Have you ever watched Hulu – it’s wonderful, apparently it’s one of the most popular sites on the entire internet. However very soon after the site was released they restricted access based on location, you can’t even access Hulu in Canada!
Anyway at first it wasn’t too much of a problem using a proxy server you could change the IP address you connected to. So you just had to use an American one, a Hulu proxy if you like and you were allowed to access the service. But then Hulu got wise to this and was able to detect the use of them, so free proxies and methods like HotSpot Shield stopped working altogether. People are still using proxies for some media channels – for instance a German proxy server will still unlock most sites in Germany but in most instances VPNs are needed now.
Currently the only way to watch Hulu from outside the US is to use some sort of VPN (Virtual Private Network) which creates a tunnel from your client to a VPN enabled server.
There’s a few of these around commercially or if you work for a multinational company you may find you have access to a US based server that you can connect to.
Remember the idea is simple – your browser or computer is irrelevant, what’s important is that your connection and IP address needs to appear to be from the USA. Here’s the software I use – it’s called Identity Cloaker.
There’s a few hundred servers in all different countries but for Hulu we obviously need one based in the US. When I click on an American server it sets up a SSH connection to the US which all my internet activities will be tunneled down – more info here. This means that when I connect to Hulu it will see the IP address of the server (which is American) and allow me to access Hulu wherever I happen to be.
Works like a dream and comes recommended – test with the trial account first at Identity Cloaker. There are quite a few others that work well too – but remember you need more that just a proxy server for Hulu (although a proxy still works for BBC Iplayer from outside the UK). You’ll have a selection of different countries available, they concentrate on the US and major European countries though – if you want something a little less usual like a Japanese or Turkish proxy – check out the rest of this site for alternatives.
For me it happened when I was on a short holiday in the USA, and I started up my Netflix account and it was a revelation. Although I used my own UK based account, because of my location I was redirected to the US version of Netflix which is so much better. Thousands more films and TV shows, movies which had only just left UK cinemas and a whole host more where available, isn’t something I wanted to lose when I went back home.
If you investigate, it’s incredibly common and not just restricted to Netflix. The majority of the big media sites all have some sort of restrictions or blocks based on your location – in fact try and access Netflix from some countries and it’s not even available even if you have an account. BBC iPlayer only works in the UK, Pandora the online radio station will now not work outside the US, every TV channel is normally restricted to it’s country of origin.
But if you keep investigating , you’ll discover there is a way to take back control and watch whatever you want, irrespective of your location. The technology you need is called a VPN (Virtual Private Network), forget the other solutions that you see mentioned like Smart DNS and proxies. Although they work both are intermittent and easily blocked – setting up a VPN to the country of broadcast is what you need to do.
It works like a dream, install a VPN client on your PC or tablet and you can access whatever you need. I use a service called Identity Cloaker primarily because it’s fast and inexpensive, however there is a problem using all these services – How Can you Use a VPN on a Smart TV?
Or really any non-computer type device, for example I watch online stuff through my Smart TV, phone, Roku, Wii U and a load of other devices. However I simply can’t install any client VPN software on my TV even if it would let me, in fact many of these devices are increasingly restricting access to the network configuration screen to stop people bypassing these blocks. Well what you have to do is look one step away from these devices, in my case my router which connects all these devices to the internet – How to Set up a Smart TV VPN
So instead of messing around with lots of different versions, installing client software on numerous devices and tweaking settings – just set up the vPN on your router, access point or modem – basically the device that connects
you to the internet. This ensures that everything connected to this router uses the VPN by default and you can turn it on and off at will. Of course, it’s not perfect and it does mean that if my US VPN is turned on – another device cannot watch the BBC iPlayer at the same time (the BBC will see the US IP address of the VPN server and block it). However you can switch these on and off very easily when you need to.
Not all VPN providers allow this manual access though, so it’s worth checking before hand – Identity Cloaker does on all it’s servers and I would imagine most of the ‘reputable’ VPN services do too.
It’s of course a recurring them on the internet, many people are concerned with security, privacy and internet filtering so spend a lot of time searching for solutions. However inexplicably people seem to think they can find these for free. Just think about it – you need the following:
- A high powered server connected to the internet.
