Target and personalized ads are everywhere and have become the way companies generate revenue and profit from users. Ad-embedded websites use the same ad services to ensure users see the same set of ads across multiple sites and devices. With more and more connected devices and longer and longer use time, privacy becomes a significant concern as ad services are knowing end users better and better. In addition, ads become more intrusive in the user experience of Internet life, because more and more “free” services now rely on ads to generate revenue.

Displaying appropriate ads is done via “unwanted” (from user’s perspective) requests from your devices to ads services. While blocking such requests is difficult, we can block the prerequisite of such requests, the DNS lookup.

What is DNS? The Domain Name Systems (DNS) is the phonebook of the Internet. Humans access information online through domain names, like or Web browsers interact through Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. DNS translates domain names to IP addresses so browsers can load Internet resources.

Because ad services’ domain names are publicly known and rarely changed (compared to the IP addresses), we can block requests to ad services by responding with an invalid answer to those DNS requests. This technology is called DNS sinkhole.

A DNS sinkhole, also known as a sinkhole server, Internet sinkhole, or Blackhole DNS is a DNS server that gives out false information, to prevent the use of a domain name.

In addition to ad services, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) knows your entire browsing history and it is selling your data to third-parties like ad services to make a profit on top of fees to provide the service. This is by logging your DNS requests.

When you set up your home network, you are likely using your ISP’s DNS service. Even if you configure your router to use some third-party’s DNS server, because DNS requests and responses are plaintext, you cannot stop the ISP to hijack your DNS requests through Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). This hijacking technique is called man-in-the-middle attacks.

Deep packet inspection (DPI) is a type of data processing that inspects in detail the data being sent over a computer network, and usually takes action by blocking, re-routing, or logging it accordingly. Deep packet inspection is often used to ensure that data is in the correct format, to check for malicious code, eavesdropping and internet censorship among other purposes.

Your ISP performs DPI to detect malicious or illegal usage of Internet and its service. Therefore, you cannot detect or do anything against snooping or hijacking your DNS requests to the configured DNS server by your ISP. To avoid this, we can use DNS-over-HTTPS.

DNS-over-HTTPS is a protocol for performing DNS lookups via HTTPS. With standard DNS, requests are sent in plain-text, with no method to detect tampering or misbehavior. This means that not only can a malicious actor look at all the DNS requests you are making (and therefore what websites you are visiting), they can also tamper with the response and redirect your device to resources in their control (such as a fake login page for internet banking). DNS-Over-HTTPS prevents this by using standard HTTPS requests to retrieve DNS information. This means that the connection from the device to the DNS server is secure and can not easily be snooped, monitored, tampered with or blocked. It is worth noting however, that the upstream DNS-Over-HTTPS provider will still have this ability.

However, DNS-Over-HTTPS is not the standard protocol and is not supported by all devices. Therefore, we want to set it up centrally in our network.

This post will go through the setup of Pi-Hole, a DNS sinkhole that protects your devices from unwanted content, and configuring DNS-Over-HTTPS on Pi-hole to avoid DNS snooping and hijacking. I also include an excellent post on setting up Pi-Hole in a docker container on Synology NAS.

Install and Configure Pi-Hole

You should install Pi-Hole on a long-running device in your network. It is not recommended to install it on your router as it is not supposed to have custom software installed on it. You can install it on a Raspberry Pi, or a computer if you have spares around. In my case I have a spare NUC and I install Ubuntu Server on it and run it in the server closet with my routers.

Installing Pi-Hole is a simple one-liner:

curl -sSL | bash

The installer will walk you through the process. A few things to note:

  1. A static IP is needed for Pi-Hole to function properly. PiHole has DHCP capabilities, which means it can act as your DHCP server and assign IP addresses to your clients. However, most routers can do this well as well. Therefore, we should assign a static/fixed IP to the MAC address of the interface of the device running with Pi-Hole. In my case, I assigned to it, followed the convention of AWS VPC where the .2 address in a VPC is the DNS server.
  2. If your device has more than one interface (true in most cases), select the interface connected to the router. You should connect to the router via ethernet cable for stable performance.
  3. Pi-Hole puts itself between your DNS server and clients. It asks you for the upstream DNS server so it can forward requests to it. You should not use any DNS server that can potentially tracks you. Cloudflare introduced their own privacy focussed DNS server. Unlike other DNS services that usually sell your DNS lookups data to ad services, Cloudflare maintains no logs beyond 24h and does not sell your data. Therefore, I recommend to use it.
  4. The final installer screen should show your password to use for the web interface. Note it down and keep it in a safe place, like password manager.
  5. Leave the rest of the configuration as default.

