Imagine this – you wake up one beautiful morning, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and then sit down at your computer to get started with your work for the day. Before you actually get stuff done, you go over to your favorite browser and type in http://www.makeuseof.com. Within seconds, you’re looking at our website and all of our latest posts.
But hold on, how the heck did your computer even know where to find MakeUseOf? How does it even know what http://www.makeuseof.com even means? It finds out by using a core technology which exists throughout the Internet called DNS, or Domain Name System.
Tell Me More About DNS!
DNS is a backbone component of the Internet which helps in name resolution. In layman’s terms, DNS helps turn a web address, also known as a URL, like http://www.makeuseof.com into an actual location, called an IP address. IP addresses are in the form xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx, where all the x’s are a bunch of different numbers. Your computer knows how to reach those IP addresses, but it doesn’t directly know what to make out of URLs, which were created to make it easier to remember websites. DNS servers are there to help with this so that we can browse without having to think about what’s actually happening.
The thing is, there isn’t a single, central DNS server which everyone has to access in order to resolve a URL. There are many, many different DNS servers in the world, which can be found at places such as your ISP or third-party services such as OpenDNS. In fact, you’re most likely using your ISP’s DNS servers right now if you haven’t changed any of your computer’s or router’s settings. Although you’d like to trust your ISP, their servers are most likely simple. Simple in that they literally only resolve URLs, and nothing more. They usually don’t focus on increasing security, because these servers can be at risk of cyber attacks as well.
Possible Results Of An Attack
When a DNS server is attacked, there’s a few different things that could happen. First, the server could just simply crash or otherwise go offline, so you won’t be able to browse around as you would normally do until your ISP fixes the issue. Second, the attacker could change DNS records on the server, and point certain URLs to false lookalike pages. This is an especially dangerous attack because phishing attacks are usually recognizable by a weird URL, but with a tainted DNS server, the URL will appear exactly what it should be, but you’d still be on the false page.
What Can I Do?
Therefore, the best safety practice is to switch to a more secure DNS server which is better supported. There’s a good number of DNS services you can choose from, but there are two I highly recommend. If you want a no-gimmick DNS experience that you can trust, you should try Google’s Public DNS servers. These are run by the search giant itself and are highly maintained, so you won’t have to worry about any issues or attacks. For a more feature-rich DNS experience, I’d recommend OpenDNS, which has special options to prevent certain types of attacks and even includes a customizable web filter.
How Do I Switch?
Once you’ve settled on the DNS server you’d like to switch to, you’ll need to change your system’s settings in order to use them. The methods of changing these settings vary greatly depending on the operating system.
- Windows users will need to go into their network device’s properties, then go into the IPv4 properties, and then change the DNS servers in the bottom section of the window.
- Mac OS X users will need to go into their System Preferences, click on “Network“, choose their network device, click on “Advanced”, and then enter DNS servers after clicking on the DNS tab.
- Linux users will need to click on their network applet, choose Edit Connections, click on “Edit” for your network device, and under the “IPv4 Settings” tab, choose the “Automatic (DHCP) addresses only” profile, and then add the DNS servers into the DNS servers textbox, with each server address separated by a comma.
- Even Android users can change their DNS server, but it only goes into effect while you’re using WiFi. Therefore, you can find the appropriate settings when you hit the Menu button and choose “Advanced” while you’re in the WiFi setup screen. For quick reference, Google’s DNS servers are at the addresses 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199, while OpenDNS’s servers are at 188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206.
Issues that can exist with DNS servers are a bigger issue than a lot of people think, because rarely anyone ever talks about them and mentions switching to different ones. Plus it’s a “confusing” backbone component of the Internet, which makes people even more reluctant to talk about it. Consider switching as a precaution so you know you’ll be safe.
Which DNS server(s) are you using? What made you choose it over other options? Let us know in the comments!