In a prior existence as an IT Manager, I implemented a Websense server on our network, primarily to monitor website usage and enforce our internet use policy. It was, and probably still is, a very good product offering a huge level of detail on who is accessing what on the network.

For a small business, however, Websense and it’s competing products just don’t make sense. Financially they are aimed at corporations, not a small office, and they require quite a bit of work to set up and maintain, let alone keep on top of the reports that are generated.

There are hosted services out there, through the likes of Messagelabs and Blackspider, that take the need for installing your own equipment away. However, there is still an ongoing cost involved, and you are likely to be faced with significant configuration and monitoring still.

If, however, all you want is basic web filtering (i.e. don’t let anyone access gambling sites) then this can be achieved for free. How, well it’s quite easy really, and it’s all achieved through DNS. For those that don’t know, DNS (Domain Name Services) converts those ever-so friendly website and email address names (e.g. www.fourlakes.co.uk) into much less friendly but very necessary IP addresses (e.g. 72.52.225.30) which tell your PC exactly where to find the relevant web page. Your network is probably set up to use your ISP’s DNS servers, which makes sense as they are located quite close (in network terms anyway) to your computer. However, if you change your DNS server settings on your ADSL or Cable router to point at those run by OpenDNS.com (namely 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220) then you open up basic web filtering for your network. You need to register on the OpenDNS site first, but once you’ve done that it will recognise any traffic from your network and filter it against a whole raft of website categories. You can choose which ones you want blocked, resulting in a standard message which can be tailored to include your logo. This page also contains some fairly discrete advertising which is how the service pays for itself.

Additional feature include some pretty basic stats…you won’t get filtering or reporting to a user level, but you will find out if someone is trying to access unwanted websites on your network, allowing you to take action to track down the culprit if you so wish.

Worth a look.

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