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Posts tagged ‘vpn’

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Netflix Unblocker – Battle of the VPNs

For many years there has been a sort of techno battle going on between the big multimedia giants like HBO, HULU, BBC and Netflix and the proxy/VPN providers.   Why? Well the answer is simple, most of these media companies deliver their content over  the internet but need to control where it can be accessed – sometimes due to copyright issues or simply as a profit maximisation technique.   Using a VPN service bypasses these blocks and allows access to any content irrespective of your location

Hence the battle with the media companies trying to block access from these services whenever they can mostly with limited success.   The problem is simply the scale, there are so many of these services being used any attempt to manually block IP ranges simply results in a temporary block as new addresses are reassigned.    The previous tactics were too simply manually identify IP address ranges being used by these services either through firewall and server logs, plus simply using them – which is why the bigger, more high profile VPN services got hit hardest at least initially.    It was fairly simple to switch addresses through the VPN servers though and it became a never ending game of catch up.

Until Netflix decided on another tactic, which although fairly simple has proved devastatingly effective.  What they’ve done is to block based on another classification of the IP addresses we all use – commercial or residential.  They have blocked any commercial IP address from accessing the service so blocking out virtually every VPN service.   Unfortunately for the VPN providers it’s not easy to switch to residential IP addresses as they are hard to source outside standard ISPs.  Although in this video – Netflix Blocks VPN you can see  that some have found a way.

The program in this video is called Identity Cloaker and it has updated it’s infrastructure to cope with these issues. What happens is that when the software detects a request for the Netflix website it then redirects to a server with a residential IP address. This means that these servers can be limited and the company can provide a residential VPN service but only when specifically required.   Most companies won’t be able to do this though, because these addresses are very difficult to obtain, one things for sure the days of using a proxy for Netflix are long gone!

It’s unclear whether other of the media giants will adopt hit approach, although it seems an effective way of enforcing region locking quite cheaply.  There are some problems in that many people have to use VPNs for security reasons, and also it will make accessing Netflix at work difficult as corporate networks will mostly be classified as commercial IP ranges.

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Residential VPN – A New Era of IP Addresses

In this article we will introduce the concept of using a VPN and their updated counterpart the residential VPN for bypassing the various blocks and filters you’ll encounter online.

The war waged on VPN services by the media companies has been going on for many years but it’s lately developed a new twist.  Virtual Private Networks are now 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.

Years ago you could use things like a netflix proxy free version or even some simple dns-trick software to bypass these blocks, alas no longer.  They are all blocked apart from the new generation of virtual private networks.   Some companies are more aggressive than others, for example I tried viperdns solution with ITV hub and it works but not for most of the larger US media firms like Netflix.  In fact they are the most aggressive and the the days of using a Netflix proxy chrome extension are consigned to history.

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.

residential vpn

Blocking these services for the media company is actually very difficult to do, 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.

Introducing the Residential VPN

However Netflix has moved the battle significantly with it’s latest blocking move, by actually 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.

Here’s a residential VPN solution that still works however –

This is a big step and arguably will signal the end of many of the simple VPN companies especially if other media firms follow suit.   The companies who merely rent a few dedicated servers and install some proprietary software simply weren’t prepared for this move.   The simple fact is that it’s extremely easy to obtain commercial IP addresses but much more difficult to obtain residential addresses.

The fight has moved on however and some of the VPN companies like Identity Cloaker 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.

It was first attempted about six years ago when a few TV streaming services blocked access from non-residential addresses.  It was just as successful then and in some ways surprising that the practice didn’t become more widespread.  There are problems of course, when you block access from commercial IP addresses you potentially block many legitimate users too.

For example anyone connected from the workplace through a corporate proxy or using a VPN for security would be blocked too.  Imagine how many people use the BBC in their office and you can see the potential dilemma for these companies.  Perhaps for a pure media streaming company like Netflix it’s more straightforward, after all many employers will already block sites like these purely because of the bandwidth they use.

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.

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Watch BBC Abroad Using a VPN

If you spend any amount of time online, then investing in a VPN program is a very worthwhile investment for a variety of reasons. The most obvious are the blocks which operate based on your location, the reason you can’t watch BBC abroad for instance. Secondly security, the internet is inherently insecure partly because it’s built up on a huge interconnected network of other people’s 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.

watch BBC abroad

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 all 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.

How a VPN Can Help You Watch BBC Abroad

But there’s another cool use which you can see in this video – How to access BBC iPlayer Outside UK on YouTube. The privacy aspect of a VPN has another excellent use, which is arguably the reason millions of people use them across the world.  This simple network connection allows expats to watch british TV,  to access Hulu from Europe and watch Sky Go abroad.