- Support people to keep it both secure and online.
- Someone to pay all the bandwidth costs (a lot!) of the server
- Allow everyone to use it for nothing.
Why would anyone would do this? Why would they pay huge amounts of money, spend their own time – simply for thousands of strangers to bypass internet blocks, surf porn at school or simply mess around on Facebook at work. Of course there is no logical reason that they would, and in fact even the free proxy servers are not in fact free? Just watch this video for a quick intro.
The price you pay for using free proxies or VPNs is one of the following:
- Some form of adware or advertisements injected into your browsing.
- Risk of Nastier stuff like spyware or trojans or the proxy itself stealing your personal information.
People don’t like to believe it, because obviously they want to use something for free. Ultimately it’s for every one to decide for themselves, but you should certainly be very careful using any free resources which take control of all the information you transmit online (which is what a proxy does).
For anyone with an interest in UK Television, be it ex-pats, Anglophiles or just lovers of great TV programmes – Christmas can bring some great online treats. The BBC iPlayer website for instance reruns loads of fantastic shows, documentaries, comedies and biographies over the festive season. There are also some wonderful shows broadcast for the first time which you can either pick up live or from the iPlayer site for a couple of weeks later.
I’m in the bracket of ex-pat abroad, although I do still live in the UK for most of the year. I have tried English language TV in many other countries and to be honest I haven’t found anything quite as good as the BBC. There’s some wonderful stuff on US TV, Canadian and Australian TV of course but usually accompanied with adverts every few minutes – incredibly annoying unless you’ve been brought up with this. For me I’ve been brought up with mainly non-commercial TV, namely the BBC and my favorite programmes are still there. For me, I’ve never seen a better sports show than Match of the Day, a better nature documentary than those by David Attenborough and of course the best Science Fiction drama ever made – Dr Who.
Which kind of brings me to the purpose of my post – how do you – watch Dr Who Christmas Special abroad? Or perhaps you’re stuck somewhere where the TV sucks or you can’t understand the language. Then having access to unlimited BBC can be a real boon, especially if you’re away from home and a little homesick. But of course, the BBC online content is not actually accessible if you’re outside the UK – the web site checks your location and if it’s not the UK then you get blocked.
But as you may have discovered there are solutions and one of the most popular are proxies. The secret is not changing your IP address like many would imagine, but hiding it from those who seek to restrict your access. A proxy is basically a server that sits between you and the site you want to visit, so the location of that computer actually affects what you can see. A UK proxy can allow you access to all UK media sites, a USA proxy will unlock the US sites like Hulu, Pandora and HBO for instance. Check this video out for an example –
As you can see it’s very simple, and although the example is on a computer there’s similar techniques that work on tablets, smart phones and TVs and most media streamers.
Sometimes you don’t care what IP address you have as long as it’s different. Many people who run websites and online businesses need to check things like rankings online using various tools. Unfortunately these tools usually need to make multiple requests to the search engines in order to work. There are some very professional research tools like Market Samurai, which have their own built in proxy servers which allow the tool to switch between different IP addresses when making these queries.
However these are invariably the exception rather than the rule, and mostly you have to try and switch your addresses yourself. Most people then usually plod down the proxies route either free ones scraped using a simple tool, or a subscription that gives you a few proxies to use privately. The free ones are more trouble than they’re worth. You can scrape a list of a few hundred supposedly working, fast proxies then ten minutes later 20% of them stop working, another 20% slow to a crawl, a few hours later and you’ve got to start all over again. Believe me life is too short to spend it searching for these, using them provides little benefit and it you think they genuinely keep you anonymous then you’re mistaken – read this blog – http://www.anonymous-proxies.org/
The private ones also can be hard work simply because you don’t have enough of them – invariably you need hundreds of proxies to run these programs like SEO checkers for any length of time. But buying hundreds of proxies can get very expensive and you’ll quickly burn these out with some of the SEO tools especially ones designed to be run 24/7.
