OpenDNS Web Filter Review

We start our OpenDNS web filter review with a look back at how OpenDNS started. Originally a free, personal use web filter that blocked access to web sites by category only, the more granular OpenDNS Enterprise was launched in 2009.

The premium enterprise service was extended in 2012 with the introduction of OpenDNS Insights and OpenDNS Umbrella, and twelve months later by the threat intelligence service OpenDNS Security Graph. The product range attracted the attention of technology giant Cisco – who acquired OpenDNS for $635 million in 2015 and renamed the enterprise service Cisco Umbrella.

More about the OpenDNS Web Filter

The OpenDNS web filter, as the name suggests, is a DNS based web filtering solution. As with all DNS-based web filtering systems, set up is a quick and easy process. To start filtering the Internet, all that is required is to make a change to the DNS record and direct it to Cisco Umbrella.

DNS-based web filters require no additional hardware or software installations and there is no added latency – Internet access speed will be the same as if no web filtering solution was in place. All updates to the OpenDNS web filter are managed by Cisco, so no patching or system updates are required.

Once DNS traffic has been directed to Cisco, filtering controls can be set via a cloud-based administration console. The console can be used to set controls for all users, regardless of their location. Filtering settings can be set by location, network, group, user, IP address or device. Since users of mobile devices face elevated risks, different controls can be put in place for laptops and desktops, including controls based on whether the user is connected to an internal network.

The OpenDNS solution offers protection from malware, ransomware and web-based phishing attacks, also blocking communications from botnet-infected devices. The solution performs URL inspection against feeds from Cisco Talos and its partners, with risky domains subjected to deeper analysis and file inspection.

The OpenDNS web filter includes 60 categories of website content, allowing rapid control of the domains and webpages that can be accessed by employees and guests. A full suite of reports provides administrators with visibility into the sites that users are accessing, regardless of devices, location or ports. Administrators also have visibility into the Internet activity of users who are not logged onto the corporate network.

Support for customers is provided online and via email with the basic package only offering 5-day support. 24×7 support, including access to the call center, is only available for gold and platinum users.

The OpenDNS web filter has been designed to easily integrate with in-house tools and third-party solutions, with APIs provided for ease of integration, although only with the Platform package.

Summary of Key Features of the OpenDNS Web Filter

  • 60 content filtering categories
  • Unlimited blacklists and whitelists
  • Whitelist-only controls to restrict access to specific domains
  • Cloud-based administration console
  • Ability to set controls by network, group, user, device or IP address
  • Different settings can be applied based on whether the device is on or off the network
  • Ability to customize block pages
  • Block page bypass option allows category-based controls to be bypassed by specific users, including time-based controls from one hour to 10 years.
  • Suitable for Windows and Mac OS X

Disadvantages of OpenDNS

OpenDNS does not permit users to host the solution locally, which is a disadvantage for some types of businesses, especially managed service providers (MSPs) who may not want to direct their customers to a service hosted on an external cloud. Another major disadvantage for MSPs is the lack of a white label version of the product.

For all businesses, the means for applying “Safesearch” (via each router individually) is troublesome and time-consuming; while a further disadvantage of OpenDNS for businesses operating in regulated industries is that the web filtering process using the AnyCast network for routing web traffic – meaning that data could cross into different cloud regions with different data protection regulations.

OpenDNS Pricing

The multi-tiered pricing model of Cisco Umbrella can be confusing and customers must pay extra for services which were originally included in the OpenDNS Enterprise platform. One of these additional services is telephone support, which is only available to customers on platinum or gold plans. Basic plans only include 24×5 email support, potentially leading to delays if a problem is experienced.

OpenDNS Competitors

Due to the disadvantages of OpenDNS and the issues with OpenDNS pricing, there are a number of OpenDNS competitors pitching their web filters against the market leader. Many of these DNS competitors offer businesses free trials in order to compare their web filters against the web filtering service provided by OpenDNS. Many businesses have already made the change.

The Best of the OpenDNS Alternatives

The best of the OpenDNS alternatives are those who offer Cisco Umbrella´s premium services – plus 24×7 phone support – within their basic packages. Many of the OpenDNS alternatives are competitively priced and offer the same level of protection against online threats as Cisco Umbrella, only with greater flexibility and fewer disadvantages.

OpenDNS Web Filter Review: Verdict

OpenDNS is a solid all-round web filtering solution that allows careful content control and protection from online threats. However, even at the lower tier, the solution can be prohibitively expensive for many businesses. Other solutions provide an equal if not better service for a fraction of the price with greater flexibility.

OpenDNS Web Filter Review FAQs

How much does OpenDNS cost compared to its competitors?

There are three prices for OpenDNS depending on the features included in each of the three packages. For businesses looking for the maximum level of protection, the cost of OpenDNS can be twice as much as comparable solutions from other vendors – plus you have to pay extra for support.

How much extra does OpenDNS support cost?

OpenDNS support is charged as a percentage of the web filter cost. According to the Cisco Umbrella website, the percentage varies according to factors such as “product complexity, software royalties, and market factors”, so it is important to find out in advance how much you will be required to pay.

Are there any other costs associated with OpenDNS?

It was mentioned above that applying the Safesearch feature can be time-consuming and troublesome. Therefore there could be significant indirect costs of allocating somebody to manage the set-up of the web filter when their time could be better used elsewhere in the business.

How do businesses pay for the OpenDNS web filter?

Unlike some of its competitors who offer a monthly payment option, OpenDNS only gives business the option to pay all up-front for the service. The cost is based on the number of users using the service; so for large organizations and enterprises, this could be a significant outlay.

How big an issue is the AnyCast routing system?

OpenDNS uses the AnyCast routing system to guarantee 100% uptime, but the drawback is the AnyCast routing system selects the data path according to cost, the number of hops, and the least congested route. Effectively, there are no guarantees data will stay in a specific region.