Why do people look for USA Proxy and VPN servers? Well there’s a variety of reasons and now many people use programs like this, just to hide their identity online. Sometimes specifically for privacy reasons or often they simply need a US IP address to bypass internet blocks based on location.
For example if you are having a holiday in Turkey, don’t presume you can access all the same web sites that you do from the US.
Many sites particularly media sites restrict access to US visitors, blocking any IP addresses from outside the country. In addition you’ll also find that countries like Turkey heavily filter the internet too, often restricting sites like Twitter and Facebook to anyone inside the country.
So on the whole privacy and freedom – these are why many of us use either a US proxy or VPN everyday. So what’s the difference between these two technologies and which one should I use. Both perform basically the same function but in very different ways, which ultimately will define which is best for you.
A proxy is a computer that acts as an intermediary between you an the websites you visit. When you use a proxy, the traffic will appear to come from it’s IP address not yours. This is why people will use a US proxy to access US only resources, a UK proxy to access the BBC and so on.
The two main types of proxies are as follows:
- HTTP proxies – designed to work for web pages i.e HTTP
- Socks Proxies – no specific protocol, handles all traffic.
A few years ago, proxies were pretty much all you needed to access most sites and you could find free ones all over the internet. Nowadays though most media sites can detect and block the use of proxies and there are many security issues with them too. They can still work for a few sites, a proxy based in the UK will still allow you to access the majority of the BBC iPlayer application for example (need a VPN to download from the site though).
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and in some ways they perform a similar function to proxies. A VPN creates a secure, encrypted tunnel between your client and a host VPN server. This allows a new level of privacy as even your ISP cannot see what you do online other than your connected to a secure VPN server. The main advantages are that the VPN provides a much higher level of privacy masking pretty much everything you do online from everyone. They are more resource intensive though and quite costly to run and support, which is why you won’t find any free ones online.
The encryption layer does involve a slight overhead which can slow your connection down slightly. However the better ones like Identity Cloaker compress the data as it’s being transported so can actually slightly speed up your browsing through some VPN servers.
VPNs are much safer to use and if you have access to a VPN in the right country you should be able to access any restricted site. So to be clear you’ll need to use a US VPN or proxy for sites like ABC, HBO and Hulu, but a UK one for BBC, ITV and UK TV sites. Most of the major providers will provide a network of servers across the globe but you should check if you have a specific requirement.
Here’s my two recommendations – both offer full VPNs, fast servers and access to many different countries in the basic subscription. Although both supply software to connect, you can set up the VPNs manually on most other devices like tablets, smart phones and even routers.
Identity Cloaker is definitely, primarily a security product but offers both proxy and VPN modes for accessing BBC Iplayer, Hulu and all media sites. They have loads of US proxy servers and even more UK based ones so if you want to watch the BBC Iplayer service then it’s probably your best option. They do have lots of servers in the France, Germany, Australia, Canada and throughout Europe as well though. They also don’t automatically renew your subscription either which I like.
Overplay is another great little company, I like their connection software which is easy to use. Lots of US servers included in the standard subscription. They also have the widest selection of servers although perhaps many won’t use most of them. If you need a server in somewhere unusual they are most likely to have them. The support staff know their stuff and are very helpful.
There are some wonderful media sites available in the US at the moment although there are some problems for many people who want to access them online. Many of them are now only available to cable subscribers and you need your subscription information to be able to use the site. However some are still available and one of the best sites is the AMC channel from AMC Networks.
Not only does the AMC site not require any login or subscriptions, it also carries some of the best TV shows from the last few years, including my all time favorite Zombie drama – The Walking Dead.
However there is one small issue for some people trying to watch the AMC site and that’s the fact that it is only accessible if you’re located in the USA. When you try and access any of the media files on the site, your IP address is checked to determine your location, if the address is outside the US then you can’t watch any of the shows at all.
Fortunately there is a solution and it’s quite a simple one – you just need to use a Fast USA proxy to hide your real location like this.
This works by relaying your internet connection through a proxy server based in the USA. Therefore when you connect to the AMC site, it will see the proxy address and not your real IP address. The video demonstrates how to use a software program called Identity Cloaker to route your connection through the US server.
