Most home networks rarely have one single type of client connecting to it. Usually, there’s a blend of Windows, Android, iOS, and maybe even Macs. How do you keep all these clients connected while keeping younger users out of trouble?
We’ve talked about OpenDNS in past articles and just recently, we discussed the possibilities of using your router for basic parental controls. In that article, we mentioned that our example router actually defers to OpenDNS as its designated “parental controls”.
Using the router doesn’t always turn out to be an effective solution if the problem is with Internet access. While you can block keywords and domains, you will quickly find out that controlling that is akin to the time-worn analogy of the finger the dike. You may be able to block a couple problem websites at first, you’re going to need something much more robust and enveloping to really get the job done.
The nice thing with OpenDNS is, you can do web filtering at the router, or you can assign it to individual clients. This means, as a grownup, that you don’t have to deal with a neutered Internet experience.
Today, we’re going to show you exactly how to do that and then configure your Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS clients to take advantage of the change.
A Brief Reintroduction to OpenDNS
You may be wondering how this works, and it’s really very simple. First go to OpenDNS.com and create an account for their parental controls. We choose OpenDNS Home, which takes only a few minutes to set up and is completely free.
All they really need is some basic information, however, they may prompt you for more. When you’re done creating an account, you will need to confirm via the email address you provided.
The next screen you encounter will explain to you how to change your DNS for various clients and access points on your network.
Instructions for changing your DNS on your router, PC, server, and even mobile devices are available. We’ll go ahead and quickly show you how to do all that in the coming sections.
Changing Your DNS
You have two configuration options on your home network. You can change the DNS on your router, which is the main connection point to and from the Internet.
This has the advantage of covering everything in an umbrella of protection. This is also its disadvantage because every computer behind the router must then use the same router settings unless you specifically assign a client to use another DNS server.
Another disadvantage is that there’s no way to tell, at least with the free version of OpenDNS, where the traffic is coming from, so if you see a bunch of blocked websites, it could be you, it could be your spouse, it could be your children, or anyone else who comes over and connects to your network.
Preferred Method: Configuring Your Router
Nevertheless, the preferred method to using OpenDNS is to configure your router to direct all DNS request through their servers.
We’re going to explain the basic method for changing your router’s DNS. You should most definitely check out the guide corresponding guide for your router when it’s time to set yours up, especially if it’s not immediately apparent how to do so.
In general though, this is what you should expect when configuring your router. First access your router’s configuration panel by opening it in your preferred web browser. We covered this in Lesson 2, so if you’re unsure how to do this, we recommend reading it.
Once you’ve got your router open, you want to locate where you can input different DNS servers. OpenDNS’s primary DNS server is 126.96.36.199 and their secondary server is 188.8.131.52. In the screenshot below, we see where we enter that on our router.
Once inputted, you will need to save your changes. Depending on your router, it may be an actual “Save” button or it may say “Apply.” Regardless, if you don’t commit your changes, they won’t take effect.
That is all you need to do to your router, all DNS requests will now be routed through OpenDNS, however, you still need to flush your DNS resolver cache and web browser cache.
Clearing Your DNS Resolver Cache on Windows Clients
Open a command prompt on Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 by opening the Start menu or Start screen, respectively, and entering “cmd” in the search box. Instead of simply hitting “Enter” though, use “Ctrl + Shift + Enter” to open an administrator command prompt. You will know you have administrator privileges because it will say so in the title bar.
With the command prompt open, type “ipconfig /flushdns” (the command is the same for both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1). You should do this on all your Windows clients, so if your kids each have a computer, you want to flush their DNS caches.
Clearing the DNS Resolver Cache on OS X Clients
To clear the DNS resolver cache on your Mac, you will need open the Terminal.
With the Terminal open, type the appropriate command:
sudo dscacheutil –flushcache (OS X Yosemite)
dscacheutil -flushcache;sudo killall -HUP mDNSResponder (OS X Mavericks)
sudo killall -HUP mDNSResponder (OS X Mountain Lion or Lion)
If you’re using another version of OS X, you should check out this link, which has information for flushing the DNS cache all the way back to OS X 10.3.
Clearing Your Browser History
It will be necessary to also clear any and all caches on whatever browsers you use.
On Windows, you’re most likely using one or more of the three most popular browsers: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome. On a Mac, it is often Safari.
Clearing Internet Explorer’s Cache
For Internet Explorer, the most consistent way to do this is to use the Internet Options found in the Control Panel. The first tab is the General settings. Click on “Delete” under Browsing History.
You can wipe everything out in one fail swoop if you like, but the cache data is known here as “Temporary Internet files and website files.” Click “Delete” when you’re ready to clear Internet Explorer’s cache.
Clearing Mozilla Firefox’s Cache
On Mozilla Firefox (as of writing, we’re using version 31), you want to click on the Menu icon and select “History.”
Then choose “Clear Recent History…” from the options near the top of the History Sidebar.
First, select “Everything” in “Time range to clear:” and then you also want to open the “Details” so you can see what is to be deleted. Note in the screenshot, the option you definitely want to select is “cache.”
Click “Clear Now” when you’re ready and Firefox’s cache (and whatever other options you choose) will be deleted.
Clearing Google Chrome’s Cache
When clearing Chrome’s cache, open the menu and select “History” from the list. Alternately, you can use “Ctrl + H”.
On the resulting History screen, click “Clear browsing data…” to delete the cache.
