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.
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.
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.
Well that’s sounds a mouthful but using something to hide and route your IP address is one of the most useful tools you’ll find online. An IP proxy is simply a server which routes all your internet requests and forwards them on, it’s a little like using a separate mailing address – everything works the same but nobody finds out your real address. The server just receives your request for a web page and forwards it, then when the reply is received that’s passed on to you. No information is changed or modified, yet your privacy is maintained.
There are numerous advantages to this, but certainly privacy is one of the important one. Most websites now record and analyse all their visitors, plus your web traffic is also logged at your ISP. How many logs and who can access them is usually reliant on the location of your ISP and the target server, but let’s face it the US and American Intelligence agencies don’t really bother with things like that. As long as you trust the owner of the IP proxy then it adds a significant layer of privacy to your connection.
Here’s a quick video which demonstrates a US IP proxy in action:
You can see that there is another important function available to routing your address through another server, basically the ability to access content which is normally blocked. For instance in our example the user is based in the UK, and so everything he does online is based on that location. This is fine for accessing UK based resources but when trying to access US web sites it becomes a bit more problematic. So you’ll see one minute you can happily be watching Test Match Special or Dr Who on the BBC iPlayer, but try and switch to catch an episode of the Walking Dead on HBO and you’ll be blocked. Same goes for Pandora, Hulu, NBC and virtually any US media site worth watching.
So this is where routing your address through an IP proxy comes in handy. If you switch to one based in the USA you’ll effectively have a US IP address irrespective of where you happen to be physically located. Suddenly all the US based web sites, any American only videos become accessible – you’ve effectively changed your internet nationality with a click of a button. Of course, it’s fairly ridiculous that this is even necessary using a global medium like the internet, but sadly it’s becoming more and more segregated as the big multi-nationals try and split up their markets to maximise profits.
On a final note, there are many different technologies that support IP routing however almost all of these now are detectable (and blocked) by the big websites. Make sure whatever service you choose is a VPN that encrypts your initial connection. These cannot currently be detected as long as they’re configured correctly although the biggest media companies like Netflix actively block these service manually.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Like everything in life, with computer security you get what you pay for. Unfortunately most people don’t look at things like this and usually pick based on the nearest to free that they can get. Take for example Anti Virus programs, there are literally millions of people who use free or very cheap services who have about as much chance of stopping your computer being infected with malware as my grandmother does of setting up a wireless access point (i.e none whatsoever). This attitude will only really change if they suffer the extreme hassle both in time and money of having their computer infected and possibly their personal accounts raided too.
It’s the same using a VPN (virtual private network), people think that they are all the same and if you are using a VPN then your internet connection is both secure and private – which is a long way from the truth. Have a look at this video for some introduction – Most Secure VPN Service
The points are important, logging (or lack of it is crucial), if you use a VPN which doesn’t deal adequately with the logs then you are safer without using them. Worst still VPN costs lots of money to run and support, some free proxies and VPNs are not run by some wealthy, benevolent technology company (surprise, surprise). They are run on hacked servers by cyber criminals who offer the service because it’s a simple way to steal all your credentials and help them selves to your bank accounts or identity.
VPNs do offer security, they do offer a level of protection that is unparalleled on the internet but only if they’re on properly configured hardware and run by technically competent staff- which of course costs money. Before you connect to that free proxy or VPN ask yourself this –
why is this company or person paying thousands of dollars a month to provide me with a completely free secure VPN service?
Hopefully if you’re over 15 then it might occur to you that there’s another agenda. Stay safe, don’t use free proxies and VPNs they could end up costing you big time.
This month saw the global expansion of Netflix move into potentially one of it’s biggest markets – yes Japanese Netflix has arrived. It’s often surprised people who have been watching Netflix for years when they touch down in Tokyo that the Netflix button on their phone or media device stops working. After all the Japanese love movies and TV, there’s a fast internet infrastructure across most of the country and a high disposable income.
Why has it taken so long? Well many point to the struggles of Hulu who tried to enter the Japanese market about four years ago and never really got started. The fact is that Japanese viewing habits are actually quite dated, with some reluctance to pay for online entertainment services. Japan has several high quality national broadcasting channels(similar to the BBC) run by NHK and quite a few funded by direct advertising.
Also in Japan, people still rent much of their entertainment on DVDs and BluRay unlike places like the USA and Europe. It is perhaps why Netflix has been biding their time and building up enough Japanese content to support the new service. Well it looks encouraging, and for those outside Japan the majority of Netflix is still in English, some title with subtitles but there appears to be lots of new Japanese content and of course the anime section is packed to bursting.
It’s probably going to change a lot over the next few years but looks good value for Japanese subscribers at something like $5 a month. For those of us who subscribe to Netflix in another country, there is a way to check out the Japanese Netflix if you want to see what’s there. I am hoping to discover a treasure trove of those wonderful old Japanese science fiction/monster movies which I love to watch.
But of course, Japanese Netflix as usual is geo-restricted – that is locked to those people with a Japanese IP address. So to bypass this, here’s a video demonstrating one method of watching Japan Netflix from anywhere in the world.
As you can see, it’s not even necessary to change your IP address completely to a Japanese one (which saves redirect your browsing to downtown Tokyo at the same time). Using a Smart DNS proxy server like the one offered by Overplay you can simply redirect through their control panel to whichever version of Netflix you want. I have’t investigated fully what different stuff is on the Japanese Netflix but I’ll bet there’s some hidden gems there even for English speakers.
There’s no doubt that as our use of the internet grows then so do the risks. Computer based crimes such as identity theft are growing at a staggering rate, with huge criminal gangs all over the world expanding into this area.
Anyone is a potential victim however, there are some simple steps you can take to minimize the risk. This video shows you some of the very basic things you can do to help keep you safe.
If you want to go further, there are of course lots of other measures you can take, the use of VPNs or learn how Smart DNS works to hide your identity too.
The reality is that these very basic, simple steps hugely reduce your changes of becoming a victim. The reason being is that online criminals focus on the various easiest targets, simply by keeping your system up to date and never clicking on links in emails will make you much safer.