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Free or Paid the VPN Dilemma

We all like free stuff, life can get pretty expensive and the internet usually offers a way to trim a few pennies or cut a few corners. Unfortunately in some cases this can backfire badly and taking the free option with regards to online VPNs is one of those situations.

Firstly when looking for free options for protecting your internet connection and/or bypassing the region blocks that are becoming pervasive online – forget about proxies. THey’re time is pretty much gone in these areas, they were never very secure – apart from a few very expensive ones. Secondly they no longer work for bypassing region locks, almost all media sites now detect and block them with ease. Sure you can still find plenty of free proxies online but there’s no point using them, at best they won’t work and worst you’ll be funnelling all you data through a server controlled by a bunch of identity thieves.

You can’t even watch the BBC now online with a proxy, you’ll need a UK VPN like this to watch the BBC. Seriously stay away from free proxies it’s all risk with no benefit. Which comes to the crux of the matter, with regards using paid or free VPN services – sure there’s always free stuff available online but what’s in it for the owner?

Remember a VPN service is not like a pirated game or a ripped DVD posted online anonymously. It costs money to run a VPN server – bandwidth costs, hardware, support staff and of legal/administrative costs of running these services. If you don’t charge for these then you’re effectively paying thousands to run it for free, and why would anyone do this? Clearly no one does, if you use a free VPN service they have to make money out of you someway. Here is a quick summary of the advantages of a good VPN service

The solution is that you become the product not the VPN service. In order to pay all the costs, you will either be subject to lots of advertising injected into your browsing and internet use (simple to do). Or your internet connection itself will be used, hidden in the terms of conditions of ‘free VPNs’ like Hola is an agreement to let them resell your internet connection whilst you are connected. So while you browse through their service watch Netflix, unknown people will be using their paid service to browse anonymously using your connection and IP address.

Scared? Well you should be imagine inviting a bunch of strangers in to use your internet connection completely anonymously – can you imagine the weirdos you’d get!! Remember anything downloaded would be logged to your IP address. If you’re going to use a free VPN I’d seriously suggest the hassle of advertising and spam inserted into your computer to be a more sensible option than letting a bunch of strangers download porn through your internet connection. Be safe, be sensible.

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The Death of Proxies

I think 2017 has seen the end of the usefulness of proxy servers at least as far as bypassing region locks goes. Of course, proxies are still incredibly useful and most organisations use them to help protect their internal networks and to speed up internet access through their caching. The problem has always been that it’s too easy to detect proxies, and that has limited their usefulness in bypassing blocks. Most of the big media sites have been blocking them for many years, in fact the BBC was the last major broadcaster that didn’t. That changed last year when the BBC started to block not only proxies but also many VPN services too.

It’s not certain why the BBC suddenly started blocking these servers all of a sudden, previously they had been very laid back about their use. Perhaps the fact that literally millions access the BBC site from outside the UK or maybe the need to start maximising the revenue of their shows was to blame, we really don’t know. The reality is that you now need a high quality VPN to access BBC News streaming or the joys of BBC iPlayer and live TV from outside the UK.

People still attempt to find proxies to work with these media sites, but they’re genuinely wasting their time.  It is unlikely that they will become useful for these methods anytime soon.  It’s surprising that even VPNs are becoming marginalised too – the connections are still difficult to detect but media sites are targeting the IP addresses and blacklisting them.  It’s likely that many will start to follow the example of Netflix and block thousands of services by restricting access to residential IP addresses only, this video about the Best VPN for Netflix highlights this issue.

If this happens it will involve a huge shake up in the VPN providers sector. This is because it is relatively simple to set up a decent commercial based VPN service but much more difficult to include residential IP addresses in your infrastructure. This is because the address which are classified as residential are normally only released to home users through their ISPs. Obtaining these addresses for commercial uses are difficult and extremely expensive compared to the commercial addresses.

