It might seem quite strange to think that the Domain Name System, actually plays a role in filtering and region locking however it is actually true. In fact DNS has been used extensively on both sides of the battle both for blocking access and bypassing content filtering. It’s most extensive use is historically as a very blunt weapon to block access to websites.
Many countries still use DNS poisoning/spoofing in order to block access temporarily to specific sites. Turkey for example still periodically uses DNS to stop people accessing social media sites, supposedly in the ‘national interest’. It’s quite simple to do, you just modify the DNS records of the sites at the major ISPs in the country. So instead of Facebook resolving to the true IP address it is routed through to a government server instead. It’s a simple method and fairly effective although easily bypassed by using a trusted DNS server instead of the modified ones.
However on the other side of the coin, perhaps more surprisingly you’ll find DNS used to bypass region blocks. What happens is that you use ‘Smart DNS’ servers to effectively make decisions to route traffic. For example many people use a Smart DNS Netflix system to enable access to different regions of the Netflix media sites. All the server does is route the connection through the appropriate country before accessing the Netflix website. SO if you want to use American Netflix you’ll be routed through a US based server – through a British one for UK Netflix and so on.
The advantages of using DNS in this situation is that you only route when absolutely necessary unlike a VPN. The other significant bonus is that it’s simple to modify DNS settings on any device, without the requirement of installing software on the client. This means you can use Smart DNS on TVs, Tablets, games consoles and media streamers simply by accessing the network settings and specifying the modified DNS servers.
Return of US DNS Netflix, Techno Press, 2015
For our American readers this might seem a bit confusing, after all Netflix now operates in over 160 countries now and the number is rising all the time. So why would anyone need a US IP address for Netflix when they can probably already access it in their own country.
The problem is that although the Netflix subscription is pretty much global and indeed is roughly the same cost all over the world, the service is far from equal. In fact in some cases it’s not even close, the UK version of Netflix for example is often thought to be one of the better localized versions (which it is) but it doesn’t come close to the US version for quantity and quality of content.
If you connect with an American IP address to Netflix then you will currently have access to some 6300+ movies and films, back to the UK version and there’s about 3700! These figures change all the time as licenses expire but you get the picture the USA Netflix has nearly double the UK version. Compared to some of the more local versions of Netflix then this disparity is even greater – for example check out the comparisons with Australian Netflix or Canadian and you’ll find it’s much worse.
The simple reality is that licensing all these movies costs big money and because of the antiquated way much of these rights are handled – Netflix has to pay on a per country basis which means that the bigger markets get all the best films – i.e the US version of Netflix. Which is why if you’re sitting there watching some small rather underwhelming version of Netflix you’re likely to feel a little jealous.
The Benefit of Using a US IP Address for Netflix
Is in fact, quite simple, if you access the Netflix site with an American IP then you’ll get redirected to the US version of Netflix complete with it’s massive movie catalogue. However before you rush off and pay for a cheap proxy or VPN to hide your real IP address then you need to be aware of another twist in the story. The vast majority of proxies and VPNs that are perfectly capable of supplying a US IP address will be blocked by the media giant. IN fact there’s hardly any of them that work anymore.
Proxies have been blocked for some time, Netflix is capable of detecting all of these automatically – see here Using a Proxy for Netflix. VPNs were the solution for some time, in fact before Netflix went global millions used them across the globe to access the media site. Unfortunately Netflix have started a crackdown against the VPN services too – in a slightly sneaky way by blocking any address that originates from a commercial service (all IP addresses are classified either commercial or residential).
This has caused havoc for the many users who use this method and effectively 99% of the VPN providers cannot be used to access Netflix anymore. Fortunately these is a solution and although Netflix block VPN services has almost been 100% effective the ban is not completely total.
A select few of the VPN providers like Identity Cloaker have been able to bypass this block by incorporating residential classed IP addresses into their infrastructure which are not able to be blocked. However this solution is difficult to implement and expensive so it’s likely not many VPN companies will implement these solutions.
James Hamilton, BBC Block VPN Services, Waber Press, 2016
There are literally millions of people who use Netflix through a VPN service, yet over the last few weeks they’ve had real problems. Although these people obviously have to subscribe to Netflix, they use VPNs to hide their location and gain access to different version of the Netflix library. The reason is simple, although the subscription cost is similar wherever you are, the US version of Netflix has much more content that the other locales – if you use a US based IP address then you’ll be able to access that version irrespective of your actual location.
Unfortunately not any more, recently Netflix block VPN services across the board using a new technique not used previously. Many of the online media giants try and block people using VPN and proxy services to access their content, with mostly mixed results. This is because it’s virtually impossible to completely detect the presence of a VPN, so the usual tactics involving manually locating these services and their addresses, or monitoring for multiple connections on single addresses – then adding them to a block list. It’s very time consuming and resource intensive, also it’s easily countered by simply rotating the addresses used on the servers.
So How do Netflix Block VPN Services Now?
It’s pretty sneaky but devastatingly effective as people have found out. It’s all to do with the classification of IP addresses and being able to detect them automatically. As well as being classified by location IP addresses are also tagged with another label – residential or commercial. This is an important piece of information that Netflix have used, instead of trying to identifying individual connections, they have merely blocked any commercial IP address from connecting.
