OpenDNS: Domain Name System of the 21st Century

photo by <a href="http://laughingsquid.com">Scott Beale / Laughing Squid</a>

This photo is licensed under a Creative Commons license. If you use this photo within the terms of the license or make special arrangements to use the photo, please list the photo credit as "Scott Beale / Laughing Squid" and link the credit to http://laughingsquid.com.

What is a DNS:

At its most basic level, a Domain Name System takes human readable website URLs, such as wordpress.com,  and gets the relevant server IP address (76.74.254.126), allowing you to access the site without specifically needing to know the IP address. This allows people to easily remember site addresses, without ever having to know (or realise) there is an IP address behind them. There are many Name Servers, which will basically translate a website URL for you, cross referencing the relevant server IP address, and directing you to the correct hosted site. Think of a DNS server as a telephone book, for domain names on the internet. Normally, your Internet Service Provider will have their own DNS service, which allows address resolution (for websites, e-mail addresses, etc.).

What can OpenDNS do for you:

With that very brief, and hopefully not mind-numbingly boring description out of the way, DNS servers have room for improvement. I’ve been using the OpenDNS provided name servers, as opposed to the default provided by my server provider (Primus Canada), to try and take advantage of certain features the service promises:

1) Faster address resolution (through advanced caching, and a series of servers located around the world)

2) A phishing filter, which will block harmful sites (by not allowing the site to properly resolve, giving you an appropriate warning / error message). Known phishing sites are submitted at PhishTank, and vetted by the community. Similarly there’s also a malware protection service, which will stop you from accidentally accessing a compromised website. To see how OpenDNS deals with questionable sites, you can safely try this example (it just shows you the OpenDNS block page)

3) Typo correction – common misspellings of domain names are appropriately redirected

4) Content filtering – if you have children, you can use this service to block adult sites

5) Analytics about accessed domains (through reporting and logs)

Should I Stay or Should I go:

OpenDNS offers the service free to users, with more advanced options available for a fairly nominal fee, should you need the additional features ($10 USD per year, for a household). You can see the features offered by the various pricing plans here.

Given this service is made freely available, reduces domain resolution time and increases your security on the web (by blocking malicious sites), this is definitely something you may want to consider for home use. If you’re concerned about OpenDNS logging the sites you browser for whatever reason, here’s their privacy policy. You can purge your history as often as you like, through their dashboard.

Set-up:

If you’re interested in trying out the service, it’s just a matter of going to their site, and setting up an account. After that, they’ll provide instructions on how to use their service.

On my router, running the Tomato firmware, the changes were relatively simple, changing settings in two areas.

Change one – tell your router which DNS service to use (they provide two IP addresses):

image

Second set of changes – associate your OpenDNS account: 

image

If you don’t use a router, the setup is still pretty simple. Once you create an account, they walk you through changing your local computer DNS settings. It’s mostly a matter of changing your DNS servers under your TCP/IP settings.

Conclusion:

That’s it! All for the price of free, you’ve likely sped up browsing the web, and increased your home network security by blocking a bunch of phishing / malware sites. This is one of many suggested ways to improve your home network security. If you’re “iffy” about using a random, non ISP based service, you can take comfort in the fact that large organizations such as Nvidia, Honda, MIT University, Penn State University, and even *gasp* libraries use the service. There’s a comprehensive listing here. IT sites such as computerworld have also recommended this service. You can read a brief review over at techcrunch.

There’s really little reason not to take advantage of this – I’d use it for either home or office use. I’ve been a user for nearly a year, with no complaints.

Happy surfing,

Syd

Header image courtesy of laughing squid – OpenDNS LED Sign / CC BY 2.0

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Author: sylint

I'm a business analyst, working in Information Management and Information Technology. Technically, I'm a librarian, though I prefer to think of myself as professionally varied.

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