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Why Do People Search for Proxy Sites?

So why do people search for new proxy sites constantly?  Often the reason is that they’ve heard that free proxies will make them surf like a web ninja and be able to bypass all the blocks and filters that currently exist online.  Alas both of these are  very far from the truth.
proxy sites
The problem with these proxies is that firstly many of them are extremely insecure (lots are actually run by criminals who want to steal usernames and passwords),  the other is that they are  slow and unreliable simply because they’re overloaded and not configured correctly.  Free proxies sound good, but nobody who know anything about the risks would ever use them.

But first of all it’s best to define what exactly is a proxy server. Often people have a completely false idea of what it entails.

In a practical context a proxy server is a computer that acts as an intermediary between a workstation and the internet.  So instead of a request for a web page going directly to the site, the request first goes to the proxy server which downloads the web page and forwards it back to the client.

This has two main implications –

  • The Web server has no record of the workstation’s IP address.
  • The proxy server handles all web requests for the client.

These are the main reasons, proxies are used to enhance your online privacy.  They effectively add a layer of anonymity to your web browsing ensuring the web site you visit has no record of your location.

Unfortunately it’s not that clear cut and the main issue that many people forget is that in some senses you are actually adding a layer of risk to your browsing.  The reason is that although your IP address is not logged on the web site you visit (which should only see the proxy)  it is logged on the proxy server itself.  In fact the proxy server potentially holds a complete and total list of your entire browsing history.

This is the reason that hackers and cyber criminals set up free proxies online and let anyone use them.  It’s not some sense of free spirit or egalitarian ideals, it’s because the owner of a proxy is potentially able to intercept all the user’s web transactions.  So they become a handy source of usernames, account details and passwords from the unsuspecting users of the proxy.

Of course not all the free proxies available online are run by hackers and thieves, some are just accidentally left open or occasionally even set up for no gain.  These however soon get flooded with users and hence people find themselves locked into this constant search for the latest free proxies which have not yet been overloaded.

When a new proxy server initially  appears online, it is pretty quickly well known and very well used – within hours it will be overloaded and too slow to use. Hence the search, if you find a proxy quickly you can get a few hours use of it.  What’s worse the scourge of geo-targeting means that people will often need a server in a specific location, perhaps a US one or a German proxy site dependent on what they want to access and their current location.

The reality is now that basic proxies aren’t enough any more, even commercial ones.  Many of the big media sites can detect the use of simple proxy sites.  To stay secure and to bypass geotargeting on the BBC Iplayer, Hulu, Netflix and Youtube you need to include a level of encryption too.  So you’d be best moving on from simple proxies with all their inherent risks and look at security products like Identity Cloaker which offer a secure VPN solution which keeps all your browsing private and encrypted whilst allowing access to all the world’s top media channels.

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US Media Needs Quick American Proxies

I’m forever being asked about free proxies or VPNs, because it’s the internet and you can find everything for free somewhere – right?  Well although that’s true that you can download pirated games and films, stream pirated copies of music and cracked versions of computer software.  However there’s a fundamental difference with proxies and VPN servers and such material – that is they cost money to supply and keep running.  Every single byte of data passing through these servers incurs a cost, plus if they are going to be safe and not siphon off your personal details or riddle your PC with viruses, they need ongoing support from technical staff.

It all costs money and without a subscription charge it’s simply doesn’t make sense.   So that free proxy server you found online is either hacked or being used to install malware or steal your login credentials.  Want to swap the use of a proxy for free access to your Paypal and email account ?  Well that’s effectively what you’re doing using these proxies and VPNs that you can find online for free.

There is another reason, not to use free servers apart from the security risk and that’s speed.  Even ignoring the privacy concerns anything available for free is going to run like it’s connected to an dial up 28.8k modem, if you remember these you ain’t going to want to relive the experience.   Without speed connecting your entire online experience through an intermediate server is going to be very, very painful and streaming video is just not going to work.  To access the wonderful world of American based media sites for example you’ll need a fast USA proxy to maintain sanity.