The hope is that this technological war, leaves a smaller number of VPN services which are better run. There’s no doubt that the majority of these services are both slow, insecure and offer very poor support. This is because most of them are set up simply as a quick method of watching online TV and bypassing region blocks, which means that people

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Get your Brexit News from the BBC

The BBC is highly regarded as one of the most prestigious news agencies in the world.  So if you want to see decent coverage of the ongoing chaos that forms UK politics at the moment, then it’s a very good place to start.  There has been some criticism that the BBC has been showing some pro-European bias with regards to Brexit although that does seem slightly unfair.  For example a recent pro-Euro rally held in the streets of London with over 100,000 people didn’t even get a mention on any of the daily news shows.

Unfortunately though, the BBC and it’s news broadcasts are actually only accessible to people who are UK based.  This is because the website checks your physical location from your IP address as you connect to the site.  The following video explains what happens and what you can do.

As you can see, as soon as you change your address to a UK registered one then the whole BBC site becomes accessible through this BBC VPN. It’s fantastic for those of us who travel a lot and for anyone the BBC represents some of the best TV broadcasting in the world. When you’ve finished watching the BBC (or any other UK TV station), you simply disconnect and your internet connection will revert to normal.

Incidentally it’s worth checking out the other countries servers too, try using Netflix when connected to a US based server. You’ll get redirected to the US version of Netflix which is way better than the german or UK versions with thousands more films and movies.

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A German Proxy Server – How to Get One

So why would anyone want such a thing, why would anyone need a German proxy server?  The reason is that if you have access to such a server then you are able to change your computer to have a different IP address.   This basically ensures that any website you visit will consider your location to be in Germany, and for many sites this makes a huge difference in what you can see.

Here’s a simple demonstration of how your IP address will affect what you see online.  When I’m in the United Kingdom and using a British IP address, this is the version of Google that I see when I fire up a web browser.

UK IP

Now I am going to use a program called Overplay to change my IP address to a German one, like this – simply by selecting one of the German based proxies from their list.

german proxy

From this point I now appear to be somewhere in Germany, simply because of the IP address I have been assigned.  You can see now if I start up my browser and go to Google it will redirect me to the German version of the search engine.  This is because while I am connected to the German proxy server then all my traffic is routed through this server – Google doesn’t speak directly to my PC any more.  The relative speeds to different countries will vary greatly depending on your location – you should use the fastest proxy available in the country you require.

German Address

It’s really that straight forward and in my opinion, having the ability to switch and mask your IP address is becoming more and more important. We’ve mentioned Overplay here, but there’s another extremely sophisticated program called Identity Cloaker which has a vast array of features including the ability to encrypt individual applications and even specific browsers. Here is a video uploaded to Youtube demonstrating how to use German Proxy Server

So Why Would I Want a German Proxy Address?

Which is great, but why would I specifically want the ability to switch to an address in a different country like this?  Well the main reason is that many German based sites are only accessible to those people based in Germany itself.  Many  TV stations, big media channels like Zattoo, Das Erste, Arte or even  Sky TV can only be viewed by people with a German IP address.  It’s kind of like requiring you have a Berlin postal code, before allowing you access,  it would never bother someone actually living in Germany.

However imagine you are a businessman from Berlin travelling abroad or perhaps a student studying in a different country – all your familiar home channels would be blocked to you by default. Perhaps you are an Expat living away from Germany and wanted to access the German DSF channel.  There are loads of reasons and by using a  proxy server like this then you can gain access from anywhere.

If you do need to get yourself a German IP address, I can definitely recommend the company Overplay, they have a huge range of different servers across the world all included in the same subscription – useful for watching different sites in the USA and UK for example.  The software is very easy to use and the cost is much cheaper than most other  proxy/VPN servers.

Updated – 19/11/2017

Further Reading

BBC iPlayer Deutchland/Watch  the BBC in Germany – http://bbciplayerabroad.co.uk/how-to-watch-bbc-iplayer-in-germany/

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Why Doesn’t the BBC Iplayer Work in France

The digital economy is transforming the way we do business and in fact how we live.   All across the world people are using digital tools and technologies in all aspects of their lives.  The digital market is one of the fastest expanding sectors in any economy and it is at the heart of the EU’s plan for the single market.