Virtually every VPN server resides in a data center somewhere and hence will be tagged as a commercial IP address. The residential addresses are mostly assigned by ISPs directly to individual users and are allowed to connect without restriction. The resultant effect – Netflix block VPN services virtually across the board and lots of very unhappy subscribers.
Any VPN/Proxies Still Working?
There are a couple of services still working but not many, there are not many residential VPN services that may change as the service providers change. The solution is to ensure that any connection used to stream content from Netflix comes from a residential IP address and not a commercial one. The problem though is that these IP addresses are much harder to come by than the commercial ones, they also cost significantly more to run servers on due to the bandwidth requirements – at time of writing there is for instance only one US DNS Netflix solution which is working.
One provider that has instigated a novel solution is Identity Cloaker who have designed a system where only traffic routed for the Netflix servers is rerouted through a bank of residential IP addresses. They already have a very low key approach to accessing media sites, they never advertise the functionality, currently it’s one of the very few VPN services still working with Netflix.
Although the internet is of course responsible for breaking down all sorts of barriers across the world, there is still a certain amount of prejudice and imbalance that exists online. Unfortunately as the internet becomes more politicized and commercial these inequalities are also starting to increase too. Take for example the commercial side, firms quickly realised that if customers noticed that they sold their products at lower prices points in certain locations, the internet could be used to take advantage of those cheaper prices. This is obviously great for the customer, but not so much for the retailer as it eradicated a powerful commercial tool of profit maximisation.
The early days of the internet were full of these little loopholes, I for one remember ordering most of my stuff from Amazon.FR rather than Amazon UK because a combination of cheaper prices and a preferential currency situation made shopping much cheaper. Many of the biggest web retailers cottoned on quite quickly about these sort of loopholes and took steps to close them. The fairest option would be to charge the same prices to everyone online, however that rarely happens with firms using other methods to block and restrict the cheaper prices depending on location. THe method used varies widely but it almost always is focussed on the location of the shopper determined by their IP address. That individual network address is used to determine your online experience and what you can or cannot do when you’re online.
This puts many people at a huge disadvantage particularly if they happen to live in a country where the state gets involved in what people do online too. People in Western democracies are used to the concept of free speech being extended online but that’s not the case for many millions who live in countries like China, Thailand and Irans for example. These are all reasons why people seek to obtain a level of anonymity online and seek to hide their location. One of the easiest way to hide your identity and the country you are based in is to choosing to buy an IP address in a different location.
Here’s an example –
The idea is that instead of any website seeing your true IP address, they instead see the false address supplied by the software. The uses are many, particularly if you engage the encryption mode in the software which protects all your data as well as your location. The ability to switch IP addresses means that anyone can bypass the various restrictions and blocks that are prevalent online. These can be extremely useful allowing people to watch geo-locked TV stations like the BBC and NBC, plus use websites that normally only allow domestic visitors access.
Smart TVs are getting smarter, that’s for certain, the days when your TV would simply display a few channels received from a television aerial are long gone. Today’s Smart TV are multimedia powerhouses which can access and display all sorts of content from a variety of different sources.
For example a standard Smart TV will be able to use applications to access internet based sites like Hulu, BBC iPlayer, ITV player, Netflix, Youtube and a host of others. Just plug your TV into your network and you can access all sorts of resources that previously were only accessible from your home computers.
However with this new power comes the annoying restrictions too, geo-locking technology that blocks access to different sites on computers has the same effect on our TV sets too. Our Netflix is locked to the crappy version we normally get and millions won’t be able to access things like BBC iPlayer or HBO online unless we start shipping or TV with us internationally. The blocks work in the same way as they do on computers, your IP address is checked and location noted then you’re allowed access or blocked depending on where you are.
BUT WAIT – IP Address on my TV, it’s not a computer?
Well a Smart TV is pretty much the same as a computer at least if it wants to access the internet, any network enabled device needs an IP address to function online. Which also means it needs a host of network settings to allow it to talk to your router or access point and ultimately use internet based resources.
So does that mean you can also use USA proxies and VPNs (see here) to bypass these blocks like millions already use on their computers? Well it’s possible but usually a little tricky simply because you’ll only have access to basic functionality on a Smart TV – it’s much easier to use a system called Smart DNS.
Here’s the one I use, after testing about 10 of them earlier last year.
They are called Overplay and to use on your Smart TV is actually quite simple, all you need is the cheapest service – Smart DNS. Once you’ve enabled your account, by visiting their registration page from any computer, phone or tablet on your network then you just need to enable it on your Smart TV. This process will vary depending on your TV but you’re basically looking for the Network Settings page.
Which is where, all you need to do is to input your new Smart DNS server in the DNS server settings. This turns your Smart TV into an international traveller able to adopt a disguise whenever needed. When you click through to the Netflix Application you’ll be able to access the US version, play BBC iPlayer from anywhere in the world or in fact any UK Television stations. The Smart DNS server will apply a little disguise to your connection wherever you need it to. No software, no VPN, the SMart DNS server will do it all for you without rerouting your connection.