This video demonstrates how to access the AMC site which has some of my favorite shows – including the Walking Dead. This streams perfectly across private proxy services that had enough bandwidth and throughput without endless buffering. There’s nothing to stop you trying to find a fast, free proxy service of course, and you might argue that if you only stream videos and don’t access anything confidential you’ll be ok. The reality is that the risks will still exist but you won’t actually find a fast one anyway.

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Does Internet Crime Pay?

Too right it does!  For anyone who thinks cyber crime is just a tabloid headline or a story spread by scaremongering geeks is I’m afraid very much mistaken – cyber crime is rife and pays extremely well.   Forget about the big million dollar stuff, it’s small to moderate stuff that the smarter crooks are targeting – in many cases it doesn’t even get reported as companies are reluctant to admin security breaches.

Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Centre

Here’s a very recent example that happened to a private medical centre in Hollywood, USA.  The Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Centre has just paid a $17,000 ransom to a hacking group who installed malware on their computer systems which then encrypted key files.  There are limited details of the exact nature of the attack, but it is believed that it was  simply a classic ransomware exploit.

Ransomware is  simple but very effective malicious software which usually operates in a couple of main ways – it’s focus is denying access rather than actually stealing data.

  • Screen Locking – the malware will lock your computer screen or prevent you logging in, effectively stopping all access to the computer.  It’s often accompanied with a request for a ‘fine or donation’ payment to remove the screen lock.
  • Encryption – this won’t touch your computer system or applications but will encrypt data files effectively blocking your access to them.  The ransomware will usually offer to sell you the decryption key

The screen lock type is usually fairly simple to bypass if you have some knowledge and the right tools. However to decrypt the files you’ll need the private key which was used to encrypt them in the first place.

Which is why the hospital was forced to pay the ransom, despite the obvious problems with that tactic. Happily the decryption key was supplied and the hospital was able to recover it’s system and data with the help of some IT experts. Generally the criminals who use ransomware do honour the deal as it encourage future victims to pay.

It’s a good payday though for the hackers for what is likely to be little more than a few hours work. Attackers will generally pick soft targets with poor security to attack, so it’s unlikely it was that difficult to install the malware on their network.

For the attackers though. it’s the forensic investigation that is the most dangerous part of the crime.   Covering your tracks after committing a network based attack and ransom is extremely difficult to do properly, sure you can install the malware over a Tor Connection or use a safe VPN in a remote country. However you have to maintain this level of obscurement throughout the attack, specialist investigators can glean lots of information from a variety of advanced forensic tools. The FBI and US security services are notoriously aggressive in pursuing computer criminals across international borders too.

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How to Access the BBC from France

It’s only a few miles across the Channel, but for thousands of UK Expats – it means the difference between watching UK TV and getting blocked. All the British TV Stations have invested heavily in their websites and they rebroadcast most of their programmes on these sites for several weeks. There are some slight restrictions, often films and US shows are subject to strict licensing agreements so they will normally be excluded.

The reason that you will get blocked from the BBC and all the UK Television channels in France is down to something called geo-blocking. This is the practice of checking the IP address of any visitor to the site and then using that to determine what access they are allowed. The BBC is funded by the UK TV License so, it assumes that anyone outside the UK hasn’t actually bought one, which is of course often not true.

BBC IPlayer with French IP Address

This is what happens if you try and access a show from France or anywhere outside the United Kingdom. The BBC looks up your location, detects the French IP address and then blocks access to the media streamer. The site has no way of determining whether the visitor does actually pay for a UK TV license, so UK holidaymakers and travellers are similarly blocked. These restrictions are expected to change in the long term though as the European Union is trying to create a single European digital market which allows products to be transferred across boundaries within the EU.