The European Union had a plan for the digital economy which mirrored it’s goal for trade between the member states.  Despite being based around the internet there are still many barriers and restrictions for both people and businesses.  The goal is to create a digital single market where restrictions and regulations are removed to encourage the development of the digital economy.

One of the goals is to improve access to digital goods and services.   The problem is that  this is not a seamless market, digital goods can be bought in one country and simply not accessible in another.  Take for example the situation with media and online subscriptions, your Netflix subscription will vary in content depending on which physical location you happen to be.

Another relevant example is that of the BBC, all license fee payers are supposed to be able to access the online service run by the BBC.  However if you read this article – How Do I Get the BBC iPlayer in France you’ll discover that in fact it is not accessible over the internet when you connect in France.  It’s the same in any other European country, and perhaps best illustrates the problem.  The fact that a digital product is only available depending on which country you’re in makes something of a mockery of the concept of a free market and movement.

The irony is that access to digital goods and services should be the least  restrictive yet in facts it’s entirely the opposite.  These restrictive rules and practices will only harm the development of the digital economy in the long run and they need rules and regulations which match the technology.

The hope is that there will be a new portability introduced into the single market.  So you’ll be able to subscribe to a French subscription service and be able to access that content anywhere in Europe.  At the moment it’s likely you’d have to pay for the initial  subscription and then pay extra to access from another location or to use a change IP address service to get a French IP address when you were travelling.

 

 

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What is the Best Proxy Switcher Software

One of the problems with standard VPN and proxy programs is that although they add a layer of security in most cases, they also raise a red flag for anyone who looks at their data.  To understand this concept just think of a standard log in your local ISP for an ordinary internet user.  The log will contain a list of all the websites that user visited, files downloaded, servers contacted.  Much of this data is readable, but some will be encrypted such as communication completed through an SSL connection such as banking sites.   However the locations and addresses of the web servers will all be visible.

What’s Different about the Logs of VPN Users?

There’s fundamentally two distinct differences between the logs of a standard user and those of a user who accesses the internet using a VPN service.

  1. Data is encrypted.   All the logs of a VPN user are encrypted, so there is no visible data which is readable by anyone looking a the logs.  This is of course one of the primary reasons people use VPNs to ensure that their communications are private and not accessible by any intermediate such as an ISP or other intermediate with access to this data.
  2. Destinations are hidden.  The log for a traditional user will contain all the server addresses and names that they visit.  However for the VPN user there will be only a single address visible – that of the VPN server that is being accessed.

There’s nothing wrong with this situation however the second point means that in some ways the VPN users data will stand out from the rest.  The repeated requests for a single unique address will mark out that connection as related to a VPN or proxy.  In some ways this is exactly the opposite effect that the VPN user desires, they still have more privacy than a non-protected user but their data is highlighted because it all travels through a single location.  There is a further issue that if anyone wanted full unencrypted logs, these would be accessible from one single location – the VPN server (although it should be highlighted that most of these servers don’t store the logs anyway).

So what are the options for a VPN user how can they stop their data from standing out and protect against the fact that it is all potentially available from a single source.  Well what a few of the more secure VPN providers have done is incorporate the best proxy switching software into their connections, like Identity Cloaker which offers the ability to switch the servers used automatically.  Identity Cloaker has a proxy switcher feature which automatically changes the server used for the VPN connection.  It can be triggered automatically, to switch between different servers, countries or physical locations after a specified duration.

This means that you could configure your connection to switch from a VPN server in the UK after ten minutes to switch to a US server, then a French one and so on.  Your data would never be accessible on a single location and the logs although still completely encrypted would now look much more like any other user with different connections being made to different servers over time.

