Whether you want to keep your kids eyes away from inappropriate content or your employees from wasting time online, you'll find a variety of great tools available for filtering internet access in today's Hive Five.
Photo by Zach Klein.
While we originally intended to approach the topic from a software angle, it quickly became apparent that software didn't cut it for most people and that the majority of you are using either a combination of desktop software and a proxy server/firewall or just the latter by itself. The following solutions range, in difficultly of installation, from as simple as requiring five minutes to install to as complex as setting up a physical computer as a Linux-based content filter.
DansGuardian (Cross Platform, Free)
One way to measure whether or not Dansguardian is the right filtering tool for you is your willingness to install and tinker with an operating system like Linux. If OpenDNS (below) is the Mac-like "It just works!" one click solution, DansGuardian falls into a much more Linux-like "I can change every setting and experience real, ultimate power!" category. Dansguardian runs on Linux, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, Mac OS X, HP-UX and Solaris. DansGuardian is extremely configurable and allows you to do all sorts of things, like block all images, filter ads out across your entire home network, block files from being downloaded by extension type, and control the effects of the filters, whitelists, and more based on which computer on your network is doing the accessing. You can deploy different filters for different computers based on domain, user, and source IP so your high school student doesn't get the same ultra-filtered content your elementary student does. DansGuardian needs to be paired with a proxy as it doesn't serve the web pages itself but only acts a filter—many users use Squid, also mentioned in the entry for SquidGuard.
K9 (Windows/Mac, Free)
Many of us have had experiences with K9's internet filtering, if for no other reason than it's often used in schools. One of K9's strong points is the division of filtered content into 60+ categories which allows you to easily block and unblock large chunks of their blacklist without having to get your hands too dirty. K9 is a desktop solution; you install the software and it checks all the internet requests you make against the filters you have specified. In an effort to overcome the limitations of working from a static database, K9 introduced Dynamic Real-Time Rating to actively access the content of websites and ban them if they fall into the filter categories you've selected.
OpenDNS (Cross Platform, Free)
OpenDNS is a perfect solution for people who either lack the time or expertise to set up and administer a full-out content-filtering server. OpenDNS replaces your current DNS server and allows you to filter every connection coming out of your house if you change the DNS settings at the router level. No matter if someone is on your main desktop or connecting into your wireless with laptop, everything will be filtered by OpenDNS. You can set custom filters to white list and black list specific sites and customise the range of filters they provide for you. If you're considering using OpenDNS as your household filter, check out our previous article on the topic.
SquidGuard/Squid (Linux, Free)
SquidGuard is similar to Dansguard in that it is a standalone filtering tool you connect into with a proxy, in this case the popular Squid proxy. Also like Dansguard, you have a high degree of flexibility—dream up a combination of filtering parameters and there's a good chance you can make it happen with SquidGuard. No Hello Kitty between the hours of 9AM and 10PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays? Not a problem with the highly customizable SquidGuard. SquidGuard is natively a UNIX-environment only tool, and you can install it onto Linux, FreeBSD and so forth.
Hosts File (Cross Platform, Free)
Many of you like to get your hands dirty—as evidenced by the popularity of Dansguard and Squidguard—and tinkering with the hosts file is a great way to do that while setting up a filter in the process. The hosts file is essentially a mini-directory on your computer of IP addresses and what they should be resolved to. If you go into your hosts file, for instance, and make an entry for 127.0.0.1 pointing at www.google.com, every time someone goes to visit google on that computer the web browser will direct them right back to the machine they are sitting at. You can manually edit your hosts file, but many of you use applications like Hostsman to make editing and configuring easier. Editing your hosts file is easy, but its effectiveness is largely limited to how strong the blacklist you've downloaded or created is. If your blacklist doesn't include a site or a string that catches part of the site's name, it will fail to block it at all.
If you've got your own tips, tricks, or even unmentioned tools for filtering internet access, we'd love to hear them in the comments.