Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Safeguard Schools, Religious Institutions and Your Family Online

Computer Security
There have been a few things that have changed since I last wrote about how to protect your computer and your family. Of course, the applications of this are many. For example, I highly recommend a proactive approach to protect schools, religious institutions, your family (and the family of those you know and care about), etc. The options are very easy and anyone can do one, a combination or all of them.

At the network level, where everyone on your network will be affected (that's a good thing for most), the previously mentioned OpenDNS route is a very good one. Since I've mentioned it, however, I've learned that OpenDNS was responsible for a minimum of 15% impact on my network performance. While the protection is nice, their DNS (a definition was also covered in last year's article) was slowing down all systems using it. This may have just been the case for me, but I did some thorough testing only to be surprised that it was OpenDNS behind my slower connection (both inbound and out). Despite the negative-discovery, I still think that OpenDNS is amongst the top & best option, which allows for maximum customization for the entire network. With the categories they offer, and the option to add domain names via their web interface, OpenDNS makes it easy to protect all internet-accessing machines within your network.

Google DNS
Almost eight months after writing the April article Google offered its own public (and free) DNS. The announcement this last December opened up a whole new option for all of us to use. Despite the lack of customization, Google's Public DNS still offers a lot of security benefits. Albeit, none of those benefits will offer protection against nudity, gambling, pornography, etc. Judging from personal experience, however, I'm very impressed with the speed of the DNS. I'm unable to detect any slowness or impact on my internet connection. On the contrary, it was faster than my ISP's own DNS (is that even possible?). With that speed, and with other options available to protect my network & individual machines from the profane side of the net, Google's public DNS was the right option for; and may be one for you too.

I still highly recommend using a customized hosts file in your Windows machine to help protect against many of the profane, inappropriate and plain-ol' annoying sites. The hosts file solution is awesome and adds a layer of protection that's unsurpassed by any other. Combining that with a good (and fast) DNS and you're well on your way to isolating & omitting more than 90% of the Internet's inappropriate content. To learn more about the hosts, I strongly recommend that you read last year's article. I went to great lengths to explain it and provide you the resources needed to make it happen without much work. Having a site that keeps an eye on such unwanted web addresses and updating a hosts file alone is worth the change to make in your hosts file. In other words, you'll never have to know what bad sites to block, what ad sites to block, what sites known for spyware, malware and the like to block, etc.

Computer Security
After standardizing on Firefox within my household, and within organizations I've helped, it was easy for me implement a few extensions to also help with protecting our children, congregation, company, etc. from all the inappropriate & dangerous content out there. Many swear by NoScript, which's an extension/add-on for Firefox that gives you the power to specify the sites you trust and only those sites will be allowed to run active content like JavaScript, Java (usually in applets) and other executable code. The add-on thus protects you from cross-site scripting and click-jacking attacks. Personally, I rely heavily on Greasemonkey. I always run Greasemonkey and adding to it is a breeze. In particular, I highly recommend the "Block XXX sites" script. Next in line is the "Profanity Filter." Hands down, it's the best one out there. For religious institutions and schools, these two are simply a must. If you're looking to have more control on substitution options for certain vulgarities, then I recommend Jmaxxz's Vulgar Word Blocker.

Many kids are online; and if you're responsible for protecting them directly or indirectly in an IT capacity, then I also recommend that you consider "5 terrific Web-Browsers to safeguard Kid’s internet activities."

My advice is based on my personal set up. It's also the one I recommend professionally or for any volunteer work I do. After I switched away from OpenDNS, it is now Google's Public DNS, a customized hosts file and Greasemonkey scripts after standardizing on Firefox. Did I mention that it was all FREE? And so easy to set up. You shouldn't have any questions, but if you did, I'm more than happy to help.

What's left? You still need a good anti-virus application. And there are several good ones out there that are 100% free and rival many of their commercial alternatives.

If you're responsible for the IT of a company, a religious organization, a school or a bunch of children, then I urge you to consider the above solutions. You do not want a child to come across some horrific images and/or content that many adults detest.  ▣

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