After installation, you should configure your devices and network to use Pi-Hole. Enter the IP address of Pi-Hole (in my case, in your router’s DHCP settings as the primary DNS, and remove secondary DNS if exists. If you have any devices configured to use manually-selected DNS servers, update them to use Pi-Hole as well.

Now most of ads are not displayed. It is a great start. However, Pi-Hole Youtube Ad blocking is a hit or a miss as the ad servers can change constantly. But this has not stopped some users from creating and maintaining Youtube ad blocklist for Pi-Hole.

Configure DNS-over-HTTPS to Upstream Server

In the previous section, we configured DNS requests by Pi-Hole to Cloudflare. However, these requests are made in plaintext and can be inspected by anyone in between your Pi-Hole and Cloudflare’s servers. We will configure Pi-Hole to use DNS-over-HTTPS to stop this. This instruction is modified from Pi-Hole’s website.

Along with releasing their DNS service, Cloudflare implemented DNS-Over-HTTPS proxy functionality in to one of their tools: cloudflared.

Install cloudflared

Download the installer package, then use apt-get to install the package along with any dependencies. Proceed to run the binary with the -v flag to check it is all working.

sudo apt-get install ./cloudflared-stable-linux-amd64.deb
cloudflared -v

Configuring cloudflared to run on startup

Create a cloudflared user to run the daemon.

sudo useradd -s /usr/sbin/nologin -r -M cloudflared

Proceed to create a configuration file for cloudflared by copying the following in to /etc/default/cloudflared. This file contains the command-line options that get passed to cloudflared on startup. The command-line options basically sets up a DNS proxy that exposes port 5053 locally and connects to Cloudflare’s primary DNS server and secondary via HTTPS:

# Commandline args for cloudflared
CLOUDFLARED_OPTS=--port 5053 --upstream --upstream

Update the permissions for the configuration file and cloudflared binary to allow access for the cloudflared user

sudo chown cloudflared:cloudflared /etc/default/cloudflared
sudo chown cloudflared:cloudflared /usr/local/bin/cloudflared

Then create the systemd script by copying the following in to /lib/systemd/system/cloudflared.service. This will control the running of the service and allow it to run on startup.

Description=cloudflared DNS over HTTPS proxy

ExecStart=/usr/local/bin/cloudflared proxy-dns $CLOUDFLARED_OPTS


Enable the systemd service to run on startup, then start the service and check its status.

sudo systemctl enable cloudflared
sudo systemctl start cloudflared
sudo systemctl status cloudflared

Now test that it is working! Run the following dig command, a response should be returned similar to the one below

dig @ -p 5053

; <<>> DiG 9.10.3-P4-Ubuntu <<>> @ -p 5053
; (1 server found)
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 65181
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 1

; EDNS: version: 0, flags:; udp: 1536
;            IN  A

;; ANSWER SECTION:     299 IN  A

;; Query time: 3 msec
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 65

Configuring Pi-hole

Finally, configure Pi-hole to use the local cloudflared service as the upstream DNS server instead of the standard Cloudflare server.

Go to “Settings” in the Pi-Hole console, choose “DNS” tab, uncheck the checkboxes before “Cloudflare”, and type in as the primary and as the secondary for IPv4. Check the checkboxes before them. Don’t forget to hit Return or click on Save.

Installing Pi-Hole on Docker

Because I purchased a Synology NAS, I moved my Pi-Hole to it by using Docker. I followed this guide to go through the setup.

Environment Variables

Because Docker-based Pi-Hole reads configurations from the container’s environment variables, it is important to configure them as settings through web interface are not persisted.

