It’s been a few months now since Netflix instigated it’s comprehensive and extremely effective VPN and Smart DNS block. Overnight literally millions of people found that they were blocked from accessing their Netflix version of choice as suddenly their DNS or VPN solutions simply stopped working. When they connected to Netflix by using one of these methods instead of being redirected to their selected version as soon as a movie or video was played – this was the message most users received:
Most people used these solutions to access different versions of Netflix, generally the US, UK or Canadian versions simply because they are much bigger and better. The US version of Netflix for example has thousands more movies and TV shows than some of the smaller countries have access to, despite the subscription cost being fairly standard across the world. For expats or travellers this was even more inconvenient as their US Netflix subscription suddenly was inaccessible and they were redirected to whatever the local version happened to be.
It looked like the media giant had won and the internet got a little bit smaller again. However there is hope, we’ve already written on these pages about one residential VPN system which now works after some serious upgrade work. Now there is a Smart DNS solution too, implemented by the company . . I believe it is the only US DNS Netflix based system which currently works with Netflix and it works very well indeed.
Smart DNS systems are actually preferred by many users because they don’t require any software and you can install them on all sorts of devices. They work by only redirecting part of your internet connection and only when you’re using a region blocking media site like Netflix. All you need to do is to use the Unblock-US DNS servers instead of your normal ones. They’ll work normally until you visit a website like Netflix at which point you’ll be redirected through a server in the country you have specified.
Here’s the screen where you specify which country to be routed through. In this example I’ve chosen Canada as Canadian Netflix has some great shows not available on any other Netflix regions, although I usually leave this set to US Netflix. If you’ve changed your DNS settings, that’s all you need to do – simply specify which region you wish to use. You can use this on virtually any device as long as you are able to access the DNS server settings – including phones, smart TVs, media streamers and games consoles.
You still need a valid Netflix subscription of course, but it effectively gives you access to any version of Netflix instantly from anywhere in the world.
However don’t take my word for it, simply click here – . and try it for yourself. Remember all you need to do is to change your DNS server address and select your Netflix Region and that’s it.
The war waged on VPN service by the media companies has been going on for many years but it’s lately developed a new twist. Virtual Private Networks are used by millions of people to bypass internet filters, censorship and region locking. The latter term refers to the practice of restricting access based on your location, usually to due with some sort of licensing restrictions. It’s very common and for anyone who travels a lot or lives abroad can be a real problem.
For example a US citizen spending some time in Europe will get barred from accessing all their home media services – their Hulu and HBO accounts for example will not be accessible. This is because they won’t have a US IP address and will ultimately only have access to media resources in the country they are located in. Even more global service like Netflix will redirect you to a localized version which can be a problem if you don’t speak that language well. So VPN services have been extremely popular as they stop this sort of filtering, you simply connect to a VPN in the country you wish to access and everything should work fine, so you can choose which is the best VPN for Netflix for instance.
Blocking these services is actually very difficult, simply because the actual VPN connection is very difficult to identify. The method usually applied is to try and monitor simultaneous connections from the same IP address or manually locate the addresses of these service providers and add them to a black list. Both work but are extremely time intensive to operate and the reality is that the IP addresses can be rotated very quickly anyway.
However Netflix has moved the battle significantly with it’s latest blocking move, by restricting access to specific categories of IP address. The media giant has blocked access to it’s servers from any commercial based IP address, and given that 99% of VPN servers sit in data centers with commercial addresses this move has wiped out the majority of VPN access to Netflix.
The fight has moved on however and other companies are now expanding to offer different VPN services which are assigned residential classified IP addresses rather than commercial ones. These can be more expensive but are currently the only way you can access Netflix servers by using a VPN to hide your real IP address. It’s too soon to be certain whether this will become more widespread, although it does seem to be the simplest way to enforce region locks.
Whether all companies are going to be able to provide the sort of residential VPN that is needed to bypass these blocks remains to be seen. At the moment these domestic classified addresses are hard to get hold of for anyone who isn’t an ISP – some companies like Identity Cloaker have incorporated them but they are the exception at the moment.
For years now, people have been using free proxies that you can find online – it’s not always the smartest move as many of these are simply hacked or mis-configured and using them without permission leaves anyone open to legal action. Even then, some of them are used to actively sniff your traffic with the intention of stealing usernames, account names and passwords for identity theft or plundering your accounts.
