2020-08-19

By Peter French, Synapsys Managing Director

Previously I wrote about how you can jumpstart your home network to cope with working, learning and entertaining from home. A couple of the tips involved tweaking the settings on your WiFi router. This article looks at some easy ways your router can be optimised to protect you and your household from harmful or inappropriate content.

For many people, a router is something that gets installed by their ISP at the same time as their broadband connection and then forgotten about. Maybe it gets turned off and on again when a service technician asks us to, or looked at when we have to tell the technician which lights are on and which lights are blinking. But the humble broadband router has quite a few useful capabilities, including keeping you safe from content you don’t want to access for security or parental control reasons.

Before you get started:

  1. You access your router’s control dashboard by entering the IP number you’ll find on the back of your router into a web browser. You’ll also need to enter your router username and password, which, after reading my first home networking article, you should have already changed from the default. 
  2. Take a screenshot of any settings before you change them. That way, if things don’t work out as planned, you can easily roll back to the original settings.

 

Anti-malware and parental control

There are a couple of free services that allow you to, by simply changing some of the settings on your router, easily block malware and/ or adult content from being accessed by users on your network. Probably the easiest one to use is Cloudflare for Families, which has three options:

  1. secure, fast, private browsing;
  2. also blocking malware; and
  3. also blocking both malware and adult content, simply by changing two settings on your router.

 

Fast, secure, private internet browsing

Primary DNS: 1.1.1.1

Secondary DNS: 1.0.0.1

Malware blocking 

Primary DNS: 1.1.1.2

Secondary DNS: 1.0.0.2

Malware and adult content blocking

Primary DNS: 1.1.1.3

Secondary DNS: 1.0.0.3

Visit Cloudflare for more information and IPv6 settings. Apparently there are additional features such as scheduling, reporting, and allow and blocklists planned.

Another service is OpenDNS from Cisco. This is another free (at entry level) service that uses DNS to block adult content. More advanced options that need a bit more customisation offer filters and block phishing sites, as well as making internet browsing faster and more reliable. Here’s a good place to start with OpenDNS.

Unpacking DNS

Since you’ve levelled up your home network security with this DNS change, why not level up your understanding of the change you’ve made. Very simply, DNS is an abbreviation for Domain Name System, which is a global  index or directory that translates domain names, such as acronis.com into Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, which is 69.20.59.80 in Acronis’s case. Computers, servers and networks understand the latter, but humans prefer the convenience and memorability of the former. DNS resolvers sit in the middle and map the domain name you enter into a web browser onto the correct IP address, so that the right website gets delivered to your browser window.

Typically your broadband router will come preconfigured with a default DNS resolver, but, as described above, there are reasons why you might want to change this. For instance, I have used Google DNS (8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4) for many years, mainly because it used to be the fastest and easiest to remember, until Cloudflare (1.1.1.1) came along. I have also used OpenDNS and my own hosted DNS server (for the sake of tinkering and control).

More advanced protection

Cloudflare and OpenDNS are both simple measures that anyone can take without wreaking havoc on their home network and they offer good first line defence against cyberthreats, which are on the rise with more and more devices out there, and more people working remotely. But as a distributor for Acronis in Africa, I’d be remiss in not pointing out more advanced options, such as Acronis Cyber Protect Cloud, which combines cybersecurity with the backup of your data in a simple to use, integrated service. This is something you should request from your ISP, or get in touch with us and we’ll connect you with a managed service provider (MSP) who can help.

But meanwhile there are things you can do today to improve your home network and keep you and your household safe. Remember that the best way to learn is through trial and error, but do proceed with caution to avoid locking yourself out of your router, or be unable to browse the internet because of an incorrectly configured DNS. Having said that, knowing how things work gives you both control and comfort that you are protecting yourself and your household, while also improving your online experience.

Written for publication on the Synapsys website on 19 August 2020