So What you need is something that can quickly and simply rotate the IP addresses at your disposal. This means that you can still use fast proxies and you don’t need so many IP addresses to allow these programs to function. Here’s the feature in Identity Cloaker that allows you to do this –
This is extremely useful, it means that you can switch between IP address every minute you like which allows all these tools and queries to work perfectly. The change happens in the background and used on a windows server, a VPS or a desktop computer there will be no interruption. But of course the option you choose is dependent on your requirements – this video explains some others ;
The decision is also dependent on locations, which can usually affect the price and availability of any proxies. The US and the UK are probably the cheapest, where as places like South Africa and Australia tend to be more expensive simply because bandwidth costs are very much higher that mainland Europe. So we can see what is the best proxy program is not an easy question to answer, which is very much reliant on what you’re looking for.
My first realization of the extent of internet filtering, came in a hotel located on the edge of an industrial estate about 20 kms outside Stockholm. It was boring, I can’t remember the hotel chain but it was like a British Travel Lodge. Nice enough to sleep in, but absolutely nothing to do if you a) couldn’t speak Swedish b) didn’t know anyone. There were indeed some gorgeous looking Swedish women in the bar, unfortunately all of them appeared about 3 inches taller than me – so I slunk back to the hotel room with my laptop like any self respecting geek would do.
Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Sweden, it’s a great place, the people are friendly, everything is clean but it can be expensive. For a very mean, self expensed traveller that can be a bit tough, some of the internet charges would make your eyes water! However when you’re really bored, a bit fed up and lonely then internet access promises a lot of things – World of Warcraft, Online poker and of course UK Television at least I thought it did. It was a Saturday night and I thought Doctor Who, followed by Match of the Day – cheered me up no end.
Unfortunately that was until I tried to access any of these sites, only WoW worked and it kept dumping me on a Swedish server. My main focus was British TV of course, and that was when I discovered that even a fee paying, UK citizen is denied access to the Beeb if he’s sitting in a box hotel in Stockholm. In fact this is true any where outside the UK, you just get blocked with a little apology.
It’s true I didn’t take this well, but fortunately I have many friends who are cleverer than me and who travelled more. Ten minutes late I was redirected to this video which showed me how to reassert my nationality. The video is still on Youtube and you can find it here – or watch now.
That’s all there is to it, at least on a PC to access on a iPad or similar you need to do some other stuff but again it’s not hard. Here’s a video I found later that shows the steps you need for that using the same service.
Further Information on this technique can be found at the following –
When you connect to the internet, using anything from a smart TV to a Laptop – you will be assigned an IP address. This is your unique identifier online, this address in the format – 192.168.1.1 is directly linked to your device.
For most of us at home, this address is assigned by the ISP we connect with and as such there is no way of changing it. This address is recorded by most web sites you visit for a variety of reasons and is in effect your digital ID. Much worst for those concerned with online privacy, at your ISP every single thing you do online is recorded in logs along with this address. Which means that for all of us there is a complete record of every website we visit, every movie we watch, video we download and email we send stored on servers hosted by whomever you pay your internet fee to.
However although it is impossible for most of us to actually change our IP address, at least the public facing one we use online. It is possible to hide our IP address and gain some elements of privacy online by the following methods:
- Hide your real IP address from web sites you visit
- Encrypt Your connection to ensure your online activity is kept private.
These two steps are essential and are detailed in the following video entitled IP Anonymizer which you can watch here or directly on YouTube.
Your real IP address is effectively hidden via the network of proxy servers distributed across the world, all the web sites record this address and not yours which is not visible to them.
The encryption is required to prevent interception of data, and also ensures that although logs will still exist at your ISP – they will not be readable. The encryption will ensure that the only information that will be visible in the logs is the connections made to the proxies – nothing else will be legible.
One of the most annoying instances of where web sites customize your experience is when using the search engines. Most of the time it works quite well – here’s the basic sequence :
- The user loads up a search engine page
- Search engine checks your IP address
- Search engine looks up the physical location of that address
- Search engine customizes your search results based on your location.
