Here’s an easy way to make your web surfing faster and safer at the same time. It doesn’t require you to install any software on your PC and it’s compatible with just about any version of any operating system. It’s called OpenDNS. Let’s see how it works.
What is DNS?
When you want to access a website you open a browser, type in the name of the website (www.techwandering.com, for instance), and you get a page back from that website. What most people don’t realize is that the name of the website (www.techwandering.com) is really just a nickname. The real name of the server which runs TechWandering is its IP address, and that looks something like this: “188.8.131.52″. Not too easy to remember, is it? That’s why the inventors of the internet came up with the idea of DNS (”Domain Name System”). Basically, a DNS translates the friendly name of a website into that site’s IP address. You can think of a DNS server as the internet’s phonebook.
What is OpenDNS?
OpenDNS is a group of DNS servers on the internet which act as a replacement for the DNS run by your internet provider. Not only does OpenDNS provide the same basic functions as the one from your ISP, it does it faster and it adds some additional features.
Using OpenDNS instead of the DNS provided by your ISP will probably make websites load faster. How is it possible that OpenDNS is faster than the DNS provided by your ISP? The reasons have to do with the way OpenDNS is designed.
First of all, OpenDNS has servers positioned all over the globe. When you make a DNS request you’re sent directly to the DNS server which is nearest to your physical location. Your ISP probably has one location which it uses for DNS resolution and if that one location isn’t near you you’ll have to hop across the internet a few times to reach that server.
To make matters even worse, most ISPs don’t maintain a complete list of all internet addresses themselves. If you ask for a website name that’s not in your ISP’s “phonebook” you’ll be sent to yet another DNS server to resolve that server’s name. OpenDNS, on the other hand, maintains the complete DNS directory on its servers. Not only does OpenDNS have the complete “internet phonebook”, its servers actually cache all of the DNS entries in memory instead of on disk for additional speed.
How can OpenDNS possibly provide additional security?
By now you’ve probably heard of “phishing” sites. These are website which are designed to look like legitimate sites but are really out there just to trick you into revealing some important information (for instance, your credit card number). The phishing attack typically begins when a user receives a fake e-mail from a supposed well-known source such as Bank of America. The e-mail will usually say something like “There’s been a problem with your account, please click here to log in and fix the problem”. The link in the e-mail doesn’t really point to Bank of America, though — it points to the fake website which was set up to look just like the Bank of America site. If you click on the link in the e-mail and enter your username and password you’ve just given the bad guys access to your accounts.
OpenDNS helps to protect you from those types of websites by maintaining a list of known phishing sites. If you click on a link that’s sending you to “www.badguyswebsite.com” instead of “www.bankofamerica.com” OpenDNS will alert you to the fact that “www.badguyswebsite.com” is a known phishing site. OpenDNS works with a number of different security organizations to make sure that this list of known phishing sites is complete and up-to-date.
Additional benefits for users without OpenDNS accounts
You can use OpenDNS without registering on the OpenDNS website and setting up an account for yourself. You’ll still get the benefits of increased surfing speed and security, as will as a few other features. For instance, if you mis-type the name of the website you’re trying to reach (www.craigslist.og instead of www.craigslist.org, for instance) OpenDNS will make an educated guess and try to send you to the proper site. If it can’t determine where you were trying to go it will display a Google-like page of possible destinations. That page includes some ads, and it’s by displaying those ads that OpenDNS makes its money.
Extra benefits for users with OpenDNS accounts
If you create an account for yourself on the OpenDNS site you can take advantage of even more services such as using OpenDNS to block adult sites and/or other sites which you deem as inappropriate, setting up shortcuts for sites which you visit often (”wsj” instead of wallstreetjournal.com), and maintaining your own list of blacklist and/or whitelist sites.
Setting up your OpenDNS takes a little bit of work, although the instructions on the OpenDNS website are very easy to follow. When you register an account on OpenDNS you have to supply the IP address of your local network. If you have a static IP address from your ISP you can just tell OpenDNS what that IP address is and you’ll be done. If you have a dynamic IP address you’ll have to use an additional tool to keep the OpenDNS servers notified of your current IP address. The help system at OpenDNS has a very good explanation of how to set that up.
There are two ways to start using OpenDNS and the instructions on the OpenDNS website do a fantastic job of walking you through each of them.
The first way to implement OpenDNS is to just set up your computer’s network settings to point to the OpenDNS servers for name resolution instead of to your ISP’s DNS servers. The directions on the OpenDNS site will walk you through the steps for your particular operating system.
The second way to implement OpenDNS is for users who have multiple computers behind some sort of router. Rather than setting the DNS settings on each computer you can just set the DNS settings on the router and all of the computers behind that router will use OpenDNS for name resolution. Once that’s done all of your computers will inherit all of benefits of OpenDNS.
If you use the internet you should do yourself a favor and check out OpenDNS. It’s fast, it’s safe, it’s easy to set up, and it’s free. You can’t ask for much more than that.