Protecting the Homeland

Centralized Internet Filtering for a Safer Home

“With great power comes great responsibility…” — Uncle Ben to Peter Parker

It was recently Father’s Day. And even though we’ve only just had our first child, I’ve been thinking about parenting and technology for a long while now. On the one hand, technology is hip, cool, and exciting, and it makes modern life both enjoyable and possible. Social media! Voice activated lights and thermostats! Transportation as a service! Watches that count steps and tell the time?! Neato! There’s so much to love and so much to explore. It’s endlessly fascinating and shiny.

But that’s only half of the story.

Technology also has a dark side. It’s very, very, very addictive, especially to young minds. The science behind how technology affects young, developing minds is becoming clear: it may cause brain damage, health problems, depression, and loneliness as well as safety and sleep problems. Tech addiction is real and it can sometimes lead to depression and suicide. This is serious, heavy stuff, and it shouldn’t be dismissed. It’s also why some tech executives are following in the footsteps of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and restricting or eliminating their own children’s tech time at home.

Although it should go without saying, I’ll say it anyway: the technology in your home is your responsibility. Do it safely or don’t do it at all. The quality of your children’s lives literally depend on that simple decision.

The Challenge

For modern parents, learning how (and when) to navigate the digital landscape with their children is crucial. We’re among the first generations in all of human history that must consider how easy access to technology and information might affect the lives and health of our children. How are we supposed to manage something like that?! It seems daunting, but, in reality, our jobs today are no different than parents who who were forced to consider the impact of the radio in the 1920s, the television in the 1950s, and video games in the 1980s into their homes.

As was the case then, today’s parents must first create a safe home for their children. Then, they must teach their children (and, perhaps, themselves) how to have a healthy relationship with technology. Parents must consider when to give access to technology to their children, for how long that access should be allowed, and — most importantly — what kinds of content will be permitted via that technology.

Today, I’d like to discuss one of the most powerful solutions that any parent can implement in their homes.

The Solution: OpenDNS

OpenDNS is a free service that’s been around since 2005, an eternity in the tech world. Simply put, it’s a powerful filter for the internet that allows you to block different kinds of offensive or adult material on your entire home network.

I’ve italicized that last part because it’s important to understand that this service protects your entire network, not just one device. Do you have three children in your home who all heavily use your WiFi network to surf the web? Maybe you’re an educator with 300 students who do the same on the school’s WiFi network? Either way, using OpenDNS allows you to block questionable material on EVERY device that connects to the internet via your network.

That means you can enforce a safe network for smartphones, tablets, computers, and video game consoles like the Wii, Xbox, and Playstation all at once, centrally. I know: it’s like magic.

How’d They Do That?!?

The company has pulled off this miracle by essentially creating a Dewey Decimal System for the entire internet: nearly 60 different categories into which they believe all websites can be sorted and filed. They’ve then asked the world to submit websites to their database and, finally, asked everyone to vote for every one of these assigned websites. As a result, millions of people submit and vote on tens of millions of websites and suddenly: the entire internet gets classified and categorized! A short overview of the process can be found here.

Then, the company allows you — for free! — to route your internet through their servers. This, in turn, allows you to take advantage of blocking certain categories before those websites can even load. Here’s a diagram of how that works:

The end result is a fast, accurate internet filter that you can harness in one of two “flavors”:

  • a set-it-and-forget-it option called “ Family Shield “ that, once activated, will auto-block all content which falls under the “Pornography,” “Tasteless,” and “Sexuality” categories.
  • a fully customizable option called “OpenDNS” that allows you to pick and choose blocking data from any or all of the company’s nearly 60 categories:

Both “flavors” from OpenDNS require changing a setting on your router, the device that gives you a WiFi network. Because of that, we’ll review the steps on how to do this. The process is, honestly, simple but requires some minor hunting and gathering. So trust me and let’s jump in…

