Many websites have started using VPN blocks as a response to increased popularity of the VPN technology. They used to collect your data to create a better picture of what you might be interested in, what you like, what you dislike, and what ads to bombard you with. VPNs were preventing them from doing that. Some of them provide geo-restricted content, and won’t allow anyone from the “wrong” region to access that content. VPNs have helped with that problem too. Since VPNs seem to be so helpful to users, and so harmful to websites, they started fighting back, and their weapon of choice – VPN blocks.
There are several ways to censor the internet, even though it’s supposed to be a free place for everyone to express themselves. Here are some examples:
The governments of every country in the world are known for trying to control things, including the internet. That’s what they do, whether it’s for social or political reasons or both. The examples of this practice are the Great Firewall of China, and also state censorship in Iran.
Governments also use censorship for copyright reasons. They’ve been known to block websites that are believed to promote piracy, and censorship like this is a well-known thing in Europe, especially in the UK and Russia.
Workplaces are constantly trying to create a safe and productive environment, and that includes blocking a lot of the internet. Whether it’s so that colleagues wouldn’t accidentally (or purposefully) offend or upset each other, or simply so that workers wouldn’t get distracted during the working hours, the fact remains that there are a lot of restrictions on every job where you come in contact with the internet on regular basis.
Schools and colleges
Learning institutions like schools and colleges are known to block a lot of parts of the internet as well, and as long as the pupils are minors, we understand the need to do this, so schools get a free pass this time. But colleges, universities, higher education institutions are attended by adults, and if someone can be trusted with driving a car, you’d think that they can be trusted with an unlimited access to the web. Sadly, it is not so, and now we have universities that are knowingly blocking their students from doing research, only because someone might want to access Facebook during a study break.
It’s understandable if they want to block content that’s connected to porn, drugs and alike, but that also prevents these young adults from finding information on how to protect themselves from those same threats. There’s no easy solution here, but considering the age and mental state of the students, many believe that colleges should cut down on the blocking.
In every parent, there’s an instinct, a natural desire to protect the children. This includes more than just protecting them physically, but also protecting their innocence and giving them a safe childhood. This is sensible, and highly advisable when it comes to young children. However, using censorship does have its side effects. You can’t protect the children forever, and after a certain age, you won’t be doing them a favor by protecting them from some truths. Children need to know, they need to find out what the world is like so that they would be able to take care of themselves one day, and be able to survive such world.
It’s better to teach them of the dangers, show them how the VPNs work and what they are. Your children will be exposed to everything you’re trying to protect them from, and if you don’t do something about it on time, they might not be able to protect themselves, which could only lead to more harm. A child should feel comfortable when it comes to searching for the answers from their parents, and through conversation and explaining things, you have much bigger chance to protect your kids from harm.
Sites that block VPNs and their users
Many websites have started blocking VPN users that are trying to bypass their geo-restrictions. These include US Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and many more. The reason for this are profits, and there’s no way of this changing anytime soon.
Even though there are many countries that are trying to block VPN users, in almost all of them, the use of VPNs is actually not illegal at all. That means that no matter how much they try to block you, you’re still not breaking the law, or doing something illegal. There are some exceptions, though. For example, the UAE has announced that those who are caught using VPNs will face prison time, or will at least have to pay a fine of 2 million UAE Dirham, which is roughly around $500,000.
It’s yet unknown how strongly will this be practiced in reality, but caution is highly advised. And don’t forget, even though the use of a VPN might not be illegal in most countries, that still doesn’t mean that the content you’re trying to get access to isn’t illegal.
Keep in mind that owner of any network has the legal right to restrict what you can use it for, and what you can’t access through it. You might not like it, or think it fair, but this is how it is, and this also includes schools, universities, home networks and office networks as well. As we said, using VPN might not be breaking the law, but if you’re caught using it at work or at the university, you might face some difficulties with the owner of the network. That’s why we advise you to first calculate is it worth using it, and what would your potential punishment be, in case you got caught.