 

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Netflix Blocking Proxies and VPNs

For years people have been using proxies and VPNs not only for security but to bypass the increasing number of filters and blocks that exist online.   In the internet’s early days, these didn’t really exist – if you put up a web page you allowed everyone to access it.   Obviously there were some exceptions but on the whole most sites were accessible to all, irrespective of your location.   Those days have long gone now, with Government’s increasingly operating their own filters and censorship ranging from the ridiculous total block of North Korea to the lighter touch of Western democracies.

In fact, most filtering is now done by the websites themselves usually in the cause of profit maximisation.  Most of the world’s biggest media sites for example will analyse your physical location before deciding what you can access, the internet is pretty much multi-tiered.   Which is why being able to bypass these artificial restrictions is so important to many people – and why Netflix blocking proxies and VPNs is upsetting so many people.

You see, for years people have been paying for a Netflix subscription in countries where it’s technically not available.   There were an estimated quarter of a million Netflix subscribers in Australia years before it was even launched there, people just fired up an American based VPN and access the US site instead.  They all paid, they all had valid subscriptions except without a VPN they’d have had to fly to the US to use them.   Now Netflix has launched in many more countries, except there’s still a problem – the quality and quantity of movies available varies widely.   For example none of the regional versions of Netflix are anywhere near as good as the US one despite the costs being pretty much identical.   So the VPN was still used to access the preferred version of Netflix not the one foisted upon you due to your location.

Unfortunately in the last few weeks this has changed and the vast majority of VPNs and proxies no longer work with Netflix – they are blocked almost completely.   Netflix have adopted a different approach to most media companies who try and individually block VPNs, they have blocked all commercial IP addresses – just watch this quick video.

As you can see to bypass Netflix’s blocks you must not only use a VPN service but it must also originate from residential classified IP addresses – the one’s that are normally assigned from your ISP. These are unfortunately much more difficult to acquire than commercial addresses which is why most VPNs topped working as they were all based in commercial datacentres. Everyone using a VPN or a proxy would receive a warning message instead of being able to access the Netflix site.

It is quite an aggressive move though and many more people use commercial IP addresses without intending to bypass any blocks. Lots of corporate laptops for example use a VPN as standard simply because of the added security, anyone trying to watch Netflix from their work PC will also be blocked. IN fact Netflix is in some ways stopping the use of what is actually a sensible and secure way of accessing the internet. Using a VPN is pretty much essential for people who want to access secure sites while travelling for example.

How many of these companies are able to adapt to using residential IP addresses is unclear at the moment. Overall Netflix has currently succeeded in stopping access from the vast majority of services, there are a few like Identity Cloaker which have updated their infrastructure but it is a costly experience.

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Netflix Launches Polish Service

Netflix one of the world’s largest online media services has announced a new phase in it’s expansion plans.  It comes at a time when for the first time in it’s history, Netflix is seeing a slowdown in subscriber growth.   One of the reasons, although there are several, is the fact that currently Netflix mainly provides English language content.  Although this is the biggest worldwide market it does limit it’s appeal in many countries.

netflix-block-vpn

Poland is one of those places, although it represents one of the biggest TV markets in Europe – English language programmes are a relatively niche market without widespread appeal.   This situation is repeated in many countries across the world where Netflix has provided the service but has yet to see any real expansion.   The media giant has decided to ‘go local’ and is using Poland as a pilot for it’s new phase of expansion.

The media giant aims to provide 80% of the content on it’s Polish version of Netflix in the Polish language.  That is either the audio dubbed into Polish or Polish subtitles provided on all English films, movies and shows.  It is hoped that this will greatly improve the appeal of the service and indeed maybe even lead to a surge in subscribers from the UK who already use a Polish proxy to access domestic TV stations like TV which are also region locked.

If successful we can see this being expanded into other regions where the take up on English language versions of Netflix is poor.  Expansion into places like China would obviously be a likely step but also boosting already available regions in South America and Japan who have some local content but it is largely English language content.