So in practical terms it means that when you type in ‘cheap carpets’ in your search engine, you don’t receive a selection of carpet shops from across the world. Google (or other search engine) will assume that you want someone who sells carpets in your location – which is usually quite right. The chances are that most similar searches would be looking for someone local to your current location. You can skew the results of course, by modifying your search string – perhaps change to ‘cheap carpets Paris’ if you want to pick something up on a weekend away in the French capital but it does become some what of a guessing game.
There are times though when you wish you could turn off this personalization, times when it actually comes up with completely the wrong search results. For instance if I was in a Spanish airport travelling home, and I tried to search for a taxi firm to transfer me home when I returned. My ‘taxi’ searches would all focus on Spanish results simply because I was in Spain while searching, none of the search engines are smart enough to go one step further and assess my current situation properly. Which is why we have to append other descriptive terms such as ‘UK’, ‘Manchester’ or ‘England’ to ensure we don’t receive Spanish based results.
This is of course a fairly simple situation to rectify, but it’s not always that straight forward. Take my current situation, I want to take my family to the West Coast of USA next year and I’d been told there are lots of great local tour firms based in the USA that will take you around the sites. However if I type in local tours West USA – all my results are focused on my current location – i.e the United Kingdom.
Here’s what I get in my search, (click to enlarge) – as you can see all the results are UK companies offering tours of the West Coast of the USA. Even though I’m looking for a service physically located in the USA, the search engine will give me results of companies who are based in the UK.
Do you see the problem ? I can’t find those local companies specializing in US tours easily, all I get is big UK companies who probably buy in those trips and resell to people in the United Kingdom (presumably with a significant mark up in price too!). I’ll have to play around with search terms and delve into the later pages of my search results to have any hope of finding a local US company who doesn’t have offices and websites in the United Kingdom
Simply speaking Google in this situation doesn’t deliver what I want, it delivers a simplified, commercial based set of results. The only way I can modify this is by hiding my real location from the search engine and then redoing the search. Here’s a quick video on how you can get an American IP address –
Using this program I am able to give myself an American IP address instead of a UK one. So lets repeat exactly the same search and see what results I get –
Here you can see that I get a completely different set of results to my previous search, all US based companies offering pretty much the same tours but often at much lower prices.
None of these web sites are US only, they are all happy to attract customers from all over the world – it’s just that mostly people can’t find them because of the way that the search engines personalise your search results. Unfortunately, to bypass these blocks you need to take control of your IP address, here’s another video called best VPN USA which demonstrates using a Virtual Private Network connection routed through the US to achieve the same results.
When I first looked for a VPN (virtual private network) service online about 8 or 9 years ago, there wasn’t much to choose from. There were only a couple of services available, and to be honest they weren’t very good. In fact I never really used either for very long, they were slow, always breaking and not really worth the bother. As was usual in those days it was easier to set something up for yourself either using a rented server or through your home PC. VPNs were common enough but normally linked to a company or academic server, if you worked for a large company and travelled to any extent you’d almost certainly use a VPN to download documents or access the company email account.
These days both the demand and the choice available have grown exponentially. Over the years, those one or two providers have multiplied and now there are literally thousands of companies providing VPN/Proxy services usually on a subscription basis. Unfortunately the quality has not increased, the vast majority of these VPN providers are little more than an IT guy with a website and a dedicated server hosted somewhere obscure. This is fine if the only users are him and a dozen customers, but if you start taking in lots of new customers – you need some serious infrastructure and knowledge to cope with it – which normally doesn’t happen!
This is the sad reality, that the vast majority of these services are hopeless – something you’ll probably be aware of if you’ve tried any number of them. There’s normally two real issues with these servers – firstly they are badly set up and configured, the other is they’re overloaded. Both are serious issues for variety of reasons.
It’s important to remember that when you use a VPN or a proxy, you are in fact trusting the provider with all your web traffic. Your connection consists of an encrypted tunnel (well hopefully) back to the VPN server down which all your web and application traffic will flow. It’s therefore essential that this server is secure and well configured in order to protect your data there’s more to this than just something to change your ip address – read this.
The other issue is of course – speed, it wasn’t such a problem years ago but nowadays most of our online activity consists of video, multimedia and hi resolution images – browsing the web on a slow connection is a painful experience. It is of course why many people use VPNs in order to access content on sites like BBC iPlayer, ITV player or Hulu which are normally restricted to their home countries. This is a useful demonstration of how a high speed VPN should work.
