If you spend any amount of time online, then investing in a VPN program is a very worthwhile investment for a variety of reasons. Firstly security, the internet is inherently insecure partly because it’s built up on a huge interconnected network of other peoples hardware. When you visit a web site your connection travels through routers, switches and hubs owned and controlled by all sorts of people and organisations of which you’ll have little knowledge and no control.
Just to illustrate, simply start a command prompt in windows (run – command.com) and type in tracert www.facebook.com, this will show you the route your internet request will make when you use Facebook.
All those steps are other people’s hardware and everything you do online follows a similar pattern hopping from one piece of hardware to another until it reaches it destination. Of course, this would be perfectly fine and is the way the internet has always worked, except the majority of this communication is not protected at all all, in fact it’s often in clear text. Which means anyone can read, divert or copy information from your internet transactions.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) protects against this by encrypting all the data in your connection, every username, every password and email protected against anybody who is listening in on your data.
But there’s another cool use which you can see in this video – How to access BBC iPlayer Outside UK on YouTube.
Not only is your connection encrypted but your identity/location is protected too. This means that you pretend to be in a different location, which is useful when you are trying to access media sites which restrict access to a specific country. In the above example the VPN server is located in the UK so it allows people all over the world to access the BBC iPlayer application at will. Normally they would get blocked when they tried to access the site because their IP address wasn’t registered to a UK address.
Of course it’s not just simple web based geo-blocks that a VPN helps sidestep, many countries block access to parts of the web too. China is probably the most famous example where the State heavily censors the internet using the infamous ‘Great Firewall of China’ and many popular social media sites are blocked by default. The Chinese people however have discovered that you can bypass these blocks simply by subscribing to a VPN service based in another country.
For many years, you’d never find a proxy being used outside a corporate or educational network. The proxy was mainly used as a buffer server to route network requests and to route, log and control internet access for computers on the network. The idea was that if you used a Windows or Linux based proxy like ISA then all the web requests came from a single computer, which meant you could scan for viruses, filter for adult sites and basically control internet access both in and out of the network. Combined with a firewall, which could be configured to block any other internet access – the proxy gave you control. Additionally a proxy was able to cache popular sites so that they could be delivered quickly to the internal clients.
Proxies like Windows ISA (Internet Security and Acceleration server) are still used extensively in large network across the world and have become an awful lot more sophisticated over the years. However this post will focus on the use of proxies for private individuals who use these servers for other purposes primarily privacy and to bypass geo-restrictions. So instead of using the proxy to control multiple clients, many internet surfers are using proxies to control their outbound connection. By using proxies in different countries they can maintain their privacy and bypass these country blocks. Just have a look at this proxy program in action –
The software means that you can switch countries easily simply by selecting a different server, the connection is broken and re-established with a different proxy. So if you were based in France and selected a UK proxy server, you would actually be able to use UK only web sites like BBC iPlayer and Sky. Then selecting a US server would allow access to American only sites like ABC, HBO and Hulu.
These software programs replace any manual configuration which was initially required to configure a web browser to use a proxy server. In fact the software illustrated will actually allow you to configure different proxy settings individually for multiple browsers. So for instance you could allow Firefox to operate without the proxy and IE to redirect through a UK based proxy and perhaps Opera to use a highly encrypted connection in Russia.
There’s nothing better for curing a bit of homesickness than watching your home TV station broadcasting the news or a sporting event. Wherever you are it can transport you back to your home if only for a few hours. Which is why the internet is so wonderful for curing the blues when you just miss the your home town.
Of course we have a solution for this, and the internet has enabled it although there are still a few obstacles in the way. This is a quick post for all those Irish people who are a long way from home and just want to hear a familiar accent and home related stories. One of the best ways to stay in contact with the Irish news and stories is by simply watching the news on RTE or TV3. These are arguably the biggest broadcasters in the Republic of Ireland and both of the have fantastic websites which stream most of their programmes live and ‘on demand’.
So in theory you can sit in an internet cafe in Cairo and watch the Irish news on your laptop. Unfortunately in reality this isn’t so simple and what will actually happen is that you’ll get blocked when you try and access either RTE or TV3. Although for RTE you’ll actually get redirected to an international version of their site which contains very little of their programmes. What happens is that when you connect to any of these sites, they check your IP address and perform a lookup to see where that IP is registered from, if you’re not on an Irish IP address then you’ll be blocked due to copyright restrictions.
However all you need to do is hide your real IP address and present an Irish one instead. Here’s how it’s done by using an Irish proxy server like this.
Although you’re not actually changing your IP address if you relay your connection through an intermediate server you can hide your real location. If that server is in Ireland, the web sites will see an Irish IP address, if it’s in France then they’ll see a French IP address and so on.
Every one of the UK TV stations has a fabulous online presence that can be accessed by anyone fairly simply. From the ground breaking BBC iPlayer to the ITV hub and Channels 4 and 5, most of them put a huge percentage of their normal programmes online for a certain amount of time after airing. Channel 4 even has boxed sets available on their web site too – so you can watch entire series of shows at your leisure.