Fortunately this is the internet and of course, there are a few simple workarounds to allow anyone to access the BBC from France, Germany or anywhere else for that matter. This video demonstrates how you can access using something called a proxy server to hide your location –

So What’s Happening?

Well this method simply involves hiding your real location by routing your internet connection through something called a proxy server. All this server does is forward and receive internet requests, but effectively hides your real location from the website you are using. This means that as long as the proxy server is based in the United Kingdom, then the website will think you are in the UK too so it will all word. If you have a selection of servers strategically placed in various different locations then you can effectively bypass all these various blocks and access whatever you like irrespective of your location.

Needless to say many of these sites are not very happy about this practice and over the years lots of them have implemented systems to detect and block the use of proxy servers. They still work on a few sites but that number is slowly dwindling, fortunately there is another very similar option which is much harder to detect called a Virtual Private Network.

A VPN operates in much the same way as a proxy server except there the communication takes place over a secure, encrypted channel – most web sites are currently unable to detect the use of a VPN. So if you want to watch the UK TV channels such as the BBC from France then investing in a British VPN like this one is probably your best option.

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Geolocation Costs you Money

THe internet is by far the biggest global market place that the world has ever seen, but it’s far from the fairest. Across the world one of the goals of economic development has been the operation of free trade, opening up markets across geographical and social divides. Of course, it doesn’t always work like this but to be fair in the infancy of the internet it came pretty close.

When sites like Amazon where in their infancy, it was quite simple to order from a different country with relatively few restrictions. I routinely used to order computer software and hardware from Amazon in France simply because it was often 20-30% cheaper than Amazon prices on their UK site. After a few years most of the sites blocked this behaviour and it became much more difficult to access regional versions of different web sites.

The reason that the internet has become so segmented is primary due to an economic concept called price discrimination.
Here’s how it’s defined on Wikipedia –
Price discrimination is a pricing strategy where identical or largely similar goods or services are transacted at different prices by the same provider in different markets

Basically to maximise profits, a company seeks to try and sell it’s product or service at different prices to different markets. Often this is difficult to do, simply because you have to keep these markets completely separate. Initially the internet made markets more accessible, and consumers used the technology to cross the geographical barriers – however now using a technology called geo-location the barriers are rising again.

Most commercial websites determine your location when you try and access their pages, they look up your IP address and then redirect you based on your location. So if you visit the BBC from outside the UK you’ll be redirected to the international version which doesn’t have any of the iPlayer functionality. So it continues – videos, films, goods and services blocked, filtered or offered at different prices according to where you logon to the web.

Unsurprisingly, this behaviour is not entirely popular and there are a myriad of technologies designed to circumvent these blocks with one of the simplest is by using proxies. Take for example if you want to access UK content but happen to be based somewhere outside the UK – by using an English proxy like the one in this video you can fool the website.

The basic idea is that if you route your internet connection through a proxy server based in a different location, then the web site thinks you are in that country too. Hence you can use an English based proxy to access UK content or sites, a French proxy to use French sites and so on. There are now even services which offer multiple proxies in a variety of countries which you can buy – like this.

The companies obviously are not happy with these services and indeed a ‘cat and mouse’ game of them blocking various proxies and VPNs addresses, then the providers switching IP address and data centres.

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An Alternative to a UK IP Proxy

Proxies have been the ‘must have’ tool for anyone who wants unrestricted and unfettered access to the internet for years.  In July 2007, the BBC launched the iPlayer application on to the internet as a ‘free catch up service’ for UK TV license payers.  A few days later thousands were already accessing the service from all over the planet, many who had never even heard of a TV license fee never mind paid it.

To be fair, the BBC has always been fairly laid back about blocking access to it’s TV services.  The official line has been that you can’t access without a) a TV license and b) being located in the UK, however this is rarely the case with no millions watching from all over the world – making the BBC a hugely important global media giant.  A very simple proxy is all you ever needed until recently to access the BBC iPlayer service.   In fact you only ever needed it until the programme started streaming to your computer, switching off the proxy was perfectly possible after the initial location checks had taken place.