Step #1: Find Your Router Info

  1. Identify the make and model of your home router. Your modem is the device that brings the internet into your home or office. By comparison, your router is (usually) a different device which takes that internet connection from your modem and then shares it throughout your home. Many routers have one or more antennas sticking up out of it; some don’t. In some cases, you might even have a modem/router combination. That’s fine too: you simply need to know which make and model of router you actually have. Common router manufacturers include D-Link, Netgear, Linksys, Cisco, Asus, and Belkin. Locate your router and then identify the manufacturer AND model: it’s usually labelled clearly right on the device. I have a Linksys EA2700, so I’m now ready for the next step.
  2. Find the directions that OpenDNS provides for your router. Click on this link to see an alphabetical listing that OpenDNS provides of the most common router manufacturers. First, find your manufacturer on the list and click the link. Then click on the model number that represents the unit you have in your home. If your exact model number isn’t shown on the list — mine isn’t, it turns out — no problem! In those instances, click the model that’s either most like your own or click the general configuration guide that OpenDNS usually provides at the bottom of each list as shown. Either way, you should end up with instructions on how to change the DNS numbers on your router

Now, you should be looking at instructions for how to change your router’s settings. Congrats! Your first step is finished. Grab a cup of coffee and smile.

Step #2: Choose & Implement a Filtering Option

OpenDNS offers two distinct “flavors” to consumers: the set-it-and-forget-it “ Family Shield “ flavor and the customizable “OpenDNS” flavor.

The Family Shield setting takes less time to implement but, by comparison, filters far less than the company’s full offering. If you’re a parent who only wants to block porn and adult content, then the Family Shield service is probably enough for you. If you’re a parent that also wants to block social media, gambling, and gaming websites (to name but a few of the other categories that you might choose to block), then the OpenDNS service is what you’ll want.

The Family Shield Option

If you’re only interested in protecting your network from the “Pornography,” “Tasteless,” and “Sexuality” categories, then you can set your home router according to the company’s “Family Shield” settings.

  1. Log in to and configure your router. Using the information in the link you located in the previous step, log into your router and locate where it stores its DNS settings.
  2. Change the DNS settings. Once you’ve located your router’s DNS settings CHANGE them from whatever they are to these numbers: and
  3. Save the changes and log off of your router. There is always a button to “save” or “apply” changes when you’re logged onto your router configuration pages. Make sure you click that button before logging out of your router.
  4. Test your internet. Restart your computer or smart device. Then reconnect to your wireless network. Try surfing to a known adult website. It should now be blocked!

The Full OpenDNS Option

This option, my friends, is the choice for people who want to filter any/all of the nearly 60 categories that the company offers. It’s powerful, flexible, and can help give you a much safer home. To take advantage of this option, you’ll need to jump through a few more hoops. Here’s how to do that.