However despite these huge security risks, people still use them in their millions every day for accessing content that is restricted to specific countries. Just for example say you a German national who happens to be living or working say just over the border in France, you might get annoyed to find that many of the web sites you normally visited are blocked because of your location. Yes, at the moment the European dream of unrestricted movement doesn’t really extend to the digital realm. Your location determines a huge amount of what you can access online, including often important stuff like online banking.
The solution is relatively well know, simply route your connection through a proxy server located in the correct country. So our friend would need to bounce his connection through a German proxy in order access German only web sites and services. A crazy situation which is compounded when you have to find the proxy in a specific country, for example look what I (a UK TV license fee payer) need to do in order to watch BBC News live online when I’m travelling or on holiday.
Isn’t it crazy? Yet it happens to people all over the world in thousands of different situations being discriminated and filtered simply based on their physical location when they connect.
Unfortunately now, free proxies will be pretty much pointless as there’s a growing trend to block access whilst connected to a proxy server. Proxies, even the well configured secure ones can usually be detected by the website you visit. Many sites usually turned a blind eye, for example you could get access to BBC iPlayer with any old crappy proxy for many years. This is beginning to change and now they rarely work as sites actively block the use of proxies to connect to their sites, yep including the BBC.
What you now need is a VPN and a well configured one too, at the moment for example this is the only way to access something like Netflix when you’re outside one of the countries they broadcast too. Even this can be difficult with some companies who are trying to block even VPN access. This is quite difficult and takes quite a lot of resources, but Netflix seems to be doing this. Although they can’t determine the actual presence of a VPN connection they can make an educated guess based on the number of connections being established on specific IP address ranges. These can then be put into a static blocked list which can be banned from accessing the websites – it’s probably very expensive to do especially as the VPN service providers will usually then change their addresses in response.
Most of the big media have problems with VPNs, partly because they have no reliable way of detecting their use. A Virtual private network is an encrypted tunnel commonly used to provide a level of security that’s simply not available normally on the internet. It is often used as a method of accessing secure corporate networks using the internet as a transport, meaning that people don’t need the expense of dedicated lines like ISDN lines every where they go.
So what’s the problem with these VPN connections, why do the big online media firms like Netflix, Hulu and the BBC dislike them so much?
Well it’s basically related to profit maximization and copyright protection. For some unknown reason, most of the world’s big film and TV companies have been using the same sort of license agreements for decades. Except they don’t work anymore, country barriers don’t work so well online, and they’re very difficult to enforce. Simply put, trying to license a film for viewing only in the USA isn’t going to work, yet this is exactly what is happening. Firms like Netflix are forced to negotiate licenses individually on a per country basis which is why every version of Netflix is completely different depending on which country you are in.
Of course what has happened is that some of these versions of Netflix are much, much better than others despite a fairly uniform cost. When you connect to Netflix it looks up your IP address and determines which country you are in and then displays you that version. It’s annoying especially for the traveller, who may settle down in some foreign hotel and find that TV series he’s been watching for 6 weeks is suddenly not available. However this is where the Netflix VPN comes in, as well as being undetectable they also can be used to modify your location through your IP address. The location of the VPN server will determine which version of Netflix or whether you can watch the BBC iPlayer for example, so if you have access to a few VPN services spread across the world then you can basically choose between any version of Netflix you like.
But How Do the Netflix VPN Blocks Work?
As yet there’s no perfect way of detecting when a VPN connection is using a particular web site, although with enough resources you can ‘work out’ most of the VPNs. What happens is that the companies search online and identify the companies offering services to bypass their blocks and try to identify IP ranges used by them. It’s not hard – simply look at the adverts for various VPN services and you’ll soon find some of the bigger ones. The other simple option is to look at specific IP addresses which have multiple connections on them – if you have five hundred people streaming to a single IP address then it’s likely that it represents a proxy or VPN server. These IP addresses are then individually blocked in a sort of internet black list preventing them access the sites.
This is of course very resource intensive and associated with a host of other problems. Sometimes the IP addresses change, the VPN services will routinely swap them out – sometimes they are from people connecting through company proxies or educational networks. It means that some services will work especially the slightly smaller, low key security based ones. Which means that you can still bypass these blocks if you choose carefully the best VPN for Netflix.
Who knows how this will go on? The solution of course is to arrange global licensing deals and stop offering different levels of services depending on location. It’s not surprising people find ways to work around the systems. After all you can pay your expensive UK license fee and get blocked from watching the BBC online simply because you happen to be abroad for a while. Also anyone who’s seen how much better the US version of Netflix is compared to some other countries will be amazed at the difference.
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.