Chap Four – Filtering Observations (Whole House Router Based Parental Controls)

Concluding Observations

I’ve spent almost a week surfing the web on an RT-N16 filtered router and have collected some observations.

It cannot be stressed enough that the administrator keep the WAN IP address in sync with OpenDNS. Failure to keep in sync means that the entire filtering system will cease to work. The admin must also check often on a filtered PC to make sure the filtering is working. I strongly recommend that the OpenDNS automatic IP updater be installed on a PC that never leaves the network.

Gmail, AOL and Yahoo mail are probably going to be blocked both on an email client and through the web. To unblock these email providers, go into OpenDNS and specify their domains as “NEVER BLOCK”. Some technical and professional forums are blocked. These can also be unblocked using the Never Block option. Realistically speaking, young children won’t be affected by the forum blocks.

My best efforts to return pornographic results have failed. That’s very good news but don’t take this as an ironclad guarantee. The term “Nudist” turned up the raciest images but still very much G-rated compared to the unfiltered results. The terms “skinny dipping” and “au naturele” returned a few instances of back nudity but no frontals. There are of course nastier terms and phrases I tried which I won’t mention here but suffice it to say that the filtering worked very nicely. The union of OpenDNS and forced Google safe search seems to be quite effective.

When a site is blocked by OpenDNS, a warning appears that says what category is responsible for the blockage. At that point, you have the option to either unblock that category or add the blocked domain to the Never Block list.

The filtering mechanism is not going to be absolutely perfect. There may be issues with some websites that can be corrected by tweaking. All of these issues tended toward the safe side of the filtering spectrum. That is to say that no porn or designated bad sites managed to sneak through.

The goal is a filter that despite some glitches still allows the parents to watch TV instead of the kids when the PC has to be used for homework or entertainment.

In many sites, linked pictures do not display because the domains they are linked to are blocked. This does not affect the content of the page.

Usage As A Logging Device

This combination of router controls and OpenDNS is useful for more than just filtering the Internet for young children.

Parents with teenagers may not want to filter older teens but may want to keep track of what their teens do on the web with total invisibility. This is perfect for that as OpenDNS allows for no filtering plus a logging option that costs about $20 a year. If this is the intended usage, be sure not to implement forced Google safe search. And don’t even hint to your teens what this brand new device is really all about. Loose lips sink routers. Make something up.

Usage As A Secure Subnet and Ad Blocker

Another possible configuration for the router is to create a subnet with ad blocking but with no parental controls or OpenDNS. This might be desirable in situations where privacy and/or adblocking is necessary on a network.

One example is an office suite where a handful of professionals each have a room and share a single Internet connection. A professional using this kind of setup may not want to be on the same network as everyone else for privacy and security reasons.

Another example is a household that wants ads blocked on every device in the household but does not want filtering. In addition to blocking almost all of the annoying ads, this arrangement also blocks malicious ads such as fake warnings that trick the user into downloading malware. I have this arrangement in my house and it works very well. Even as a PC tech, I’m shocked when I visit customer sites and see how many ads appear on most web pages on all their devices. I’ve become very used to not seeing them.

Other Useful Tomato Tools

Tomato also comes with an assortment of tools that help to manage Internet usage.

One example is the ability to schedule a wireless shutdown every night at a certain time. This is especially useful for prodding your kids into bed, and making sure they’re not surfing once in bed. Remember this won’t work with a smart phone that connects to the Internet via the cellular network.

Another example is a bandwidth limiter that allows the administrator (on a per device basis) to limit upload and download bandwidth. This is useful for managing torrents and downloading of videos and music, and can control the bandwidth of a user who has not responded positively to repeated and polite requests to self-throttle. You can actually take a user all the way down to old style telephone modem speeds, rendering the Internet unusable for anything other than text-based web pages such as edline, email or news.

Conclusion

This concludes the chapters on setting up a router based parental control system. The filtering system works quite nicely and once set up should be fairly easy to manage.

Good luck to you. If you live in my service area (Bethesda inside the Beltway), I am available to help with any issues that might arise.

WordPress Note: When using code designator in text mode and then you save your post, going back to the visual editor and saving again will remove all the plaintext coding except for the first line. So when inserting or designating plain text, be sure it’s the last thing done and that the post is not saved in visual mode after that.

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