The default configuration only allows DNS queries originating from the local network (i.e., one hop away). Thus, it does not allow cross-VLAN DNS queries. If your Pi-Hole container serves multiple VLANs, make sure to set DNSMASQ_LISTENING environment variable to all. Note,

  1. you should also configure your firewall to allow traffic to go through.
  2. your container is not exposed to the internet (and it should not).

Configure DNS-over-HTTPS in Docker

We can still get DNS-over-HTTPS to upstream server by running cloudflared in a Docker container and configure Pi-Hole to use it. Ideally, we would enable Pi-Hole-to-cloudflared communication in a separate network instead of the host network, and bootstrap both containers using Docker Compose. But as my Docker host (Synology NAS in this case) runs in a private network and Docker Compose is not so easy to configure, I simply configure cloudflared in the host network.

The visibilityspots/cloudflared:amd64 image is pre-configured to Cloudflare’s public DNS and, and expose port 5054 for downstream requests. The maintainer of this image wrote an excellent post about this configuration. You can customize them via environment variables. I changed the DNS port to 5053 and metrics port to 5080 to avoid port collision.

Once the cloudflared is up and running, you can test it by specifying port via the -p option of dig:

dig @<docker_host_ip> -p 5053

Then you can configure the Pi-Hole container to use it, again via environment variable DNS1=

Configure DHCP Server to Use Pi-Hole

In order for clients to use Pi-Hole as the DNS server, we should configure them. When your DHCP server (in most cases, your router) sends lease to clients, it includes the DNS servers of the network, and most clients use them (we will explain how to block DNS traffic to other servers in the next section).

There are mainly two options:

  1. Configure your DHCP servers with Pi-Hole’s address directly. This method directs clients to send all DNS traffic to Pi-Hole directly without routers being involved. This is the best option if the clients and Pi-Hole are in the same network (VLAN).
  2. Configure your router to use Pi-Hole as the upstream DNS server, instead of that obtained from your ISP as part of public IP assignment (also via DHCP). Then configure your DHCP server to use the gateway address as the DNS server. This is the best option if the clients and Pi-Hole are not in the same network (VLAN) as no directly cross-VLAN traffic (which requires router’s involvement anyway) and pinhole firewall rules.

To configure your EdgeRouter to use Pi-Hole as upstream DNS server, use the name-server command, besides enabling DNS service and listening on appropriate interfaces (see this article for detailed information):

set service dns forwarding name-server <ip-address>

Configure Firewall Rules

To allow devices in your network to use Pi-Hole DNS server directly (as in Option 1), we need to add firewall rules to allow them to connect to it on TCP/UDP port 53.

  1. Create an “address group” for Pi-Hole servers. This is useful when you have multiple Pi-Holes.
  2. For the in direction of the VLAN interfaces whose devices use pi-hole, create an allow rule for TCP/UDP traffic on port 53 (DNS) with destination as the previously-created address group. This allows DNS traffic to reach Pi-Hole.
  3. For in direction of the interface to which pi-hole is connected, create an allow rule for TCP/UDP traffic on port 53 (DNS) with source as the address group. This allows Pi-Holes to send DNS requests to external providers.

To allow devices to use your router as the DNS server (as in Option 2), we need to add a firewall rule in the local direction of the interface to which the router is used as the DNS server (option 2 in the previous section) and allow DNS and ICMP traffic.

While Pi-Hole is the default DNS server provided in the DHCP lease when devices, savvy users can manually set the DNS server in their network settings to use a different DNS server, such as Google’s This is in fact done by many “smart” device manufacturers. We can add an additional firewall rule to block any DNS traffic to non-Pi-Hole servers after previous rules.

Create a drop rule for TCP/UDP traffic with destination port 53 (DNS). Because rules are evaluated in order, this drops all DNS requests to non-Pi-Hole servers.