We want to “obliterate” browsing data from “the beginning of time.” Make sure you’ve have selected “Cache images and files” from the list. The rest is up to you.
Once you’re ready to commit, click “Clear browsing data” and everything in the cache will be wiped clean.
Clearing Safari’s Cache
Simply open the Safari’s preferences (the fastest way to do this is to use “Command + ,”) and then click on the “Privacy” tab.
Click “Remove All Website Data…” and then “Remove Now” on the subsequent screen.
Alternative Method: Configuring Individual Clients
The other option for an OpenDNS configuration is to change each client in your network, or you can change the DNS on your router, and Mom and Dad can configure their own computer with their ISP’s DNS server settings, or they can use Google’s public DNS servers (184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11), to access the Internet unfettered.
Changing DNS Servers on Windows Computers
That said, we’re going to show you how to configure Windows clients with OpenDNS’s settings. On Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, the routes and ends are the same. We’ll show you the screenshots from Windows 8.1.
Both Windows systems should have an icon of the network to which you are connected in the lower-right corner of the taskbar. Right-click on that network icon, in this screenshot, it’s a wired connection but on your computer it may be a Wi-Fi bars.
Regardless of your network connection adapter, you want to choose “Open Network and Sharing Center” and then choose “Change adapter settings” on the left-hand side.
When the adapter screen opens, you want to right-click on your network adapter (you will probably only have one, and it will probably be a Wi-Fi connection) and then choose “Properties.” In the following screenshot, our wired connection “Eth0” has a great many items attributed to it but the one we want to affect should be at or near the bottom.
Select “Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) from the list and then choose “Properties” underneath it.
You now find yourself on your adapters IPv4 properties screen where you can input your custom DNS settings. Select “Use the following DNS server addresses” and you can then input OpenDNS’s servers, or you can input your ISP’s DNS servers for an adult-friendly alternative configuration.
In the following screenshot, you see how this looks with an OpenDNS configuration.
When you’re finished, click “OK” and while you’re at it, go about the processes we discussed previously for flushing the DNS cache and browser cache(s). At this point, any computers using the OpenDNS’s servers can thus be filtered and logged.
Alternatively, click the “Advanced…” button, then the “DNS” tab.
On the DNS tab, you can then “Add” DNS servers and order them in order of use using the green arrows on the right side of the tab.
Changing DNS Servers on a Mac
Like Windows clients, OS X will assume you want to use your router’s DNS servers unless otherwise specified. To change the DNS servers on OS X, open Spotlight (“Command + Space”) and then choose the Network system preferences.
On the resulting windows, choose your Wi-Fi (or LAN) connection and then click “Advanced” in the bottom-right corner.
Once the advance settings are open, you want to click the “DNS” tab, and just like on Windows clients add OpenDNS servers using the + button.
Click “OK” to save your new settings and return to the Network system preferences.
Changing DNS Servers on an Android Device
To change the DNS servers on an Android device, open your Wi-Fi settings and long-press on your connection.
Choose “modify network” from the two choices.
On the next screen, tap “show advanced options.”
In the advanced options, scroll down to the DNS servers and change them to OpenDNS’s (or Google’s) servers.
Click “Save” and you’re finished.
Changing DNS Servers on an iOS Device
If you use an iPhone or iPad, you too can change your DNS servers. Open your device’s WiFi settings and tap the blue “i” next to your connection.
In your connection’s settings screen, simply change your DNS servers. Since most DNS has two servers, you’d want to separate them with a comma, in order of preference (DNS 1, DNS 2).
Finally, tap the “Wi-Fi” back button and you’re finished. Your iPhone or iPad will now use the assigned DNS when it connects to your connection via Wi-Fi.
A Quick Overview of Free OpenDNS
When you first access OpenDNS, you’ll need to add your home network. If you’re connecting from a computer from within your network, your IP address will be shown at the top. Go to the Settings tab to add your network.
You also want to take a moment to set your web content filtering level. Filtering is spread across three levels in 26 categories. Click “View” to view the categories and “Customize” to add or remove categories to create custom filtering levels.
If you are happy with the level of filtering but there’s a site or two that you don’t want your kids to access, you can add them specifically to the filter.
Once you select a filter, it should take about three minutes for the changes to take effect. Thereafter, when your kids visit something blocked by OpenDNS, they’ll see a screen similar to this.
In addition to the OpenDNS’s filters, there’s a great many other options you can investigate, but before we conclude today, we want to touch upon the “Stats” features found in OpenDNS. You might be happy with the way OpenDNS filters web content and if so, that’s great. But if you want to know what kind of traffic is going in and out of your network, you’ll want to take a glance at network stats.
Stats can be shown for a range of dates, whether it’s the most recent week, or a whole month, you can look at requests and see what websites your clients are visiting. You can even download a copy of the log or output to a printer.
OpenDNS gives you a relatively barebones approach to parental controls – filtering and logging – but that may be enough for many families. When combined with other methods, other parental controls methods for example, it can really wrap your network in a tight protective cocoon.
Even if you use your system’s baked-in parental controls, OpenDNS is nice to have as a backup filtering and monitoring layer, especially if you have devices on your home network that use your Internet connection such as tablets and phones.
With all that aside, let’s hear from you. Is OpenDNS something you would use or are you an OpenDNS expert? Talk to us in the discussion forum and let us know what you think.