Campus News

‘OpenDNS’ and ‘whitelisting’: How Bethel blocks websites

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Many students may have had this experience: You get on your computer in your dorm, and type in the address of a website you visit all the time at home. It may be a little sketchy, and not super-Bethical, but you haven’t thought much about it before. But when the page finally loads, you see a big red circle with a minus sign in it, and some big bold text saying “This domain is blocked”. This can be a frustrating reality for students here on campus, but according to Director of Educational Technology Todd Lemons, it is a necessary one. “Basically, the websites that we would block would fall under the lifestyle covenant,” said Lemons. “We’re not trying to make moral decisions for people, it’s just what they agreed to.” These internet-restricting rules are not exclusive to Bethel though, and the IT staff does not go through and intentionally block every site one-by-one. “You’d find a lot of colleges follow that same suit … I don’t think that we’re very strict,” said Lemons. In order to block websites that break the lifestyle covenant, Bethel uses a program called ‘OpenDNS’. What ‘DNS’ (Domain Name System) programs do is translate website addresses, or ‘domains’, into readable IP addresses, which tells your computer what type of content is on that website and where it is located. OpenDNS uses that capability to locate malicious or inappropriate websites and block them based on criteria given to them by clients. “We use a filtering service called ‘OpenDNS’, a lot of places use it. You can go in and tell it every category (of website); we don’t just sit there and (enter in every site) … From there what we can do, if there’s a legitimate site and we’re having problems, we can do what we call ‘whitelisting’.” By ‘whitelisting’, Lemons is referring to unblocking sites that are currently blocked. It is possible for students to contact, by email or phone (contact info at bottom of story) IT or Student Development about a particular website, and they will see if they can unblock it for you, if it fits under the covenant, of course. “The process of a site being blocked is initiated by Student Development … there is a process that comes from the student side,” said Lemons. “Years ago, MySpace was blocked … they made that call and wanted to block it at that time.” “Anytime that we make a network change, it always goes through them before approval.” What IT tries to hit the hardest though, is peer-to-peer filesharing. As the Beacon previously reported last month, peer-to-peer filesharing is one of the biggest causes of slow internet speeds and poor connections. There are also other legal reasons for why filesharing websites are gone after so fervently. “Four years ago, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)—(who are) kind of the police of copyrights—they were able to convince Congress that universities and colleges should be held liable as internet providers if people on their campus are downloading (illegally) and they don’t stop them,” said Lemons. “Colleges have to get really involved, or face fines and lawsuits if they are not stopping the traffic.” Not only can filesharing be illegal, it also slows down internet speeds and allows people from all across the world to download files off of your own personal hard drive. Here’s where it gets a little more technical. “Say, somebodies in your dorm downloading all sorts of files, and they’re using a file service … what a lot of people don’t realize is that when you download a file through that program, you’re also doing something called ‘seeding’, and that opens up a connection to the internet through your computer with that service, where people can download that file off of your hard drive.” “You’re sharing the file with other people … You can get several people downloading off of your internet pipe. What that does is that it brings down our overall internet connection.” Lemons is aware that many students participate in this activity, but realizes that most probably aren’t aware of all that they are doing. “We find that most students, if we find that they’re doing it, comply really well.” One student, who asked to remain anonymous, admitted to participating in illegal filesharing on campus. “I’ve done some downloading, it’s just sort of how I get music,” said the student.  “I didn’t know people could download files off of my own hard drive, and I didn’t know it slowed down the internet so much.” “We realize there is some legitimate filesharing … But the nice thing is you have services like DropBox, that if you have a legitimate file you need to share with somebody, there’s easier ways to get it out there,” Lemons said. Located on the lower level of the Miller-Moore Academic Center. Regular hours are : Monday - Thursday: 7 a.m. - Midnight Friday: 7 a.m. - 9 p.m. Saturday: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Sunday:  5 p.m. - Midnight Phone: 574.807.7777 After hours support: General issues: Angel Support:  
This notice pops up when a student attempts to visit a blocked website at Bethel College.
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