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Most of the free apps and websites we enjoy using more often are sustained by ads. However, some ads can be obstructive and even invasive. For this reason, many people opt for browser-based adblocking extensions, whitelisting only the sites they choose to support.

Unfortunately, this solves only part of the problem. You’ll still have to deal with app-based advertisements and ads on smart TVs and gaming consoles. How intrusive!

Quick Facts

Creator (person)
Jacob Salmela
Release Date
15/06/2015
Original Price
Free
Operating System
Linux
Developed By (company)
GitHub

It is here where Pi-Hole comes in. It basically blocks all kinds of adverts trying to sneak their way through the network.

Here is an in-depth highlight of why you need a Pi-Hole, but first, let’s cover the basics.

What is Pi-Hole?

Pi-Hole is an advert-blocking application aimed at blocking ads at the network level. It acts as a Domain Name Service (DNS) server and, as such, queries all domains trying to access the devices connected to the network and blocks all ad-serving ones.

Consequently, ads will neither be downloaded nor shown on the devices connected to your home network.

Pi-Hole is among the best options for ad-blocking. It is also known as the sinkhole for online ads. This Linux-based application, however, does more than block ads, which is probably why you need to add it to your home network.

Why Do You Need Pi-Hole on Your Home Network?

Fundamentally, you do need Pi-Hole because it makes up for the limitations of browser-based adblockers in several ways, which we’ll dive into below.

Network-Level Adblocking

Browser extensions can only block ads on single devices, which means only the person in your home who is safety-conscious and possibly internet savvy will be able to protect themselves when online. It becomes a bigger concern when you have kids and teenagers who spend more time on the internet than you do.

Pi-Hole blocks ads at the network level. Ads from the blocked ad domains will not appear on any devices connected to the network. It allows you to do more than block ads; you can block specific sites that you think are unsafe for some network users.

Blocks Trackers

One of the ills of monetizing the internet is data mining, where sites track all your moves based on the ads and everything you click. The information is sold out to the highest bidder for advertisement purposes. It’s little wonder that ‘suggested’ and ‘recommended’ social media posts and videos are often closely related to your recent searches online.

Adblock Plus and similar browser-based extensions cannot protect you or those using your home network from such intrusion of your privacy. This means Adblockers may prevent ads from showing on your page but still let the advertising firms collect your browsing history and use the information later. These firms also use the collected metadata to ensure you do not see certain sites.

But, through DNS filtering, Pi-Hole prevents advertisement intermediaries from collecting your browsing information. By blocking these advertisement systems, your information does not get sneakily harvested and sold for profit; you also get to enjoy all the sites you desire to visit. As a result, what you see in your searches and suggestions will not be limited to yesterday’s browsing habits.

Besides, it is scary knowing that someone can stealthily monitor your online activity, collect information about you, build your profile, and then sell the data to “you don’t know who!”

A Solution Against Browser-Powered Adblocks

Word on the streets is that some extensions receive payments from certain advertisement companies to keep them out of their list of blocked domains. It explains why you occasionally see ads on your browser, even when the adblocker is on.

The compromise on adblockers and similar software is about to get worse, as Google, in its war against the advert-blocking software, plans to have adblocking performed by the browsers. In that sense, the browsers will be the ones to decide on the adverts to block. Chrome and Microsoft Edge are on the list of browsers that will take that path.

You might not be able to have all the internet users in your home use browsers with better privacy-conscious policies. And, your best option is to block ads at the network level using Pi-Hole. Wealthy advert firms cannot compromise it, and its filters override that of the browser.

Faster Network Performance

Normal ad-blocking apps and extensions download the adverts before blocking them, increasing the page’s loading time and data consumption. But, Pi-Hole blocks the ads before downloading them.

Considering that most ads today are HD images and videos with audio, blocking them before downloading makes the network faster and reduces bandwidth usage.

network security data encryption
Pi-Hole is perfect for blocking unwanted ads, offering you network and data protection, and even increasing your device’s performance speed!

©iStock.com/Urupong

Blocking Ads on Apps and Non-Browser Devices

Network-level protection ensures that ads and trackers do not reach any devices connected to the network. That way, Pi-Hole benefits Smart TVs, game consoles, tablets, Android, and iOS smartphones, and all devices that do not support the installation of ad and tracker blockers.

In this aspect, Pi-Hole is a great solution if you have grudgingly had to deal with the numerous streaming adverts, which, often, you cannot opt out of. By blocking them at the router level, you can finally have an advert-free Smart TV. Even better, you do not have to configure individual devices.

Provides Query Logs

While blocking unwanted domains, Pi-Hole keeps a log of all sites that have tried to access the network, showing the blocked and the allowed. The information is crucial in many ways, one of which is showing you how many domains try to access your device whenever you turn on the internet.

You can also know which sites you have blocked, but you need to whitelist them, especially those you lost access to after installing Pi-Hole.

The query log will show the whitelisted domains that should be blocked. Remember, the blocked domains stop showing on your device as well as on all the other devices on the network.

The query log is also very beneficial when managing a home network. It allows you to see the sites to which your devices connect. However, this is only possible if you use Pi-Hole’s in-built DHCP server. As a parent or a caring sibling, you might find this very helpful if you desire to keep younger users from potentially harmful sites.

