t just a name in the list but, it has a number attached to it. Everyone knows that John in the contacts is simply the name of the person and that the name is tied to their phone number.
The internet works the same way. Every computer, smart phone, tablet, server, and device that connects to the internet receives a unique identifying number called an IP Address. There are currently 2 kinds of IP Address standards. The most common is IPV4 (IP version 4) and the newer version is IPV6 (IP Version 6). That really isn’t important but, I like showing off my geek knowledge, and now readers will have a random fact to bring up at their next party.
Anyway, when the internet was being developed, it was quickly discovered that nobody wanted to type in an IP Address to get to a website. For example, to go to Google.com one would have to type http://22.214.171.124 . Go ahead and try it, it really works! However, it would be a real pain to try and remember that number sequence in order to get to Google. So, the engineers of the internet invented a fancy phone book known as Domain Name Service or DNS. Special computers called DNS servers direct a user’s computer to the correct IP Address when they type in the name of a website. Thus, companies, countries, and yes, even apostolates such as CatholicMom.com were able to have nice, easy, convenient ways to have their information found online, and all was right with the world.
So how does this tie into the folks at OpenDNS? OpenDNS have their own special DNS servers or internet phone books, if you will. The nice thing about their DNS servers is that users can essentially erase the phone numbers of unsavory people out of it! Well, OpenDNS does it for the users through the use of something called DNS filtering.
Essentially, OpenDNS keeps and updates lists of various categories of websites. When a user signs up, they can select which kinds of sites they do not want either themselves or their family members to see. Users can do everything from simply blocking pornography to blocking instant messaging, file sharing, and multiple other site categories. Heck, if a parent wanted to, they could restrict all social networking websites if a child is refusing to do homework or acting inappropriately. Once those categories are selected, any time a device in the home tries to get the IP Address or phone number for a site it shouldn’t, the device instead sees a page indicating that the particular content has been blocked and why it has been blocked.
There is a 3-step process to get OpenDNS working:
The user/parent/guardian must sign up for a free account at OpenDNS.com .
OpenDNS will have that user download a small program called OpenDNS updater that runs on one of the computers in the home. This program lets OpenDNS know what the user’s IP Address, or the IP Address of their router is so that the DNS server knows which requests to fit the filters to. Otherwise, it wouldn’t know one home or computer from another!
Lastly, OpenDNS gives step-by-step instructions on how to enter their DNS server information into the settings of most household routers and computers, which will tell those devices which address book to use. The steps are VERY easy to follow, even for people who are not normally tech savy.
When doing this on a router, the DNS settings will apply the new address book to all of the devices connecting through that router’s wireless connection! That means that any laptop, tablet, e-book reader, smart phone, smart TV, Roku, game system, or anything else that uses the wireless connection from the router is covered INSTANTLY!
Users must keep in mind that this is NOT perfect. For example, filtering out adult websites and pornography does NOT block file sharing sites which could have pornography. Blocking social networking sites might NOT block certain types of forums and chat rooms. Also, on the opposite side of things, Open DNS may classify certain shopping sites as pornography or adult because they sell underwear. While Open DNS does allow users to add sites to be blocked or to be deemed safe manually in the Open DNS Dashboard for their account, it is still clear that users must still keep an eye on what those in their home are doing with the internet.
Open DNS will default to the Open DNS Family Shield option, which blocks many pornographic and adult-oriented websites. However, a user does have the option, again, through the Dashboard for their account, to add or remove more specific content types. For example, let’s say a family decided they didn’t want social networking sites to be active in their home, there is a checkbox for that in the custom settings. Conversely, if the Family Shield default categories are too strict, one of the categories can be un-checked to open up that content category. There are at least 59 categories of content which can be enabled or disabled through the Open DNS account settings, and that provides a LOT of control over what comes into the home from the web.
I want to re-emphasize that Open DNS will not cover devices connecting to an outside source of internet from the wireless router, such as cellular data providers. The filtering service will not extend to laptops and other devices once brought to work, school, or on vacation. This will ONLY work on devices connecting through a user’s wireless router AT HOME. Users must also ensure that they have good passwords for the site and for their router settings and that those passwords are hidden somewhere safe or memorized so that prying eyes won’t get at them.
Drawbacks aside, Open DNS is a great tool to help those in a home to filter out some of the darker side of internet content. It isn’t perfect, but, it is free and it does provide users with powerful filtering options to cut down on the kind of internet content which families can find harmful. It is easy to set up, easy to maintain, and protects anything connecting to the wireless router in a user’s home, lessening a need to install and manage filtering software on each device. It also keeps a list of blocked sites online so that whoever is in charge of the account can see what everyone has been trying to look at. This cannot be erased like browsing history on individual computers or devices.
I highly recommend OpenDNS to any parent, spouse, or internet user who wants to make their internet experience a little friendlier to their moral values. It is a great start to a healthier internet experience for everyone in the home and will make preventing and monitoring certain content types a little bit easier for concerned parents and spouses. Please visit http://www.opendns.com/home-internet-security/parental-controls/opendns-familyshield/ to sign up for the free Open DNS Family Shield system and get set up. Doesn’t your home deserve a better, safer, and morally sound internet connection?
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Copyright 2014 Christopher Weitcel