There’s little question that keeping your family safe online is a challenge. With thousands of web sites serving up everything from porn to spyware, it arguably just as easy to stumble upon inappropriate or dangerous content as it is to seek it out. For parents trying to keep their kids out of harm’s way, the challenge is compounded – in most cases, the kids know more about the home computer than Mom or Dad ever will.
Thankfully there are ways for parents to help keep their kids safer when surfing the web. There’s certainly no magical one-size-fits-all solution, mind you, but there are many easy steps that parents can take to make the web a safer place for their kids. I plan to write about many of them in the coming days, weeks, and months, but I thought I’d start things off with a very simple technique that can help parents make the web safer for children almost instantly – changing your DNS server settings.
Before we get to the parental control details, a quick primer on the Domain Name System (DNS). In a nutshell, DNS is the service that translates a “name” like www.google.com into the IP addresses that computers on the Internet use to communicate. When you type one of these names into your web browser, your computer sends a request to a DNS server to obtain the associated IP address. The “resolved” IP address is then used to connect to the web site or server you want to visit.
Normally, your ISP configures your computer (or home networking router) with the IP addresses of 2 of its DNS servers automatically. When your computer needs to resolve an address, it sends a “query” to one of these DNS servers. As part of doing their job, the DNS server determines the IP address you need and sends it back to you. It doesn’t pass judgement on the request – it just provides the answer.
Now back to the point, namely how parents can make surfing safer for the family using DNS. First, you are not bound to using the DNS server addresses provided by your ISP. You can use “third party” DNS servers as well. I bring this up because there’s a relatively new (and free) DNS service available to anyone who wishes to use it called ScrubIT. Basically, if you set up your computer (or router) to query ScrubIT’s DNS servers rather than your own, inappropriate content such as pornography and the like will be filtered automatically. If someone tries to visit a web site flagged as having inappropriate content, they are redirected to page that displays the message “PAGE HAS BEEN SCRUBBED!”
While switching to ScrubIT’s DNS servers will certainly help to minimize your family’s potential exposure to “questionable” content, it shouldn’t be confused with a fully-featured parental control program. If your children have administrator-level user accounts or the password to your broadband router, for example, they can easily switch back different DNS servers and negate your changes entirely. Similarly, if they know the IP address associated with the site they want to reach DNS is not required and the connection will likely succeed.
Even with the potential to be circumvented by a tech-savvy family member, ScrubIT is still well worth a closer look. It offers a great solution for parents with younger children, as well as for those who haven’t granted their children full administrative control of the home PC. I strongly suggest that you check it out for yourself – switching DNS settings is super-simple and the instructions provided on the ScrubIT web site couldn’t be easier to follow.