Find web pages for you and check its database to find out if the webpage needs to be blocked


Our rating: 

Get It: Web App
License: Free (Private/Educational use)
Review & Alternatives: Best Free Parental Filter - Gateways

Pros & Cons:

Web based service works with all platforms; fast, effective blocking; faster browsing for many.
Too easy to avoid; one profile on each PC; some technical knowledge required; no desktop controls.

Our Review:

OpenDNS is a web-based service that replaces your ISP’s DNS servers. You will usually have no software to install but you will have to register with OpenDNS and change the DNS settings for your router or PC. The online instructions are clear and easy to follow: select the router or PC & operating system, configure the settings, and test the new setup. If you are not confident about this then walk through the instructions without signing up.

OpenDNS works very simply. Its main task is to find web pages for you. It also checks its database to find out if the web page needs to be blocked. It blocks web pages by redirecting your browser to the OpenDNS block page instead of going to the requested web page. I find it is the fastest of the products reviewed here.

In order to enable content protection you will need to register for a free account with OpenDNS. There are two free options (as well as two paid options with more features):

  • OpenDNS Family Shield is the easiest to setup as it is designed to be real simple. It only filters a limited set of sites (adult sites, proxy and anonymizer sites, phishing sites, some virus-spreading malware sites) but you don't have to customize the filtering.
  • OpenDNS Basic is more work to setup but that is because it is more customizable: you can block or unblock any of 54 categories of sites; block and unblock individual sites; produce reports on sites visited which can then be downloaded or printed; customize the block page; and create URL shortcuts, such as "tsa" for TechSupportAlert. Once you have registered to use OpenDNS, you will use the OpenDNS Dashboard to configure and report on activity. It is a password-protected control panel where you can use one of 5 pre-set categories designed or customise your own setting with selected categories. By default OpenDNS only blocks phishing sites.  You can also designate OpenDNS to restrict or permit individual sites. Reports on sites visited and usage charts are more useful in OpenDNS than in most of the desktop products. With OpenDNS you can view total requests, total unique domains, total unique IP's and total blocked domains in a far more readable and useful format. Plus you can print reports or download stats in a CSV file.

There are further benefits from using OpenDNS:

  • You may notice a speed advantage if your ISP has slower or less reliable DNS servers. Each OpenDNS server has a massive cache so it is less likely to have to go to other DNS servers for the site you want. OpenDNS has several regional servers through North America and one in Europe. I found the speed very good even from New Zealand and OpenDNS was faster than any of the desktop solutions.
  • You can create the URL "shortcuts" already mentioned. Enter a short word instead of a long address in the address bar and you will be taken to that website.
  • OpenDNS can display web pages when a site is down (see OpenDNS Smart Caching Displays Websites Even When They're Down).
  • OpenDNS supports almost any platform including many mobile platforms.

OpenDNS is not perfect. It is easy to bypass because you only have to reconfigure the DNS server settings to point at another DNS server. It doesn’t yet allow the blocking of unrated (not categorised) sites. Also, if you have a dynamic IP address (one that changes each time you connect) then you will need to install additional desktop software (the OpenDNS Updater, 256KB).

At the moment, OpenDNS has no competitors providing free blocking but there is at least one contender lining up. I've provided the link for your information:

  • Neustar DNS Advantage supports some well-known Internet businesses with servers spread through more continents than OpenDNS. At present blocking is limited to malware protection but more comprehensive filtering is under development. It should be a strong challenger to OpenDNS.

OpenDNS was reviewed by on