How to Use Your Router to Limit People's Internet Usage

By Steve McDonnell

The primary router on your home network is the gateway to the Internet. All network traffic to and from the Internet passes through the router, making it an ideal device to help you control Internet access. Whether you want to restrict access to the Internet after bedtime, prevent children from accessing adult-oriented websites or block BitTorrent file sharing, most routers provide some kind of access restriction or parental control features that enable you to determine when the Internet is available and what kind of content users are permitted to view.

Deny Internet Access

Most routers enable you to completely disable Internet access on certain days of the week and during specific times of the day. For example, you might create a schedule for weekdays that turns off Internet access from 8 pm to 6 am. You can create a different schedule to deny access to the Internet on weekends. A device that's denied access to the Internet is still connected to the local area network and can access local resources such as network printers and shared storage.

Filter Internet Access

If denying access to the Internet is too restrictive, many routers enable you to selectively determine the websites you want to block. You can enter a list of domains to block, and you can often enter a list of keywords to dynamically block Web pages based on their content. If a Web page contains one of the keywords you enter, the router denies access to that page. You can also typically filter Internet access by the type of traffic from a device. For example, you can permit Internet browsing but deny peer-to-peer file sharing or certain online multiplayer games.

Use Built-in Parental Control Features

Some router manufacturers enable you to block websites based on categories of potentially harmful sites that they maintain in the cloud. For example, "academic fraud" sites might promote plagiarism or cheating, and sites in the "nudity" category contain nudity. Other services might assign a rating to each website that indicates how harmful it might be to children, such as High, Medium, Moderate, Minimal and None. Having the information stored in the cloud enables you to block new websites as they are categorized without updating your router's settings or firmware.

Use DNS Service Filtering

Every time you access a Web page, your device silently queries a domain name server for the IP address so it can route your request. Since every request is already processed through a DNS server, some public DNS services, such as OpenDNS, enable you to use their parental control features by setting up their DNS servers on your router. Netgear uses the OpenDNS solution to implement parental controls on many of their routers. If you set up a DNS solution on your own, you must limit a user's ability to override the DNS server settings on his device, or a knowledgeable user can circumvent the parental control feature entirely.

Selectively Filter by Device

When you want to selectively apply Internet restrictions or filtering rules to certain users on the network, it's usually better to list the devices that the rules don't apply to rather than a list of devices that should be filtered. Each device has two identifiers: a media access control, or MAC, address and an IP address. Both of these addresses can be overridden by a tech-savvy user. Another benefit of establishing an exception list is that the filtering rules automatically apply to any new user who connects to your network, such as a friend of a child.