How do these blocks work?
There are several different methods of blocking VPNs, and the most serious of companies often combine a few of them, just to be sure.
With the exception of China, most of the VPN blocks in almost all of the countries were done by ISPs that are acting on country government’s instructions.
Some of these methods include:
Blocking of the access to websites that provide VPNs
If they can block your access to the website where you can get a VPN, then you won’t be able to use them. This method also often means that you can’t even access the websites that are comparing and reviewing the different VPNs, or any other online place that has something to do with internet censorship evading. This is rarely used as a single tactic, and it often serves as an additional method to other ways of blocking VPNs.
Blocking the IP addresses of VPN servers
Discovering the IP addresses that a VPN uses is another way of effectively blocking it. All the website needs to do is discover which IP addresses belongs to servers that a certain VPN provider is using, block those addresses and the VPN user won’t be able to get to the desired content. This is a common method, perhaps even the most used one. Since there are a lot of VPN providers out there, and they all have changing addresses, most websites have only blocked the biggest VPNs, while the smaller ones are still working, unfortunately for the websites in question.
If a website is familiar with the ports that the VPNs are using, the easiest method to disable the VPN is to block the port, and that’s it.
DPI (Deep Packet Inspection)
DPI is a network filter that examines data of packets as it passes through. This method can be used to discover data connected to VPN protocols, which then allows the website that uses DPI to block the VPN. Detection of VPN is the biggest issue with this method.
Solutions for the blocks
This is a pretty simple method that won’t bypass firewalls set by the government, but it should be enough to go around college blocks. It’s an easy solution, and all you need to do is use cellular connection instead of the WiFi and you should be good. Of course, this might lead to greater phone-internet use, which might lead to a more expensive phone bill, but at least you’ll be able to access what you need.
As we mentioned earlier, it’s not that easy for websites to block every single IP address used by every single server owned by every single VPN out there, especially not now, when they’re out of the dark and have become something well known to the public. Many companies, websites, and schools that use IP blocking methods only block the most popular VPNs, and so if you give up on one of those and give an opportunity to one of the smaller ones, you might benefit from it more, since it’ll probably have unrestricted access.
Make your own VPN
This is definitely one of the more extreme options, but if you know how and want to make sure that you do have access to everything, you could, in theory, create your own VPN with your personal server and then use it for accessing blocked content. Of course, you won’t have the benefits of the official VPNs, but if it does the job, it’s worth considering. You can even use a home PC as your server.
If you want to have access to everything you used to have access to after you go to, let’s say, China, you must be prepared. Don’t even think of entering the country without a VPN, since you won’t even be able to unblock Facebook without one. When it comes to our recommendation, you’ll probably have fewer problems with ExpressVPN than with other VPNs, since this is one of the best ones out there, and surprisingly neglected when it comes to blocking.
If you’ve failed to prepare yourself, there are other methods of achieving your goal, or at least accessing VPN providers so that you can get one and use the internet properly.
Tor is one of the best ways of anonymously browsing if you can’t use a VPN. It encrypts your activities and sends them around the world so that it can’t be tracked back to you. This does come at the cost, though, and online streaming, file sharing and downloading things is pretty much out of the question.
This is one of the most popular proxies in China, and it’s widely used to avoid the censorship. It’s pretty much an SOCKS5 proxy that works on most of the major platforms.
Very similar to Shadowsocks, but for iOS.
It came from Tor, but with one major change – a way to deal with blocked exit nodes. Basically, Lahana makes setting new nodes “stupidly easy”, and it was designed to deal with censorship in Turkey, but works in other situations as well.
Combines several different technologies, including SSH, VPN and obfuscation tech, all with a goal of bypassing censorship. Whenever one of the mentioned technologies gets blocked online, you can switch to another one, and do so until you figure out which one will get you by. The good thing about this one is that you can request software deliveries via email, just in case that the website gets blocked. Actually, if you asked, there’s a good chance that most of the VPN providers would do email deliveries.