Advancements have led to more sophisticated VPN based services like this one, which open up global media even more allowing you to switch your connection through a long list of different locations as you require.  However there has always been one issue, the fact that all these services have been much easier to use on a computer. The fact is that we no longer all sit at a powerful PC to access the online world, now we use all sorts of different devices like phones, games consoles and a myriad of other gadgets.  These devices can be difficult to use a VPN or proxy on, indeed some are deliberately locked down to prevent their use.

So there are now newer technologies which you can use to access blocked content.  If you want to watch the BBC iPLayer from your Spanish residence then you no longer need to try ad configure a UK IP proxy on your Smart TV you can use this –

As you can see from this video, there is no requirement here for a proxy or connection to a VPn server based somewhere. This technology is called Smart DNS and is explained on this site, but it basically works by only routing the location based queries through an intermediary proxy server everything else just streams directly.

There are numerous advantages to this method, for one it’s cheaper as the bandwidth costs are significantly reduced. However the major advantage in this world of internet connected devices is that it’s much easier to configure on things like media streamers, smart TVs and games consoles. The reason is that it doesn’t require any client based software like a VPN, and configuration needs only a change of DNS servers. At the moment this network configuration is openly accessible on most devices and modification requires no technical knowledge at all.

It’s too early to say that Smart DNS will see the demise of proxies and VPNs certainly in the media blocking world. Certainly there are restrictions, Smart DNS provides no layer of security and it could be that it is ultimately much easier to block from the media companies themselves. We’ll have updates on the developments at thenewproxies.com though so watch this space.

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Some Initial Steps to Secure Your WordPress Site

Like anything securing your wordpress site can completely take over your life, however for most people the reality is that a couple of quick, simple and free steps will eliminate the majority of attacks on your site. As anyone who has experienced a successful attack, it can be extremely frustrating and time consuming to clean up an infected site so it’s worth taking a little time to put some simple security precautions in place.

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As mentioned this is not a complete list, if you search online you’ll literally find hundreds more security steps you can take but in reality most attacks are based on the ‘low hanging fruit’ concept. If your site is more secure than most then they’ll move onto the next target, in reality many of the hackers have limited technical ability.

So what can you do to secure your site?

First step – is never use the default admin user account. Go into your wordpress user settings and create a new administrator account with a new username, also make sure it is completely unrelated to your site. So stay away from generic ‘admin’ type names or those with your site name in the username. Many attacks will involve brute forcing the default username – so if it doesn’t exist you’ll already be more secure than the majority of default instalation websites. Choose a longish, obscure administrator name and you’ll go a long way to securing your site.

Second Step – passwords. Yeah, sure it’s obvious but it’s surprising how many people neglect this step – make it longish, include non standard characters like hashes or symbols and throw in a number or too that you can remember easily. The most common attacks on wordpress sites are trying to brute force the admin account, which means just trying huge combinations of usernames and passwords to ‘guess’ the right ones. The first two steps should make this substantially more difficult.

Third Step – Keep your wordpress installation up to date. That goes the same for any themes and plugins, if security risks are found the updates will hopefully close them. If you run old versions of software you’re probably running with a built in security hole.

Fourth step – you should try and minimise the number of plugins you install on your wordpress site simply because each one introduces a potential security risk. However there is one free wordpress plugin that is definitely worth using for security purposes. Although there is a paid version too, the free version of Wordfence is pretty good. You can use it to scan your wordpress installation to check for malware or infected files, plus it can automatically monitor and block logins. It works great against brute force attacks because after several failed logins it will automatically block the IP address, this means that the attacked would have to keep rotating their IP address to keep the attack going which requires a huge investment in VPNs and proxies to break the average login credentials. Download Wordfence and run it on all your sites.