Fix Pi-Hole after OS Upgrade

After I upgraded my OS to Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, host-installed Pi-Hole failed to start. The DNS resolution fails on the host and thus, it cannot install any necessary updates. First, modify /etc/resolv.conf to replace or the host’s IP with a public DNS server such as to get DNS resolution back, then run pihole -r and select “Repair” to see if it can fix itself. In my case, the pihole-FTL service fails to start:

[✗] pihole-FTL: no process found
[✓] Cleaning up stray matter
[✓] Restarting DNS server

[✗] DNS service is NOT running

If you check pihole-FTL’s service logs, you will find that dnsmasq cannot start:

~$ sudo service pihole-FTL status
● pihole-FTL.service - LSB: pihole-FTL daemon
     Loaded: loaded (/etc/init.d/pihole-FTL; generated)
     Active: active (exited) since Sun 2020-07-19 02:43:45 UTC; 1min 43s ago
       Docs: man:systemd-sysv-generator(8)
    Process: 8566 ExecStart=/etc/init.d/pihole-FTL start (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)

Jul 19 02:43:44 ubuntu1804 systemd[1]: Starting LSB: pihole-FTL daemon...
Jul 19 02:43:44 ubuntu1804 pihole-FTL[8566]: Not running
Jul 19 02:43:44 ubuntu1804 su[8640]: (to pihole) root on none
Jul 19 02:43:44 ubuntu1804 su[8640]: pam_unix(su:session): session opened for user pihole by (uid=0)
Jul 19 02:43:45 ubuntu1804 pihole-FTL[8730]: dnsmasq: cannot access /etc/dnsmasq.d/lxd: No such file or directory
Jul 19 02:43:45 ubuntu1804 dnsmasq[8730]: cannot access /etc/dnsmasq.d/lxd: No such file or directory
Jul 19 02:43:45 ubuntu1804 dnsmasq[8730]: FAILED to start up
Jul 19 02:43:45 ubuntu1804 su[8640]: pam_unix(su:session): session closed for user pihole
Jul 19 02:43:45 ubuntu1804 systemd[1]: Started LSB: pihole-FTL daemon.

It turns out, /etc/dnsmasq.d/lxd is a symlink pointing to a nonexistent folder:

~$ ll /etc/dnsmasq.d/lxd
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 28 Aug  5  2019 /etc/dnsmasq.d/lxd -> /etc/dnsmasq.d-available/lxd

Remove the /etc/dnsmasq.d/lxd symlink and restart pihole-FTL fixes the problem:

~$ sudo service pihole-FTL restart
~$ sudo service pihole-FTL status
● pihole-FTL.service - LSB: pihole-FTL daemon
     Loaded: loaded (/etc/init.d/pihole-FTL; generated)
     Active: active (exited) since Sun 2020-07-19 02:48:09 UTC; 4s ago
       Docs: man:systemd-sysv-generator(8)
    Process: 9099 ExecStart=/etc/init.d/pihole-FTL start (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)

Jul 19 02:48:09 ubuntu1804 systemd[1]: Starting LSB: pihole-FTL daemon...
Jul 19 02:48:09 ubuntu1804 pihole-FTL[9099]: Not running
Jul 19 02:48:09 ubuntu1804 su[9175]: (to pihole) root on none
Jul 19 02:48:09 ubuntu1804 su[9175]: pam_unix(su:session): session opened for user pihole by (uid=0)
Jul 19 02:48:09 ubuntu1804 pihole-FTL[9268]: FTL started!
Jul 19 02:48:09 ubuntu1804 su[9175]: pam_unix(su:session): session closed for user pihole
Jul 19 02:48:09 ubuntu1804 systemd[1]: Started LSB: pihole-FTL daemon.

~$ pihole status
  [✓] DNS service is running
  [✓] Pi-hole blocking is Enabled

As a comparison, Docker-hosted Pi-Hole will not suffer from the same issue. This is another great example of why Docker is popular in deploying software.


(This section is only for Chinese readers)

Pi-hole 是国外软件,默认带几条规则表,不太适合中国特色互联网。我们需要换用国内常用的广告域名列表。如果可以访问GitHub的话可以使用以下几个融合广告域名列表:


Further Reads

This is the post series. Other posts can be found under HomeNetwork tag.