About a year ago I was asked by my local church to write a short note on how to filter Internet content for parents. I thought I’d share these tips since exposure to and use of pornography is undeniable harmful to individuals, families, and society in general. Numerous groups such as Fight the New Drug and Morality in Media are great sources for information on the impact of pornography.
While there is no perfect solution for eliminating the chance to be exposed to unwanted content on the Internet there are steps that can be taken to reduce the chance of “accidental” exposure. Below is a brief description of two free Internet filtering solutions that may be used to help protect your family. You can use one or both but when used together they offer a more complete solution.
Let’s first review a few technology related points and concepts. Most homes with high speed internet have a router or wireless router connected to their cable, DSL, or satellite modem. Computers in the home are then either directly connected to the router via a cable or use wireless technology to connect to the router.
Routers are generally configured through an administrator’s interface that is accessed through a browser. It is here that users can select a code to use to encrypt wireless transmissions and thus control who has access to their network. They can also restrict access to their wireless network by identifying which specific devices (laptops, smart phones, game consoles …) can access their network.
The admin interface typically allows you to either select Domain Name Service (DNS) addresses manually or to get them automatically from your internet service provider (e.g. Comcast). You can think of DNS like at automated library card catalog. In libraries you can locate books by going to the card catalog and looking up either an author or a title. The card then gives you a number (Dewey Decimal Classification number) that you can used to locate the specific book you are interested in as libraries store most books on shelves organized using the Dewey Decimal System. DNS provides a similar service in that it translates a URL (e.g. www.google.com) to an IP address (e.g. 126.96.36.199) which directs your request to the specific source that contains the information for which you are looking.
Internet Filtering Solutions
OpenDNS offers a free filtering service to families. In simplistic terms your router can be configured to use OpenDNS servers to act as your card catalog and then restrict access to sites based on your preferences. OpenDNS gives you the option to restrict access based on 55 categories of information (e.g. nudity, photo sharing, adult themes, dating, P2P/file sharing …). You can also identify specific sites that you do not want people to access.
The advantages to the OpenDNS approach are that all computers and devices that access the internet through your router are protected and since you do not need to install any software on computers there are no issues with operating systems (Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, MacOS). Note, if anyone brings their own laptop or video game system to your home and uses your internet connection they (and your family) are protected.
OpenDNS also offers a slightly enhanced service for an annual fee of $9.95. I recommend this if only to give a little to the organization for this valuable service.
K9 Web Protection (www.k9webprotection.com)
K9 also filters internet access but it must be installed and configured on each computer in your home. It has more features and in my opinion does a better of protecting individual computers. For example, it allows you to force search engines such as Google and Yahoo to operate in safe search mode. This means that teenagers cannot search for sexual pictures and have the thumbnails appear in search list. Normally, you set the search mode for search engines yourself. In Google the default search mode is “moderate” which does not display the most offensive material when searching but can return items that many families would find undesirable. K9 forces Google to always run “strict” mode. While OpenDNS can prevent you from going to a site that has pornographic material is does not prevent you from searching for explicit images in Google and then viewing the thumbnails in the list of images that match your search criteria.
If a laptop is taken to another location or if a neighbors wireless internet connection is used the laptop is still protected while with OpenDNS the protection is only available in your home.
K9 supports only Windows XP/Vista/7 and MacOSX 10.4.7 or higher. It does not run on older versions of Windows or gaming devices such as PlayStation or Xbox.