What exactly does OpenDNS.com do?

Question

What is www.opendns.com, how does it work, and is this an effective security tool?

- Jim

Answer

This question was answered on March 5, 2009. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

OpenDNS is a company that offers an alternate way for your computer to get “directions” on the Internet as well as control exactly what is allowed to be accessed by your home or business network This is one of those tools that has value for some and creates privacy concerns for others (more on that later).

DNS stands for Domain Name System and is what translates our requests in plain English into the numeric system known as IP (Internet Protocol) addresses that the Internet works on.

In other words, early on in the development of the Internet, someone really smart realized that it would be much easier for us humans to remember names than numbers to access the information that we sought.

Telling you to visit my website at DataDoctors.com has much greater value than telling you to visit my site at 69.28.134.226 (if you type those numbers in your browser, you will also be taken to our website).

Think of the DNS servers on the Internet as ‘traffic cops’ that are giving us all directions on how to get to our desired location Whenever you type a web address into your browser, the first place that request goes is to your primary DNS server so it can translate your request into an IP address and send you on your way.

By default, your primary DNS server is provided to you by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and depending upon the size of the ISP, you may notice some performance increases by changing which ‘traffic cop’ you go to.

One pitch for using http://OpenDNS.com is to speed up Internet access because they claim to perform the translation tasks quicker than bogged down ISPs.

Another reason to consider OpenDNS.com is that you can control exactly what the DNS server will allow to be accessed by your computers from their web Interface OpenDNS also automatically blocks known phising sites, can resolve commonly misspelled URLs and is starting to block known botnet agents such as those spread by the Conficker virus.

A home user that has three computers and wants to filter what the kids can access can change the DNS configuration on their broadband router and then log into their OpenDNS account to decide what all the computers can and cannot access.

This makes it much easier for both home and business users to control content across all computers from a single point instead of having to install or configure anything on each computer.

Putting DNS control at the router level also eliminates the possibility that users can figure out how to bypass a locally installed filter or parental control program.

OpenDNS is really best used in the hands of a tech savvy network administrator as understanding what all the settings do and how to set them isn’t for newbies If you’re interested in using this service, but lack the technical background, I would highly recommend that you get a trusted tech savvy friend or service provider to help you understand how best to use it in your situation (or if at all).

The pundits of this service seem to be most vocal about concerns surrounding privacy and advertising This is a free service to the user, because the information that they gather from user’s surfing habits along with opportunities to insert advertising is how they make money.

(To get both sides of this debate, type ‘pros and cons of OpenDNS’ in Google.)

If you have multiple computers on your network and want to see if changing the DNS would increase speed, you can easily do a side-by-side test by changing just one of your computers to the OpenDNS servers.

If you see a noticeable difference in getting to your primary websites, then it may be worth converting your entire network over

If you are less interested in the performance and more interested in the content controls, you can also do a side-by-side test by changing only one computer, setting your filtering preferences then go about your business for a week or so.

If the filtering configuration does not cause problems, you can modify the DNS settings on each computer (especially if you want different filtering levels for different computer) or make the changes global by modifying your router’s DNS settings which sets filtering the same for all computers on the network.

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on March 5, 2009