That’s it, not I’m not suggesting this is the complete checklist for securing wordpress but for someone who has run 40 or so sites now for a decade, these simple steps will protect you against the majority of attacks. If you find a site does get targeted or under constant attack there are many more steps you can take but this is a great starting point.

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The BBC Fights Back – Blocking VPNs

Have you ever noticed that all the free stuff on the internet is becoming harder to find? The web used to be awash with all sorts of wonderful content available to everyone, no restrictions and costing absolutely nothing. It epitomised the free sharing ethos of the internet and there were some incredible resources made available to anyone in the world. Perhaps it’s my older, cynical side but that really doesn’t seem to be the case any more. Sure there are still some great, uncensored and filtered sites available but they seem to be coming rarer by the day.

Even for those sites which weren’t always accessible for whatever reason, there was usually a quick and simple alternative or workaround. Take the following situation, I had to spend a few months in Australia last year and after a few weeks watching Aussie TV began to miss the BBC and the other UK TV stations. Now although the BBC iPlayer is normally blocked outside the UK there were usually methods to access BBC iPlayer in Australia. Ok, so some of these were a little underhand but there were even legitimate, official options.

For instance you could hop over to the official BBC iPlayer Global channel on YouTube which had lots of great content, although now you’ll just find the following message –

BBC Global iPlayer is is now closed. We would like to thank all of our subscribers for using the service.

Yep the miserable so and so’s have closed that YouTube channel and stopped posting programmes there. You could also find lots of ahem ‘unofficial’ copies of shows posted on YouTube as well, these have all mysteriously disappeared in a swarm of copyright infringement notices. No worry there’s still options, you can fire up a proxy server or buy a VPN online for a few bucks and your problem was solved, again that’s now not nearly as simple.

The reality is that in common with most of the big media sites online, free unfettered access to content is a thing of the past. The BBC iPlayer is following the trend and spending a lot of time and effort in restricting access to their site from anywhere outside the UK at least without paying lots of money first. There are commercial versions of the site being launched of course but usually cut down versions with high subscription costs. The BBC are now even actively blocking commercial VPN services something that they have always turned a blind eye to previously. Now many of the more high profile commercial ‘watch TV’ VPN services are locked in a seemingly never ending battle with the people who run the Beeb’s IT infrastructure. They block the IP address of the VPN services, and then the VPN companies desperately switch servers to try and avoid the restrictions for their customers.

In reality this battle is one that you can probably avoid by making sure you pick a more low-key VPN service which doesn’t advertise BBC and TV watching as their primary use. All the VPN services will allow access to the BBC if they’re not blocked so just find a ‘security’ focussed one and you should be good to go. Who knows where it will end though, the reality is that these services can still be blocked quite easily if the techies start looking at numbers and figures of users connecting on specific IP addresses.

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He’s Using a Proxy Server

Although people who use Programs like Identity Cloaker obviously have a much higher level of privacy and security than anyone else, there are still certain limitations that the truly paranoid should be aware of. If for example you use a proxy or VPN from the confines of another network (perhaps corporate or academic) there are still logs created just like when using an ISP.

The logs are generally created to monitor access to the internet and would normally consist of client address (your computer or device) and the server address (the web site or resource you are visiting). In addition there would normally be more specific information regarding specific files, web pages or resources accessed. If you use a proxy or VPN server however this changes slightly as we can read below.

Instead of listing all the web sites and the addresses of those servers, when you are using a proxy or VPN the only remote address that will be listed is that of the proxy itself. No other information will be available if using a VPN (a necessity for encryption) just the single address. This in itself causes a little problem in that if the logs files are analysed it is possible to deduce that the connection consists of a proxy or VPN server simply because of the existence of a single address.

IN order to mitigate this, then this address should be rotated so that the connection simulates a normal web connection. The following video demonstrates how to achieve this with an IP Rotator.

