Friday, July 20, 2007

Clean, Safe Web Browsing for Your Family (free)

Joel Dehlin, a former Microsoft employee and co-founder of Microsoft Surface, and now CIO for the LDS Church recently posted a very interesting question on his blog. He asked readers what they do to manage Internet usage in their homes. Protecting your family, especially little children, from potential danger while accessing the Internet is no doubt a top concern of parents everywhere. Threats range from pornography, pedophilia, and stalking, to identity theft and computer security breaches. Due to the ever-evolving nature of technology, it is impossible to be completely protected from indecent content or other security risks associated with Internet usage. One must constantly be vigilant. Teaching correct principles and following some basic rules (such as no unsupervised, aimless web surfing or no installation of unknown, risky software) seem to be the most effective way to combat exposure to obscenity and security threats. Nevertheless, there are some technology-based tools that definitely make the battle a lot easier.

ScrubIT is a free service that filters out millions of malicious and obscene sites using good ol' DNS, the protocol that translates an easy-to-remember host name such as www.google.com into a numeric IP address like 64.233.167.104. No more accidental stumbling upon obscene web sites because of a mistyped URL. Instead of using your Internet service provider's DNS servers, you use ScrubIT's free DNS servers. For most users who use a router to share their Internet connection, this change can easily be made in the router's configuration page:

This way, all computers behind the router/firewall will be filtered. If you don't have a router, you can automatically configure your computer to use the ScrubIT DNS servers by downloading their config utility. If you know what you are doing, you can also manually enter in the ScrubIT DNS servers (67.138.54.100 and 207.225.209.66) in the connection properties.

The service seems to be fairly new but is indeed promising for those who are fed up with pornography, pop-ups, and other problems related to malicious or obscene sites, or for those who just want to play it safe. The service is completely free and the ScrubIT web site promises that it will stay that way. They are working on implementing a paid service that will allow users to customize what sites get blocked. I will be looking forward to this because one problem is that ScrubIT blocks Blogger.com, and we use Blogger in our family a lot. But, the beauty of a DNS-based solution such as ScrubIT, or a gateway or router-based solution like the Astaro Security Gateway (free for home users), is that you don't have to load any software that could bog down your computer or cause other problems. ScrubIT is not a silver bullet, but it is certainly an efficient and useful tool that can easily be setup to help protect families from potential online threats. I whole-heartedly endorse them.

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