There is the one restriction though, that will affect you if you happen to be based outside the UK – you need a British IP address to use otherwise you won’t be able to access much. Each of the British media channels just like all the US sites, will check your location when you login – if you’re outside the UK you’ll get a cut down international version.
So you need to hide your IP when you’re online – just like this.
This is the simplest, fastest and easiest solution if you’re using a laptop or PC, and using the software illustrated you can switch locations with a click of a button. However nowadays many of us surf the web or watch media on all sorts of other devices like phones, tablets and smart TVs instead.
The difficulty in these instances is that everything has an IP address if it’s connected to the internet and it’s not easy to install software on your media streamer or Smart TV. The intelligent devices like Phones and tablets can still use the same systems – for example you can use Identity Cloaker on all these devices using the software or setting up a VPN connection to their servers using the same account.
Of course a Smart TV or Games console won’t generally have these settings so you’ll have to forget about manual VPN connections or authenticated proxies. In these circumstances, i.e any device which has limited configuration then you would be better looking at another options called a Smart DNS service.
Although not as sophisticated as a VPN and without any encryption layer, Smart DNS does have the advantage of being easily implemented on devices with limited configuration options. In fact all you need to be able to do to use this service is modify your DNS settings which are normally accessible on any internet enabled device. Every Smart TV and console which has internet functionality should let you configure your own DNS server. Effectively this is all you need to do block your IP address from being visible.
Now the ability to change your IP address is well documented on these pages. In my opinion a proxy or VPN service is a necessity for anyone who spends any amount of time online. There is of course the security and privacy aspects which in these times when everyone from the Government to identity thieves are spying on your every move are of paramount importance. Even if you’re not worried about your Government spying on you, anyone who has had the hassle of their credit card details being stolen or their email account hacked will tell you it’s not worth the risk of beiong unprotected online.
Even if you’re not worried about these risks, then there’s still the simple invasion of privacy from the web sites you visit tracking and logging your every move then dumping tracker cookies on to your hard drive to stuff adverts in to every website you visit. But it doesn’t end there, many of these site as well as logging your details actually block and filter your access – primarily so they can make more money by selling you the same service for more money somewhere else. All this linked to your IP address, uniquely identifying your online presence.
So using a simple proxy at the very minimum makes some sense, but sometimes that isn’t enough. For example, if you wanted to watch the News on RTE (Irish TV station), then catch the latest Walking Dead on HBO and finish off with Match of the Day on the BBC – you’d actually need three different IP addresses – one Irish, one US and finally a UK IP address to be able to access all this stuff online. So rotating your IP address is pretty much a necessity too – here’s a video explaining it –
As you can see this program has the facility to switch either manually or automatically between IP addresses in all sorts of countries almost seamlessly. The manual switching to a specific country is of course useful, but why would you need to switch addresses automatically every few minutes? Well there’s several reasons for this but here’s some common ones.
Security is vastly improved when you switch your connection randomly as it obscures the fact you are using a proxy or VPN service. Consider the logs in any ISP or corporate network, if you use a single proxy that is all that would be visible. Of course it does hide the websites you visit but it will appear the only web server you ever connect to is a single proxy server. This makes it fairly obvious that a proxy is being used when a single address is only ever recorded. Switching between different servers will make this less obvious and have the benefit of distributing any activity logs between different locations.
For many years now, people have been using proxies and VPNs to protect their privacy. The proxy is the simplest, an intermediary server which hides a person’s location by routing traffic and hiding your real location. The main advantages of using a proxy server are as follows:
- Prevent any web server from recording or logging your visit.
- Prevent ISP logging your internet activity.
When you visit any web site whilst connected to a proxy server, instead of recording your IP address it will only see the address of the proxy. This means that your privacy and location is protected and can also be useful in bypassing any geo-targeting that the web site might attempt.
The second aspect, is to hide your internet activity from your ISP (Internet Service Provider). The logs stored here comprise a complete record of every web site you visit, email you send and anything you download so using a proxy can provide a significant level of privacy. If you combine it with the ability to choose the location of the proxy you are using it offers significant benefits as we can see in this demonstration.
The market has become very competitive with literally hundreds of providers of proxy and VPN services now. However although these work very well, there is a considerable investment needed in order to provide a fast, stable service and some people were not actually that worried about the privacy aspect and just wanted to bypass the geo-blocks.
THe problem is that many media services restrict or even block content based on your physical location. From the BBC iPlayer which is only available in the UK, to HBO and ABC in the US all restrict access to specific locations. Even global media sites like Netflix offer different services depending on where you connect from – which vary greatly.
Obviously there is some discontent that a US Netflix subscriber would have a much superior service to someone who subscribes from canada or the UK for example. Fortunately, now it’s possible to hide your specific location using a technology called Smart DNS. This web page shows how you can use a US DNS server to access American Netflix.