The video demonstrates that the VPN connection has virtually no effect on the speed of the internet connection. It should be noted that in that video the user is based in the UK and using a UK VPN but it’s still a worthwhile check. The speed will almost certainly diminish slightly when routed through a US, Australian or German proxy server for example, but should still be reasonably fast. As alawyas the only true test is the one you run your self, so if you subscribe to Identity Cloaker or another VPN solution then make sure you test it using a short term trial/subscription first.
The Turkish block of Twitter this week, is such ill conceived madness that it sometimes is hard to comprehend that these guys are politicians who are supposed to understand people. When they follow the example of dictators like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and decide the best way to stop people saying bad things about you it to try and stop them talking completely – true genius.
It’s not even as if Turkey has the first idea about how to block access, they’ve been actively filtering the internet for years now and there still using the baby/first steps blocking technique. Look around certain places in Istanbul and Izmir for example and you’ll see posters of Erdogan with DNS server addresses pasted all over them. That’s how the country is blocking the site by rerouting DNS requests, so by switching to another of the many millions of DNS servers available across the planet you can bypass the blocks.
In fact there are many ways to completely sidestep these restrictions and when you’re Prime Minister has threatened to crush the social networking sites and demonstrate the power of the Turkish Republic, you really need to come up with something better than a very amateurish attempt like this. In fact it’s looking like Twitter use in Turkey is rocketing after the ban has been implemented – circa 17,000 Tweets from Turkey every minute at time of writing. I’m afraid it doesn’t make Erdogan look strong or powerful, more like clueless and inept.
Here’s one the many ways you can bypass the Turkish ban on Twitter –
The more the numbers spiral out of control, the more ineffective both the ban looks and also how powerless the leader who implemented it appears. It also adds your name to the list of others who have attempted to do the same, hugely successful leaders in places like Iran, Iraz, Egypt, Syria and North Korea. Of course when we say leaders, the list is actually one of dictators, democratically elected people don’t generally try and repress free speech. It is widely expected that the Prime Minister is intending to continue his tirade against these sites, so you may need a Facebook unblocker in Turkey as well soon.
The block will only really affect people who don’t use Twitter anyway, and have no real desire to use one of the workaround. Although human nature being what it is, probably many will suddenly sign on to see what they’re not supposed to see. Many think this could be the beginning of the end for Erdogan, not only has he attempted to repress talk of corruption but he’s done it badly – making himself look completely impotent and powerless in the process. He also is starting to look as guilty of hell with his rantings of moral outrage at the evil forces of erm Twitter and Facebook. A great country, with fantastic friendly people for the moment stuck with a dodgy, shifty leader – they deserve better. Especially Berkin Elvan, the young boy killed by the Turkish security services firing on protesters, whilst he went to buy bread.
I’d noticed that my favorite security program Identity Cloaker has recently introduced a range of Russian proxies for us all to use. So just to clarify when you’re using these servers your IP address is listed as being from Russia, and any web site which looks up your location (which the majority do) will be told you’re based in Moscow.
So why do people want to route their traffic through Russia? Well for a start remember if you do use these servers, there are going to be some implications – for instance many spammers, hackers and other dodgy characters route their traffic through Russia. Because of this some web sites, forums and secure sites will often block access to Russian IP addresses, so accessibility isn’t going to be a great reason for using them.
My son pointed one great advantage, in that one of the games sites he uses is called Steam and charges different prices according to your location. It turns out that games purchased from places like Russia and South America are much cheaper than those from the US or Europe for example. So in theory you could connect up with your Russian IP address, buy the game and download it hence saving yourself some cash. I haven’t tried this though and I don’t know if you’d get your license key revoked or anything like that.
Anyway here’s the servers in action in this video announcing the Russian proxy
Other attractions are obviously the security, anyone who is concerned about privacy may prefer to route their connection through Russia safe from the democratic nations spying and internet monitoring programmes like PRISM. Although I’d steer clear of free Russian proxies because of the high risk of criminal usage and issues.