Change numbers of the port
There are a lot of VPNs that will actually let you change the port they use. This helps with websites that use port block method. Two most popular port choices are TCP port 80 (which is used by regular, unencrypted, HTTP internet traffic, and since blocking this port would mean blocking pretty much the entire internet, it’s almost never done), and TCP port 443 (which is a port used by HTTPS, and since it’s encrypted protocol often used for online commerce, including banking and shopping, it’s almost never blocked). It’s very hard for DPI to spot TCP port 443, which probably makes it a better option.
Many providers will either let you change the port numbers through special software or if not that, then there’s probably an option to at least switch the port number to another one in the Edit section of the VPN application.
SSL tunneling / stunnel
This is a special multi-platform, open source program, and it’s used for creating TLS/SSL tunnels. This is the encryption that is mostly being used by HTTPS, which makes it very hard to tell apart when is the internet traffic sent through one of these a part of regular HTTPS and when it’s a VPN-related thing.
Basically, it’s a cloaking tunnel, that hides the VPN encryption and makes it look like it’s HTTPS, which is a much more acceptable thing. This method requires configuration on your computer and VPN server as well, and it does require a little bit of know-how to make it work properly.
Very similar to SSL, the same method of wrapping your VPN data in order to conceal it, but this time, Secure Shell’s layers are the ones that are doing the wrapping. They’re mostly used for getting access to UNIX systems’ shell accounts, and it’s pretty much only used in business world.
Making it work is a difficult process as well, and requires cooperation with your VPN provider, just like the SSL-one.
This technology wraps your data just like the previous ones, but this time, an obfuscation layer is used. This method makes it really difficult for any of VPN protocols to be detected. Even though it’s independent, it’s also largely associated with Tor, since this network uses it the most ever since China blocked access to Tor nodes. It must be installed on your computer, as well as VPN server to make it work, so once again, a cooperation with VPN providers is the only way to do this. Even then, it’s a very complicated process for those who aren’t very skilled when it comes to this type of thing.
It’s less secure when compared to SSH tunneling, and that’s mostly because it doesn’t encrypt the traffic. It’s mostly used by internet users from Ethiopia and Syria.
Other than these, there are many more similar technologies, some of them even work like obsfproxy too.
A note concerning UAE
The advanced solutions we mentioned before should help when it comes to DPI searches, but keep in mind that the United Arab Emirates have really invested a lot in creating the best possible internet surveillance. Many believe that they also have a lot of VPN’s IP addresses covered and figured out, so they could potentially easily track you down.
However, many also think that it’s not very likely that they’re going to bother with prosecuting you just because you wanted to watch some Netflix. On the other hand, if they do discover that you’re using a VPN, they might just sit on that information until you really piss them off, and that will give them a powerful weapon against you. Basically, what we’re saying is that if you live in that area and are interested in using VPN, we recommend extreme caution.
A note on sites that block VPNs
As we said before, many of the websites are trying to block as many VPNs as possible, and even though this is really annoying to many of the VPN users, there are numerous ways around it. However, you can’t just assume that a certain way is the real one, or that a low-profile VPN will work, and that’s why we recommend you take full advantage when it comes to money-back guarantees and free trials.
This way, you can test the methods that you can afford and see what works best for you. Also remember that this won’t be a permanent solution, since the internet is a living thing, and what works today, might not work tomorrow. With that in mind, only pay for a one-month subscription at the time, instead of doing a one-year-deal with your VPN of choice.
Smart DNS might also be a good solution, and you should consider looking into them as well, but they can also be blocked. This is a bit more difficult to do, however, so there’s a better chance of DNS working than a VPN. Some VPNs even rely on DNS routing and that allows them to watch US Netflix even if they’re not connected to US servers, which is a pretty impressive feat, even though it doesn’t actually work all the time.
Many of the blocks are easily bypassed, and even the more difficult ones to deal with can in fact, be dealt with, if you know how. With that in mind, we advise you to learn whatever you can, since it can all come in handy really soon, all things considered.