You’ll get some very different answers depending on where you ask this question. If you happen to frequent security, technology or hacking groups or forums then there’s little point asking the question, the answer will be a resounding yes. On the hacking forums, there will be much ridicule too for even asking whether you need a VPN in the first place. The general opinion of the technically savvy would be firmly in the ‘yes’ camp.
Other’s are likely to see less of a need, many still believing the mantra – ‘I have nothing to hide’ so what’s the point. The problem is that anyone who uses the internet for any purpose almost certainly has something to hide – anything from their credits card numbers to a personal email address (which gives access to lots of other services). This of course, refers to the many internet baddies who are utilising the web to build huge criminal enterprises with all the cash of traditional activities but without the inherent risks.
The other aspect of the question is ‘who’ you’re thinking to be safe from. Almost all of us want to keep our details safe from the cyber crooks, but how many of us care that the authorities can see what we do online? Many people feel that the police and investigation services need access to our email and web histories in order to catch terrorists and criminals. Other’s think that it’s unacceptable to spy on an entire population in order to catch a few baddies.
First a video which reference the subject – Is VPN Safe?
Of course, it’s up to the individual to decide on the whether they do need to use a VPN. What is worth considering though is the plain facts of what happens when you use the internet without one.
- The vast majority of your web activity happens in clear text (SSL excepted).
- ISP Logs contain every web site we visit, everything we download and message we send.
- Every web site you visit can record your identity.
- When using an untrusted network anyone can steal any of your details used when online.
- SSL is no protection on untrusted networks (simple MITM attacks)
For me ultimately, it’s the ease in which it’s possible to steal online without using some sort of encryption method. The fact that it’s relatively simple to steal credentials that give access to email, online banking and paypal accounts and steal thousands makes me incredibly wary. I suspect if many knew that this was technically possible they would also be equally as paranoid as the guys in the hacking groups.
One things for sure, there’s lots of free stuff on the internet if you’re struggling for cash. If you have the time and inclination you probably don’t have to ever miss another blockbuster ever again without spending a penny on DVDs or cinema tickets. That’s not going to change in the near future unless the industry severely changes it’s business models. Of course, it can be incredibly time consuming and frustrating experience trying to download a film as more often you end up with a version filmed from the back of a cinema, muffled sound, dark images or my personal favorite where the last ten minutes seems to have disappeared.
There are dangers as well as frustrations too, over the years there have been more and more cases of people being heavily fined for downloading and watching copyrighted films. These are ordinary people who just download the odd movie, yet fail to realise that their identity is easily obtainable from their ISP.
However when you are assessing what free’ things are worth the risk on the internet -hten beware something like a US or British proxies are most definitely not one of them. People insist on using these free proxies that are posted and harvested on the internet but it’s incredibly risky. For a start most of these servers are simply misconfigured, so technically using them without the owners permission constitutes a criminal act in many countries. However another large proportion are there simply to steal people’s personal information, hackers log and eavesdrop your internet connection looking for usernames and passwords.
This is an example of a paid UK proxy service which of course has the disadvantage of costing money. However in reality that’s unlikely to be the case, as it works well, is fast and can stream video with ease and it won’t put your personal details at risk.
Of course, whatever people say – many are hard coded into the ‘free’ search. However it’s worth stepping back and thinking sometimes about free proxies and VPNs. Even those that look legitimate like the browser add on Hola have to extract something from you in order to at least cover the costs. We all thought that Hola merely riddled your computer with adware and affiliate links but turns out it actually steals your bandwidth too by using your computer in a commercial botnet (it’s true check that link or Google).
The reality is that providing a proxy service costs a lot of money, the bandwidth costs, the support team have to be paid so why would anyone provide that for free? The answer is that they don’t, there is always a cost.
It’s hard to believe, but many of the world’s biggest web sites actively discriminate between people depending on their location. Of course, it’s not called discrimination, they use fancy terms like geo-targeting or geo location instead. The reality is that the internet from Africa, is very different than that based in the UK from a British IP address.
It really is a form of discrimination. Ever tried to watch the BBC News from Spain online, or buy from a store in Canada using the internet because it’s half the price? If you have there’s a chance you’ll be blocked, because of where you happen to be.
It’s getting worse every year, more and more sites will look at your location and either restrict or block access. We’re not talking about a few, but thousands of the biggest sites on the web. So much so that every time I travel away from the UK, I’m thinking how I can get a UK address to watch my favorite shows, access my online banking and stream from the many UK only sites.
How to get a British IP Address
Well here’s one solution – use a British proxy.
This method allows you to change your IP address when you need to, which effectively gives you control of what you see and not the web sites you visit. It’s basically very simple instead of connecting directly with a website you merely route your connection through a server which relays your request called a proxy or VPN server.
In the example illustrated here, the software allows you to choose which server to relay your connection through so you can effectively choose your virtual location. So if you’re wanting to watch something on a British media site like the BBC, ITV or Channel 4 you just pick a UK based server. Then when you connect to the web site it will see a British IP address irrespective or where you are.
THen if you need another country, simply click on the location you need. So if you want to watch Hulu or HBO then choose a US server and everything will work.