This article is a little bit of a change of pace for me. In a previous career, I was involved in the technology business so I know a bit about internet networking.

I had a conversation with a parent recently who expressed concern that her child was able to access developmentally inappropriate content on their home network. This is a common problem, but perhaps especially so for parents of kids with disabilities. And for kids with disabilities like Autism, simply removing the internet from the home is also problematic.

It is possible to lock down a home network to filter out inappropriate websites, but doing so at the workstation level (at the computer) is time consuming, difficult and prone to failure (you can't get 'em all).

The easiest tool I have found to do this is through a managed DNS service. DNS (Domain Name Services) is like a big library card catalog. When you type a website name into your browser, (i.e. www.naughtybits.org) the request goes to the DNS server of your ISP which then looks up the website's IP address. Your workstation then retrieves the information from that server. Your ISP simply connects the domain name to the IP address, they don't try to pre-judge if this content is anything you might actually want to see or read.

There are several good free solutions. I'm going to focus on one. OpenDNS

OpenDNS works by substituting their DNS service for the one supplied by your ISP. Their DNS service is configurable by you to constrain your home network to only the kinds of websites you choose. Through crowdsourcing by their users, they categorize most websites into one of 56 categories, including "weapons" "politics" "online shopping" "adult" "sports", etc. When the service receives a DNS request from your network, it compares the request to your categorical block list and either returns the content from the site, or a page indicating that the site is blocked.

Further, it provides this filtering for every device on your network, including handhelds and gaming consoles. It's really quite good, it's not terribly difficult to administer... and it's free.

If you have questions about how to implement this service on your home network, feel free to drop me a note.