Display DNS

We explain how to keep tabs on your children's web browsing, even when they delete the browser history. (See also: How to keep your kids safe online.)

QUESTION I need to check what my tech-savvy kids are up to. How can I recover or view their deleted browser history in Windows 7?

HELPROOM ANSWER The answer to this question depends on exactly how tech-savvy your kids are. If they know how to use features such as Internet Explorer's InPrivate browsing mode or Google Chrome's Incognito mode, then their browsing history will never be saved in the first place.

One quick way of listing every Internet site accessed (whether or not by the browser) is by viewing the DNS cache. To do this, open up a command prompt (search cmd from the Start menu), type "ipconfig /displaydns" and hit enter.

This will produce a list of all the Internet sites accessed from your PC. Be aware that this includes not only web pages which have been accessed directly, but also any content which is accessed indirectly by such pages. This could include ads for questionable content which have been placed on otherwise innocent pages, so be careful before making any accusations.

Web pages which have been accessed directly in this manner will generally show up as beginning with "www.", but this is no guarantee.

Even pages accessed in private browsing modes will show up in this DNS cache but, of course, a truly tech savvy individual will know to type "ipconfig /flushdns" which will delete all of this stored information.

A more robust, but technically more complex, way to monitor web use is to configure your broadband router to maintain its own logs using the SysLog system. This will allow you to keep your own records of the browsing history of all computers on your network, and these cannot be deleted without administrative access to your router. Nearly all routers have a SysLog function, although its use requires advanced knowledge and will vary from router to router. In any case it's worth checking your router's features to see what Parental control and data logging features it has on offer.

A slightly simpler option would be to use a service such as OpenDNS to capture Web access logs for you. It also offers sophisticated parental controls. See Get free web filtering with OpenDNS Family Shield.

See all How to articles. Get free tech support in the Helproom Forum.

Visit Windows 7 Advisor for more Windows advice. Or email our Helproom Editor for bespoke advice.