The internet is an incredible place where a world of information is just a Google search away. The ubiquitous availability of high-speed internet has changed the way we think, work, and interact with others. As I read books that I’ve downloaded to my Kindle wirelessly from the internet, I often keep a browser open to get more information from Wikipedia, fire off a quote to a friend or add notes to an Evernote notebook. I can instantly grab the weather for the week or check my savings account balance by simply checking the home screen of my internet-connected cell phone. Whether I’m looking for the best deal on Lakers tickets or want to find a schedule to read my Bible through in 90 days, I’m just a Google search away from finding whatever it is that I need. Unfortunately, the temptations of Satan lurk around the corner as well.
How can we use the internet for good, while at the same time protect ourselves from the evils of the internet? How can we protect those God has given us the responsibility to look out for, whether that be our family or our ministry? I've compiled a list of five tools that I apply immediately after getting a new computer or setting up a new network. I have these tools in place before I use the internet on any new system. Some are easy, some require a bit more elbow grease, but in the end, you’re better protected against some of those fiery darts.
1. Firefox Web Browser- Easy
Firefox in and of itself will not protect you from all that is out there, but it creates a platform that allows us to customize our browser to meet our needs.
2. Adblock Plus Plugin for Firefox- Easy
When people talk about crazy, animated banner ads asking them to refinance their house or to try to win an iPod Touch by punching a monkey, I honestly have no idea what they are talking about! Adblock plus does away with all web advertisements, good, bad, and otherwise; you’ll never know what you’re missing! Not only does it block all advertisements before they hit your screen, but say you’re checking your sports scores and a questionable or suggestive photo is on the page. Just right-click the offending photo, choose “Block Image,” and it’s like it never existed. You get everything you’re looking for and nothing you aren’t.
3. Greasemonkey Firefox Plugin + Profanity Filter Script- Medium Difficulty
We’re blocking advertisements now, we’re not visiting any questionable websites, we’re just reading the news. The story we’re reading quotes a politician who uses an expletive that we’d rather not read. The Greasemonkey plugin for Firefox allows us to install user scripts that go behind the scenes of a web page and change how it shows up in the browser. After installing Greasemonkey, we’ll install the Profanity Filter script and from here on out, all profanity will be replaced by a series of asterisks on each page we visit.
4. Antivirus and Anti-Malware Software (Windows Only) - Easy
While this won’t technically filter out any questionable content, it will keep you from getting infected with spyware and/or viruses. In the past, Symantec has been the de facto leader in this space, but in recent years other vendors have chipped away at Symantec's market share by providing free alternatives that are less resource intensive. Microsoft recently entered the fray with Microsoft Security Essentials and, regardless of your feelings towards the Redmond giant, it’s a great piece of software. On the anti-malware/spyware front, it’s pretty tough to beat Malware Bytes Anti-Malware (MBAM). You can set it to scan your hard drive on a regular basis, looking for unwanted software, cookies and registry entries. Neither of these applications, however, will help you at all if you aren’t updating them on a regular basis. I can’t count the number of times I’ve helped someone out with a virus-laden laptop that they thought was protected with an expired version of Symantec Security Suite that hadn’t been updated in years.
5. OpenDNS – Moderate Difficulty
OpenDNS helps block access to websites based on category settings. When you type in the address of a website, OpenDNS checks to see if the website is allowed based on the category of the site. OpenDNS allows you to setup filtering based on 55 different categories, as well as set up whitelists and blacklists. It’s best if it’s setup at the router level, which will filter content on all network-connected devices and is more difficult to bypass. However, it can be setup at the local computer level, as well. The OpenDNS site has a great support section that gives step-by-step instructions for setting up OpenDNS on a variety of operating systems and routers. While OpenDNS does provide content filtering, the free version does not provide user-level statistics or history.
BONUS: SafeEyes – Easy (Not free, but priceless)
This one is a bonus, because it isn’t free, but it is worth the price of your integrity. Safe Eyes runs on Windows and Mac OSX and provides user-level filtering rules, allows blocking of sites based on time of day, provides emailed accountability reports and also has the capability to send real-time alerts when certain events are triggered. You can download a free trial from their website and after the trial, $50 per year allows you to load the software on up to 3 computers. Don’t mess around with other content filtering software, this is as good as it gets.
With less than an hour’s work, you can protect yourself against Satan’s traps that have ripped thousands of homes apart and ruined countless lives. While no system is perfect, with these protections in place, it’s going to make it nearly impossible to accidentally stumble upon inappropriate content and incredibly difficult for those purposely trying to access it.