More Ways to Protect Yourself From PhishingAugust 6, 2008 – 3:01 PM
In my recent Editors’ Notes post on Consumer Reports’ recommendation that Mac users dump Safari because the Apple browser lacks the anti-phishing tools of Firefox and Opera, I focused on behavioral changes one can make that minimize the risks of phishing attempts. I didn’t, however, discuss a relatively simple configuration change you can make to your Mac that will give you a real anti-phishing tool–in Safari or any other browser you might want to use.
Consumer Reports touted Firefox or Opera over Safari because of the built-in anti-phishing tools in those first two browser; Safari has no such built-in capability. There is, however, a free service you can use that will give every browser on your Mac a full set of anti-phishing tools (and additional tools, if you choose to use them). This service is called OpenDNS, and it’s a free replacement for your Internet service provider’s (ISP) domain name servers.
So just what are domain name servers? A domain name server looks up addresses in the Domain Name System (DNS). In other words, a domain name server is the phone book for the Internet–it translates domain names (www.macworld.com, for example) into Internet protocol (IP) addresses (220.127.116.11, in the case of macworld.com). When you load a Web site, it’s this IP address that’s used to find the server, not the server’s name you typed into the URL bar. Without the DNS, you’d have to know the IP address of any Web site you wanted to use–not a very practical method for browsing the Web.
By default, you are more than likely using the DNS servers provided by your ISP. These are typically included in the setup instructions you used when setting up your Internet connection. But just as there are many companies providing telephone books, there are many different DNS servers you can use–you aren’t required to use the DNS servers provided by your ISP. OpenDNS is one such alternative “phone book,” and it’s one that comes with many features (most are optional) that you probably won’t find in your ISP’s DNS servers. One of those features is phishing protection, based on OpenDNS’ PhishTank project. Once you’ve set your Mac to use OpenDNS’ DNS servers, you get this protection automatically, in any application that uses DNS servers to resolve names.