There’s been a lot written in the media over recent months on Senator Conroy’s idea of filtering the internet, so I thought I’d write an article to explain some of the issues and to talk about what you can do to protect your family right now.
Firstly, does the proposed internet filter protect our children? In short – no, in fact, and perhaps surprisingly, it makes it much harder to do so! Let’s talk about why that’s so in more detail – because in a lot of ways that runs counter to what you’d think.
The proposed filter works by blocking known bad or problem websites (such as phishing or malware sites that infect your computer). Once it is active, those sites cannot be reached directly. The problem lies in the fact that there are a number of workarounds for filters – the most common being “proxy sites” and what is known as a “VPN”. Proxy sites work by making it look like the access is coming from somewhere else, so the site can be accessed through the intermediary. Unless we filter all the proxy sites, we can’t stop that from happening – and even if we filter all the known ones, new ones pop up all the time. Once the sites are being accessed through proxies, it becomes harder to detect that they are being accessed. “VPN” access works by taking all the traffic from your PC and running it through a site in the US, making it automatically bypass any Australian filtering system. This is one serious concern re filtering – a filter simply pushes much of the traffic access underground, making it harder to detect and deal with. It doesn’t actually protect our kids, and dangerously, it may lull many parents into thinking that they’re safe.
Perhaps the most foolproof method of protection is basic common sense – create a sense of family around internet use. Have the computers in a public area, or at an absolute minimum, facing a bedroom door which must be open during use. One family I know bought an auto timer for their modem and set it to turn off at 10pm, thus effectively shutting off internet use overnight. However, at the end of the day, nothing can replace encouraging an open culture with your kids where such things are able to be discussed.
Secondly, are there dangers in the setting up internet filtering that may cause problems down the line? To look at that very simply and briefly, let’s examine actual history from a democracy not too dissimilar to Australia – Turkey. Turkey introduced an internet filter only two years ago. In that time, already the whole of YouTube and Google have been censored – two major sites that in themselves cannot be considered controversial! Do we really want to create the mechanism that would allow our Government to walk down the same path, even assuming all good intentions and perhaps a saner government?
Good news – filtering is already available for free
The good news is that there is already a simple family filter, ready to use, which can be used to cover all the PCs in your house. Provided by OpenDNS, FamilyShield prevents access to porn and questionable sites, and perhaps more importantly to virus and bank phishing sites. The virus filtering in itself should make this a no-brainer! To get this set up, visit the FamilyShield site which explains it in more detail – you’ll need to change an entry in your ADSL modem settings. It’s about 10 minutes work for an IT guy to do, if you know someone. Once this is done, most bad sites will be filtered, and you can further customize the sites that are filtered by setting up your own OpenDNS account.
It’s a pity that ISPs don’t yet provide this service in a re-badged form, but from an ISP’s point of view, there’s not much demand for this service, it would create a support burden, and no other ISPs are offering it. Ironically as soon as one ISP starts offering it, I’m sure the others would follow suit! Rather like the “unlimited” plans maybe!!
For the IT administrators among you: If you have a Billion modem or a modem that supports the dnsomatic.com dynamic DNS service, or are willing to run an OpenDNS client on your network, you can create an OpenDNS account which allows you to be specific about what you want filtered – there are over 40 regularly maintained and updated categories.
This article is obviously not directly web-related – if you like it and find it useful, please comment and we’ll continue the occasional trend of publishing other types of articles.
Cameron Male, Director of I-net Central says, “Installing this technology into the modem/router is far more effective long term rather than installing some flimsy software on each computer which can be bypassed with a small amount of computer knowledge”