Netflix have also commissioned several shows from local talent including a few stand up comics and entertainers from Poland in a further effort to produce a more local version.   It also hopes that this will help to stop current subscribers from switching versions by changing their IP address, although Netflix has already been blocking access to with it’s well publicised Netflix VPN ban(story), there are still millions of subscribers who don’t stick to their region locked version of the service.

This however is likely to continue until Netflix is able to finally produce a standard global service which is accessible to all irrespective of the location they are in.   For example it’s obviously unfair for Canadian subscribers to pay the same price for a small percentage of the content available across the US border.

 

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New Proxy Sites 2016

In days gone by, the search for proxies was a legitimate one – there were lots around although once found most soon became overloaded.  It’s a similar situation today, you can still search for new proxy sites 2016 but in reality if they’re free they’ll be fairly useless and utterly slow.

proxy-154719_640

So why do people still search for new proxies online? Well to some extent it’s misinformation – thinking that proxies can bypass firewalls, content filters and the ubiquitous region locks that most internet media sites enforce.   You think you can access the US version of Netflix using a proxy or download BBC shows to your hard drive – think again, those days are long gone.

Proxies are now fairly useless in all these instances, virtually every media site can detect and block them automatically and even the most antiquated content filter will detect and restrict them and they offer more security risks than benefits too.   On the client side, there’s very little point in using a proxy in 2016 although they still have value on the server side.   To take control of your surfing you really need something a little more advanced such as a SSH tunnel or VPN.

The problem is that although proxies were freely available, mostly left open by accident, VPNs take time and effort to configure and support.  They also cost a significant amount of money – so there are no free VPNs available (beware some pretend they are, but reuse your connection to fee paying customers like Hola).   Unfortunately those days of grabbing a bunch of free proxies to access Facebook at work or streaming the BBC Olympics to your PC while lazing next to a Spanish swimming pool.

In fact you even need to take care on choosing which VPN you use, because even when paying many won’t even work for bypassing even the most simplistic region locks.  If correctly configured they are still difficult to detect however many of the basic VPN providers don’t do this correctly – failing in the basic configuration steps required to maintain the anonymity of a VPN.

So it’s probably not worth anyone’s time searching for proxies any more, if you need to bypass a block or access a site – start checking out VPNs and SSH tunnels as these are what’s required.  Remember they cost a lot of money to run and must be configured properly, so there are no free ones available.  Any that look free are either subsidized by advertising which is fine, or some re-use your connection while you are connected which is a very, very bad idea.

 

 

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UK Proxy Sites

Many people discover when  they go on holiday or start travelling that the internet changes depending on where you happen to be.  Of course some of it is expected, fire up Google using an access point in a  Spanish cafe and you’ll not be surprised to find the Spanish version.  What happens is that Google looks up your location and redirects you to the most appropriate version of the search engine interface – in this case Google.es.

This makes sense and is actually quite useful but unfortunately the same technology is used in other ways.   It called geotargetting and basically when you visit a web site it takes your IP address and looks up what location it’s registered to, this is then used to either tailor, block or filter what you can see on that site.      This is where the problem lies when a US citizen tries to access a US only site from a foreign country they’ll get blocked.   Someone from the UK on holiday who logs on to the BBC iPlayer site expecting to watch the news online will also get blocked.

The list is endless, more and more sites are operating in this way meaning what you access from your home country will vary widely when you travel.   However there is a way of bypassing these filters and accessing any site, you can watch the BBC from Greece using a UK proxy site to hide  your location.

Here’s a simple explanation of how it’s done:

However we should clarify something, in the video above the program was not actually connecting to a UK proxy online, the server actually was something called a VPN server. It works in a similar way to a proxy but is much more difficult to detect. As of this year, most of the biggest media sites block access is you attempt to use a proxy server in order to bypass their blocks. VPN (virtual private network) servers are much more difficult to detect and block than proxies.

It’s probably too early to guess where this battle is going to head. Many of us hope that these companies block this practice of segregating web users by their location, although as it helps maximize profits this may never happen.