  • Set up a free OpenDNS account. Click this link to set up a free OpenDNS account. Enter your information — I always classify myself using 33mail — and click the orange “Get a Free Account” button as shown.
  • Confirm your account. When you get the confirmation email from OpenDNS, turn off your VPN if you’re using one. Click the confirmation link provided. Mine can be seen in the orange box in the following image. Clicking that link should confirm your account AND take you right into your OpenDNS dashboard.
  • Add your network. Your OpenDNS dashboard provides you a simple and easy way to add your current network. At the top of your dashboard, OpenDNS provides your current IP address. I’m pointing to mine in the first image using an orange arrow. Take note of this number. Then click the “Add a network” button. When you do, OpenDNS smartly enters your IP address for you as shown in the second image. Now, all you need to do is click the “ADD THIS NETWORK” button to add your network into OpenDNS. This will now allow you to choose how to filter your network!
Adding your network to OpenDNS only takes a few clicks
  • Name your network. You should now be prompted to name your network as shown in the first image here. If you’re at home, just call it “Home” as I’ve done. In most cases, your home network WILL be a dynamic IP number, so make sure to leave that box checked for option 2. If you’d like to learn more about what that means, you can read this, but, honestly: you don’t need to worry about what that means right now. When you’re finished, just click “DONE” at the bottom of the window. Congratulations! Your network is now added and your dashboard should note the new network as mine now does in the second image shown.
  • Set up filters for your network. Click once on your network name (or IP address) to open the filtering options for your network. You’ll be met with five options as shown: high, moderate, low, custom, or none. Find that in the first image below. Choose the option that works best for you and then click “APPLY”. If there’s a website you ALWAYS wish to allow or ALWAYS wish to block, use the bottom section of this page as shown to add that website (also called a “domain”) to your lists. If you choose the “Custom” option, you’ll be presented with the roughly 60 different categories that I mentioned at the top of this episode and as shown in the second image below. In that image, you’ll find the settings that I’ve chosen for my household. Your family’s preferences or needs may be different than mine, so make your selections and then click “APPLY” when you’re finished. Fun fact: each category is a rollover link that provides more info about that category!
Choosing a filtering open for the full OpenDNS is pretty intuitive.
  1. Wait three minutes. It takes about three minutes for the filters you’ve implemented to be deployed by OpenDNS and then applied to your network. Take this time to change the settings of your router.
  2. Log in to and configure your router. Using the information in the link you located in Step #1 earlier in this episode, log into your router and locate where it stores its DNS settings.
  3. Change the DNS settings. Once you’ve located your router’s DNS settings page, CHANGE them to these numbers: and In the image below, you’ll see a screengrab from my router with these changes clearly marked. as shown in the image below. Please note: these numbers are different than the numbers offered for the Family Shield option, so do not confuse them.
  4. Save the changes and log off of your router. There is always a button to “save” or “apply” changes when you’re logged onto your router configuration pages. Make sure you click that button before logging out of your router.
  5. Test your internet. Restart your computer or smart device. Then reconnect to your wireless network. Try surfing to a known website that should be blocked based on your filter choices. It should now be blocked!

Know the Caveats

OpenDNS is a powerful and free tool, but it does have its limitations.

Missed Websites. Sometimes, websites you need to block are allowed through the filter you’ve established; other times the websites you need access to are blocked. OpenDNS provides a simple workaround for these instances along with easy-to-follow documentation here.

No cellular filtering. I can’t stress this enough: OpenDNS only works to filter the internet on devices that connect to your network. It will not protect your children’s devices on other WiFi networks or any cellular network. Assume that smart kids will seek to circumvent your block: turning off WiFi and surfing the web using only the cellular radio in their smartphones takes only seconds and will render OpenDNS useless. That’s not a shortcoming of OpenDNS, by the way: it’s just the nature of technology. Good parents will have another solution in place to help guard against those kinds of workarounds. This might include changing the DNS preferences on your child’s devices or having a secondary, paid service like NetNanny.

Hey, It Doesn’t Work!!!

In some cases, after you’ve turned on Family Shield or OpenDNS, you might still be able to see questionable content online. In most cases, this is because you’ve previously visited those websites on your browser. Most web browsers save certain portions of the websites we visit to help us them load faster when we next return to them. This is 100% normal. Sometimes, to allow Family Shield or OpenDNS to work, we simply need to clear this cache of data from our web browsers.

If you’re using Chrome:

  • Open the application and paste this odd-looking link into your search bar: chrome://settings/clearBrowserData?search=clear
  • Click on “Advanced”, a time range of “All time”, and then on the “Clear Data” button as shown.

If you’re using Safari:

  • Open the application and, from the menu bar, click on Safari -> Preferences
  • On the window that opens, click on Privacy tab and then “Manage Website Data” as shown. If you’re asked for your password, provide it. You might even be asked for it TWICE.

If you’re using Firefox:

  • Open the application and paste this odd-looking link into your search bar: about:preferences#privacy
  • Scroll down to “Cookies and Site Data” and click the “Clear Data…” button.
  • When the next window opens, click the “Clear” button as shown…

And that’s it for today, everyone. As always… surf safe. Until then, here are a few short cuts to previous pieces I’ve written that might be useful to you.

Click here for my guide to choosing a great VPN.
If you’re looking to set up a VERY secure iPhone, click here.
To learn how to NOT give your personal email address to everyone, click here.
Click here for a crash course on how to keep your devices updated.

David is a veteran of technology & comedy. Sign up for his fun & informative technology newsletter here:

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