Blocks Malware and Other Risky Sites

In its nascent days, Pi-Hole shared the same blocklists with traditional adblockers. However, the domains on these lists were only an issue at the browser level. Therefore, Pi-Hole developers resorted to creating their own blocklists that targeted domains that could harm devices at the network level.

As a result, the blocking capabilities of the application extended to include spyware, malware, ransomware, and phishing domains. To curb cryptocurrency miners’ use of computing power in the background on infected computers, the developers added coin mining networks to Pi-Hole’s blocklist.

It is worth noting that the level of blocking you receive with Pi-Hole depends on how exhaustive the blocklist is. Fortunately, there is a helpful community of developers that provide free updated blocklists frequently, like “The Block List Project” on GitHub.

How Pi-Hole Works

Pi-Hole offers network-level blocking by behaving as a DNS filter, blocking listed domains while allowing the rest. Without getting into the boring technical details, here is an overview of how DNS blocking works.

What is a DNS Server?

Each website has a domain name, but this is for the benefit of human users. However, a domain is identified on the internet registry by several digits, called an IP address. Since we humans cannot remember all the numbers, unto us is given Recallable Uniform Resource Locators, URL, such as https://www.history-computer.com, instead of, say, 124.36.57.891.

A DNS Server works as a phonebook, storing the corresponding IP Address for every URL. Therefore, a query is sent to the DNS server for the corresponding IP address whenever you try to connect to a website. On receiving it, your device sends a request to the IP address, and the site loads.

The process should end at this point, but usually, that is never the case. While loading the site, your computer receives a request to load extra resources to fill up the page, and some of these include ads. Here is where Pi-Hole comes in.

It has a library of all misleading requests and “sinkholes” of all such requests to non-resolvable IPs. Hence, the site does not load. Due to this, you will see blank spaces on parts of the page where the advert would have been. You can see this blocked connection on its query dashboard.

Installing Pi-Hole: the Requirements

To install Pi-Hole in your home network, you need to have the following:

  • Raspberry Pi (all versions would do, provided it has 512MB of RAM and Raspbian)
  • The ability to connect Raspberry Pi to the internet, which can be an Ethernet cable or via Wi-Fi
  • Access to the admin panel of your router
  • Basic tech skills (YouTube tutorials might help, or you can opt to ask your techie friend for help)

The installation and set-up of the Pi-Hole are simple when you use one of the many online guides. If you do not consider yourself among those with basic tech skills, seek the help of a friend.

Pi-Hole Limitations That You Need to Know

While Pi-Hole protects you and your household on the internet, it has its limitations. Below are the main ones.

  • Pi-Hole does not provide an interface for disabling blocking to specific devices. Therefore, you have to manually change the DNS settings of the devices to exclude them.
  • Due to the above, parental control is still not available on Pi-Hole. If you block a domain for your child’s sake, you will also not access it if you are on the same network.
  • Pi-Hole cannot prevent connection to the IP layer by apps that use DNS over HTTPs (DoH) protocol or another server. By-passing the Pi-Hole is also possible when someone recently connected to a blocklisted website while outside the network. The device will query the DNS in the cache instead of Pi-Hole in such a case.
  • If the Pi-Hole is turned off, you will not be able to access the internet until you reset the DNS settings of the router or the devices.
  • Unlike conventional adblockers, Pi-Hole leaves a blank space where the ad would be on the page, which can be an eyesore when browsing on a small screen.

Summing Up

With the increasing discussions around cybersecurity and metadata mining by advertising systems, having a solution to protect your home network instead of an individual device is the way to go.

Pi-Hole offers a multi-faceted solution, from blocking ads and trackers to requests from risky sites. Additionally, since it is a free application with a large community of developers to provide insights, it is worth considering. Remember, it only takes one wrong click online to destroy fortunes, families, and even individuals!

What is a “Pi-Hole,” and Why Do I Need One? FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is there a premium version of Pi-Hole?

Pi-Hole is a free, open-source application supported by donations and possibly revenues from affiliate links.

Must I have a Raspberry Pi to run Pi-Hole?

Several Linux distributions support Pi-Hole, including the Raspberry Pi Zero, and there is also a Docker container. Other supported systems are CentOS, Debian, Fedora, and Ubuntu.

Is there an add-on for Home Assistant?

For a time, there was an unofficial Pi-Hole add-on, but it no longer receives fixes and updates, so, you should not use it. That way, you can avoid any associated security risks.

Can Pi-Hole block YouTube ads?

YouTube upgraded its ads delivery mechanism to include ads in the same data stream, effectually making them impossible to block at the DNS level.

What is gravity in relation to Pi-Hole?

It is a script that consolidates blocklists for the DNS server and updates the results of manual whitelisting and blacklisting. On Pi-Hole, it runs automatically once a week. However, you can run it whenever you need to from the tools section on the main dashboard.

How do I update the Pi-Hole?

You cannot upgrade the Pi-Hole from the web interface as it should be. Instead, you do it using the shell command, pihole-up. It will check the relevant repositories for required updates, if any.

About the Author

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