On occasion, I have recommended using alternative DNS as a means to a faster and more reliable Web browsing experience. But faster Web surfing isn’t the only benefit of switching your DNS servers. I know it sounds geeky, but I’ll explain it all in plain English and show you how to make Internet usage both faster and safer, for both adults and curious kids. I have also found this to be helpful when needing a faster reliable connection in second life and other gaming servers. Read on…
Speed and Safety
Let’s start by de-geekifying the DNS acronym. DNS stands for “Domain Name Service” and it’s a service normally provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Here’s why it’s necessary… Humans refer to websites by their common “dot com” names, but the computers that run things on the Internet know them only by numbers known as IP (internet protocol) addresses. When you tell your browser you want to visit a certain website, it must connect to a DNS server to translate that website name into an IP address.
Normally, that DNS server is operated by your ISP, but there’s no technical reason why that must be so. Alternate DNS services can be used to speed up web surfing, provide an additional layer of security, correct typos, or assign shortcuts to commonly-typed website names. Here are some free alternative DNS services you can try.
OpenDNS Home is one such service, used by over 30 million people at Fortune 50 companies, small businesses, schools, and homes. The free service doesn’t require you to sign up for anything, or install any software. By twiddling a few numbers in your router’s setup screens, you can speed up web surfing. But you can also filter out malware, phishing sites, botnets, If you also want to filter out adult content, use the OpenDNS Family Shield instead. It works exactly the same as the OpenDNS Home service, but is preconfigured to block sites that may not be appropriate for younger users.
OpenDNS includes one of the leading anti-phishing projects on the Internet. PhishTank.com is a collaborate effort to identify and block phishing Web sites one bogus URL at a time. Any registered user can submit a suspected phish to PhishTank via email or the site’s “Add A Phish” uploading feature.
Each suspect URL is evaluated by a worldwide community of security consultants, academics, and registered users. When at least two users agree it’s a phish, the bogus URL is added to PhishTank’s database of verified phishing links. The number of votes needed to verify a phish varies depending on the reputations of the voters. Reputation is established by being right more often than you are wrong. Users who submit lots of false positives – URLs that turn out not to be phishing sites – and who, more often than not, incorrectly label others submissions as phish or not-phish, will have lower reputation ratings.
False positives – URLs incorrectly labeled “phish” by the community – can also be reported. PhishTank’s staff will review the classification and revise it if warranted. OpenDNS draws upon many resources such as PhishTank to decide which URLs and IP addresses to blocks for its users who have phishing protection enabled. It’s possible that a URL labeled “phish by the PhishTank community will not be blocked by OpenDNS.
Separately, OpenDNS Domain Tagging offers users the option to label websites with tags such as “adult,” “violence,” “social network,” “gambling,” and so on. Registered users can tag a domain, but it takes a consensus of the community to make that tag “stick.” OpenDNS users can use the tagging system to block selected categories of content, if desired.
But Does It Work?
There’s really no downside to switching your DNS nameservers from the ones provided by your Internet Service Provider to the OpenDNS ones. Most users will see slightly improved page loading time, less “lag” when contacting a website,gaming servers and fewer errors with unreachable websites.
I am skeptical about the “wisdom of the crowd” method used by PhishTank and OpenDNS. Phishing sites come and go rapidly, and I can’t believe that a “committee” of tens of thousands can keep up with the bad guys on every front. But if it blocks the most common phishing attacks, there’s value in that. Just don’t assume it will protect you from EVERY known phishing threat, and continue to use caution about clicking links you see in emails.
The “parental controls” offered by OpenDNS are probably more effective; p**n, piracy and social media sites don’t change domain names nearly as often as phishing sites do. But like every parental-control program ever created, OpenDNS blocks some sites that arguably are not harmful to children. Also, its blocking applies to one’s entire network, so Mom and Dad have to give themselves permission to view “adult” sites like La Leche League, or shop at Victoria’s Secret.
If you configure your Internet router with the OpenDNS name servers, it’s important to remember that it can protect only the computers, laptops and other devices that are connected to your router, via a wired or wireless connection. When outside of WiFi range, OpenDNS can’t protect mobile devices such as laptops, smartphones or tablets. However, you also have the option to modify the DNS settings on individual devices, rather than (or in addition to) your router. This OpenDNS setup guide will walk you through the steps to make it happen. Just remember to record your current nameserver settings somewhere as a backup, in case you want or need to switch back.
Do you use an alternative DNS offering to boost your speed or security online?
Have a Great Week From all of us at ZI