When this function is enabled in Identity Cloaker, the address of the remote connection would change periodically simulating the function of a normal web browser and making the use of a VPN much less visible. Remember though although people with the right skills carefully analysing the logs could determine that a VPN might be being used, they would be unable to determine any more information than that especially is an IP address rotator program or script is being used.

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Netflix and the Smart DNS Fight

SMart DNS is the innovative new technology designed to stop ordinary people getting blocked from their favorite web sites. Many of us discover these blocks when travelling or on holiday, for me it happened years ago when I tried to log onto the BBC website to watch the news and was told because I was not in the UK I couldn’t watch it. I was annoyed, I paid my license fee at home so why should it matter where I happened to be.

Nowadays it’s even more common and in fact most of the larger web sites use geo targeting or blocking to some extent. I certainly don’t think there is a big media site that allows unfettered access to their content to the whole world. Smart DNS changed this and offered an alternative to the usual fix of connecting through a VPN server. Smart DNS doesn’t route your whole connection it just filters the location specific requests and therefore has little impact on your own connection.

If you want to see how Smart DNS works – then this video illustrates how it can be used to bypass these blocks.

As you can see the only modification required is to the DNS settings on your device which is why Smart DNS is so much easier to implement on different devices like Smart Phones, media streamers and even Smart TVs. Unfortunately there does seem to be a downside which has been illustrated by the efforts of Netflix to block use of Smart DNS servers and codes.

The first efforts were successful although not completely, Netflix started to roll out updates to the various Netflix interfaces on device like the Roku. These updates hard codes the addresses of public DNS servers like Google DNS, which meant that any DNS settings you configured would be ignored as the servers were already hardcoded in the the device. This stopped SMart DNS working with Netflix and people were unable to change regions or access Netflix in a country where the media giant hadn’t established a presence. It also was rather unpopular with the owners of these public DNS servers as their servers became flooded with so many DNS requests from millions of devices.

It appeared that they backtracked and removed the static DNS entry requirements. Whether this remains the case, we’ll have to see – Many of the media giants seem more concerned with SMart DNS than they were with VPNs probably because it has the potential to be used on a much wider base of devices and even pre-installed on new hardware without the owners knowledge. Cretainly if the Smart DNS settings are set up a router like this, they’ll effect every device on that network.

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Bye, Bye Proxies – Streaming Television Online

For years, the BBC has been one of the few companies that didn’t seem that bothered about blocking non-UK access to it’s online content. All the big media sites of course restrict access based on your IP address, but some seem to enforce these restrictions more than others. Hulu for instance has always had quite an aggressive stance towards people hiding their IP address to watch from outside the US. This has attitude has slowly seen the simple proxy become less and less useful for bypassing geo-blocks. Most systems now can automatically detect the use of a proxy server and will block this directly.

The BBC has now changed it’s stance completely and now is actively blocking these tactics and a simple proxy server will no longer suffice. This is presumably linked with the BBC having to become rather more aggressive with it’s commercial efforts due to a cut back in public funding. THe BBC has opened a new ‘online store’ where you can buy much of it’s content and downloads individually so allowing millions to watch for free is clearly not in that interest.

But fear not, there are still options and in some cases it’s probably for the best. The problem with proxies were that they were extremely easy to set up but very difficult to secure properly, which meant that the internet was awash with badly configured proxies often installed on hacked servers. To use the hacked servers particularly was extremely risky as they were often used to steal users credentials and data. A VPN is a different story and there are now a whole range of inexpensive, fast VPN services which offer the chance to both secure your connection and bypass geo-blocks. Here’s a simple introduction into one of them on this video – Streaming UK TV from Anywhere.

The program demonstrated is a secure VPN (although can run in different modes) which means that it cannot be detected by all these media sites. You should remember though that nothing is completely undetectable, even when the VPN cannot be detected – they can detect when multiple connections are streaming to specific IP addresses. Most of these VPN services share IP addresses with users because the costs would be much more to provide exclusive addresses to each user.