The prevalence of adult material on the web will be of concern to many people with young families. Here we'll explain how to use the free FamilyShield service from OpenDNS.
There are several ways of ensuring that inappropriate content can’t be accessed and you may have tried some already. For example, plug-ins are available for most browsers but that’s a hassle if you have to configure the filters for every possible browser on every PC or laptop. Stand-alone software is slightly simpler but still has to be set up separately on all PCs, and there's still the issue of smartphones and tablets in your household.
Alternatively your ISP (internet service provider) might offer a filtering service but details will differ from one ISP to another. By way of contrast, the solution we’re recommending here – FamilyShield from OpenDNS – will work irrespective of the browser, the PC, smartphone or tablet and the ISP. You can also use it under MacOS or Linux, in addition to Windows.
The only criteria is that the devices being protected must gain access to the Internet via a particular wireless router that you have access to and are, therefore, able to configure. If a smartphone connects via a different wireless router – for example, a neighbour's unsecured router – the same protection will not be enabled. Similarly, connections to the Internet from a smartphone or tablet via the mobile phone network won’t be protected.
The solution involves using a different DNS (domain name system) server from the default one which you normally use. Since DNS isn't exactly an everyday term, a word of explanation is in order. When you type a URL into a Web browser, that address is sent to your ISP’s default DNS server on the Internet which looks up its IP address, that is the actual address that computers understand. So, for example, if you entered www.microsoft.com into your browser’s address bar, the IP address 184.108.40.206 would be retrieved from the DNS server and used to access the Microsoft Website (try typing http://220.127.116.11). A good analogy for the DNS server, therefore, is a telephone directory.
Although you normally use your ISP’s default DNS server you can use different ones by entering the IP address of your preferred DNS server in your wireless router’s configuration menu. FamilyShield is a content filtering option for the OpenDNS server. It’s totally free, you don’t have to install any software on your PCs, and you don’t even have to register.
How to configure Family Shield
1. Go to the OpenDNS website select ‘Home DNS’ from the grey bar at the top and then, under ‘Parental Controls’, select ‘Get Started’. Next, on the ‘OpenDNS Parental Control Solutions’ page, click on ‘OpenDNS FamilyShield’ and then the orange ‘Sign up now’ button. You could sign up by providing your email address but if you’d prefer not just click on the ‘continue’ link at the bottom.
2. On the next page you’ll then be asked whether you want to setup FamilyShield on your router or on your PC. OpenDNS recommends the former, as do we, because this is the solution that will cause any computer or other device connected to your Wi-Fi network to be protected. So, click on the picture of the router to continue.
3. The next page lists all the major manufacturers of wireless routers and you should click on the name of your to see detailed instructions as to how to configure your router to use OpenDNS FamilyShield in place of your IPS’s default DNS server. In the next step we’ll see how that’s done with a Netgear router but the principles are similar with other routers.
4. Enter the router’s IP address (the default for Netgear is http://192.168.0.1) into the address bar of a new browser tab and log in using username ‘admin’ and password ‘password’ (unless you’ve changed it). Select ‘Basic Settings’ from the menu and against ‘Domain Name Server (DNS) Address’, check ‘Use These DNS Servers’ and enter 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124 as the Primary and Secondary DNS addresses (but make a note of any original addresses). Click on Apply at the bottom of the page and log out.
5. Although DNS requests will now go to FamilyShield, for a while cached pages will be used so you need clear these. First clear your browser history (details differ depending on the browser) and then the Windows DNS cache. To do this, run Cmd from the Start menu to bring up the command prompt window. At the prompt type ‘ipconfig /flushdns’ and press Enter.
6. Back in the browser tab you were using in Step 3, click on the ‘NEXT: Test your new settings’ link at the bottom of the page of instructions. All being well you’ll see a page displaying the message ‘Your family is now protected!’. If you don’t see this message, you’ll have to retrace your steps and correct any mistakes.
Next page: how to use the standard version of OpenDNS for more control
More Control with OpenDNS
If you want more control over what is and isn’t considered acceptable content than the broad level of filtering provided by FamilyShield, perhaps the free version of the standard OpenDNS will do the trick. Using this is much the same as using Family Shield expect that the IP addresses for the DNS server that you configure in your wireless router should be 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52 instead of 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11.
Once you’re using OpenDNS you can choose one of the standard filtering settings (High, Moderate Low or None) or, if you pick Custom, you can fine-tune the filtering yourself to accept or block sites in no fewer than 26 categories.
You’ll also have to tell it your IP address so that it is able to recognise you and apply these settings to your network on subsequent occasions. This is fine if you have a static IP address but won’t work if you have a dynamic IP address.
In this latter case, which applies to most people, you’re allocated an IP address from a pool each time your wireless router is turned on. The solution is to employ the OpenDNS Updater which is software you can download from the OpenDNS site that reports your current IP address to OpenDNS.
Unfortunately, though, this takes away much of the inherent simplicity of the solution provided by Family Shield. Because the Updater software must always be running, for filtering to take effect, it must either by installed on all your PCs or it could be installed on just one if you keep it turned on 24/7.