A few months ago, I was invited to participate at a Families & Technology seminar.The goal of the seminar was to help families with the sometimes daunting task of keeping all members of the family safe online.
I was happy to hear the seminar hosts hammer home a couple key points that I always try to convey to those who ask me for help with their home networks –
1. Take ownership and learn – don’t be fearful of the internet and technology in general.
2. Don’t waste your time telling you kids what they’re “not allowed to do” while online.
Those 2 key points withstanding, one of the first things I tell parents is never let your teen set up your home network. Sure, there was a time when setting up a router all but required a Network Engineering degree, but those days are long gone with today’s super-simple router user interfaces (more on that in Part 2).
But if you already have your network setup, and don’t want to be a “helicopter parent” while your kiddos are online, there is simple, very effective, and FREE tool you can use on the front line of your network. Nerds the world over like myself have been personally using and suggesting to others the cloud-delivered internet security network OpenDNS for years. So for those of my fellow Nerds who fit into that camp, this post will be of little benefit to you. But for those who may be unaware, OpenDNS is a must-have in my book when it comes to effective online safety and security without completely bogging your network down with Fort Knox – type overkill.
Without going into a mind boggling, tech – heavy explanation, I’ll give a quick and commonly used analogy for what DNS is (it was the same analogy my professor used in my Cisco lab while pursuing my Network Engineering degree):
DNS stands for Domain Name System. Think of it as serving as the phone book for the internet by translating human-friendly computer hostnames into IP addresses. For example, the domain name http://www.example.com translates into the IP address 188.8.131.52 (IPv4). and 2606:2800:220:6d:26bf:1447:1097:aa7 (IPv6). Unlike a phone book, the DNS can be quickly updated, allowing a service’s location on the network to change without affecting the end users, who continue to use the same host name. Users take advantage of this when they use URLs and email addresses without having to know how the computer actually locates the services.
With that basic definition in mind, think of OpenDNS as your “phone book customization service”, in that you can tell it what content of the “phone book” you do and do not want delivered to your location. Setup is fairly simple – the only thing that may be of any difficulty is knowing how to log into your router and enter the DNS address that OpenDNS will provide to you (again – more about that in Part 2). Once you’ve created your OpenDNS account and entered your provided DNS address, you will have access to your very own network dashboard with which you can set your security level and check valuable statistics about your network.