The reason is that 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 watch BBC abroad and access the iPlayer application at will.

This is because when you visit any web site your real location and IP address is hidden when using a VPN.  The website will see the server’s address and if you use a British one then you can watch ITV player abroad or any UK TV stations.  Normally they would get blocked when they tried to access the site because their IP address wasn’t registered to a UK address.

watch British TV

The VPN can also be used on most internet enabled devices which all have an IP address when connected.  So if you want to learn how to watch bbc iplayer abroad on iPad or other tablet then a VPN can be established from there too.    The key to getting the most of a VPN service is flexibility, the best services have an infrastructure with servers all over the world and with hundreds of addresses.  This is important for two reasons, firstly it stops them being detected, both BBC and SKY Go blocking VPN programs in 2017 which affected the smaller companies.  In addition having servers in different countries means that you can access media sites all over the world, in addition to allowing you to watch BBC abroad you can also watch US, Canadian and Australian media sites just for a start!

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 – they also use it to watch UK TV abroad free of censorship.

There is no doubt that the use of ‘personal vpn’ programs are growing at an exponential rate.  However this is hardly surprising, the privacy issues are very real with complete records of our online activity available to anyone in authority effectively.  The extending use of region locking is also likely to drive demand too, with so much digital content online and restrictions being added depending on your location.

People don’t like being blocked from content simply due to their location and a VPN completely bypassed these restrictions.  Some of them are extremely unfair, for example a person could pay the BBC license fee and be blocked from being able to watch BBC abroad on their holidays!  After all why shouldn’t they be allowed to watch uk TV abroad on iPad while they are on holiday?

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Creating a Network Wide VPN for all Your Devices

Setting up a vpn on a computer is a fairly straight forward task, simply install the software and then connect to the server and that’s about it. However increasingly people are using a whole host of other devices to connect to the internet, so how can you get them to use a network wide VPN ?

For example I stream media on several devices at home, a Roku, a Wii U, Samsung Smart TV and a media streamer from BT running BT View. Although on a couple of these you can access the network settings, there’s no real way to connect to a VPN. You can control basic networking details like IP address (although not directly on the Roku), but to allow authentication to a VPN is pretty difficult without hacking these devices.

So if you want to watch the US version of Netflix on your Roku from the UK or BBC iPlayer on a Wii U from the US then  what are your options? Well you can try a Smart DNS service, although this seems to becoming rather unreliable and at this moment is probably best avoiding. Or you can find some way to set up the best UK VPN that effects all these devices at once. The secret is to look one step away from these devices and set up the VPN on your router, which is actually much easier to do than you would expect.

Setting Up a Network Wide VPN at Home

The first requirement though is a decent modem or vpn client router which supports network wide VPN functionality. More specifically you need it to support a client VPN connection, which most modern routers do – although many ISPs supply cut down or restricted routers with this functionality blocked. Here’s the page I set up on my ASUS vpn router –

network wide vpn

This is the ASUS AC68U, although most of the ASUS range support client VPNs including the basic models.  Also all my netgear vpn router models also support this configuration, although obviously you’ll need to check individual models.  It’s important to stress that you need the ‘client VPN’ mode as almost all support a VPN mode for incoming connections.  It’s important to stress this difference as you’ll find many which advertise router with vpn server, but we need the facility to act as a vpn client too.

What we need to do is to make a VPN connection out from our router to a VPN server in the correct country.  You’ll need the address of the relevant VPN server, then the username and password to authenticate.  If the servers are configured to allow this access you should be able to get the details you need from your VPN service provider.

As you can see from my setup, I commonly use two VPNs one to the USA and one to Canada. When I enable this VPN every device on my network is routed through the respective VPN server.

So to clarify –

When my US VPN is enabled my Smart TV, Tablets, computers, media streamers effectively all have a US IP address.

Which means they’ll all connect to the US version of Netflix, all will be able to access Hulu, ABC and HBO too.  It’s not perfect of course, this method affects everything so there has to some sort of consensus when I enable them.  For example when the US VPN is enabled then nobody will be able to access BBC iPlayer as we’ll all appear to be from the US.

An added bonus is that you will automatically add a layer of security to every piece of data leaving your network.  That is whilst enabled you effectively have a dedicated vpn router which is encrypting all the data on your internet connection.   This also means that all your web activity is hidden in logs at your ISP too.  Instead of having a complete record of what you do online, there will simply be a record of an encrypted connection via the VPN tunnel.

It’s also important that this VPN is fast because everything is routed through this single tunnel,
. are all very fast so it’s not an issue with them but many VPN services can be extremely slow.

It’s a simple way to effectively enable a network wide VPN on all your devices like Smart TVs easily, and it’s also quick to enable and disable them if your router has a Web interface which you can access.