It is important to use a fast server though as speed is crucial to being able to watch any media files online. Remember that the video stream has to be relayed through the proxy itself so if that server and it’s throughput is not very fast then you will experience high levels of latency and buffering if you try and watch video.
There are of course, lots of laws and legislation which concern hacking all over the world. In UK they have the Computer Misuse Act and the US has the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act both can lead to heavy penalties to your wallet and liberty. Although it’s quite interesting to see how those laws apply if you’re not an individual hacker operating alone but rather a Government security agency like GCHQ for instance.
Well we’ve had some clarification after a legal challenge raised by the campaigners Privacy International who have claimed GCHQ have overstepped the mark with their internet operations which are effectively breaking European law. The case has been raised in response to the numerous revelations by Edward Snowden concerning state sponsored spying conducted by the US and UK Governments.
During the hearings, which were held by the Investigatory Powers tribunal (IPT), we heard for the first time an admission by GCHQ that they did hack computers, phones and other devices located in the UK and abroad. It’s no great surprise of course, the previous responses consisted of we are not able to ‘confirm or deny’, but it felt like progress that at least an admission was made.
There is a real worry that the countries who have the most effective and extensive privacy protection laws, are actually ignoring their own legislation when it comes down to ‘security agencies’. Many people who live in undemocratic countries with a surveillance culture will even buy a proxy to route their information through the UK or USA.
Unfortunately rather than ruling against GCHQ they actually have approved their behaviour presumably including the siphoning of huge amounts of private individuals data. The IPT ruled that the the security agencies conduct was lawful and proportionate. It also looked at the new code of practice for hacking or it’s legal description – ‘equipment interference’ published by the Home Office and deemed this a suitable operating policy.
It all seems rather establishment condoning the behaviour of another part of the establishment, although the panel of senior judges was supposed to be independant.
Privacy International who were backed by seven ISPs were understandably disappointed by the ruling and said that they would continue to challenge ‘state sponsored hacking’ attempts in order to protect democratic and principles of human rights.
The whole affair seems doomed to failure, the judges quickly siding with the government, the working guidelines which were deemed unnecessary before the spying revelations of the whistleblower Snowden. The way these guidelines were instantly rubber stamped by the same group of ‘senior judges’ is extremely convenient and certainly don’t legitimize most of the hacking conducted by GCHQ.
State condoned hacking on a wide scale is sinister and anti democratic, it also undermines computers and the internet much the same way that bugging every telephone would the phone system. For people concerned about their privacy and security, who invest in security products, it is perhaps best now to look away from using a British VPN and perhaps look at one based in a more democratic society instead.
Many companies who operate on the internet operate an economic technique called price discrimination. This is a way where companies can sell the same goods and services for different prices in order to maximise profits rather than sell at a single price to everyone. The concept follows the idea that different people will pay different amounts for the same product.
The internet initially looked like it would change this, price discrimination relies on separating markets in order to charge different amounts. When anyone can buy from anywhere in the world the barriers seemed to fall especially for services and low weight items which can be easily distributed. Why buy something for £100 from a UK based site when it’s available from a French site for half the price, the web threatened to smash down these barriers.
Alas this didn’t last long, and in some cases the internet has made things worse with global companies setting up localised versions of their sites (and prices) using a technology called geo-location. This is quite a simple technology which looks up your physical location based on the internet address (IP) that is assigned to you by your ISP (Internet service provider). Using this technology people are redirected or even blocked based on their location, so connect from France and you get a French version of a site, from USA you’ll get a US version and so on – the idea that different prices and services can be supplied based on what the local market will support.
This behaviour is now pretty pervasive with almost all internet retailers operating to some extent. Login and check an air fare price for example you’ll probably get offered a different fare depending on where you are physically for the same flight. This of course makes it essential that you can get some sort of control back unless you want to be paying top prices for everything you buy online. To do this is fortunately very straight forward – simply use proxies to change your IP address. Here’s how you can use an English proxy – just here, to switch your location to the UK.
So whilst connected to this service you can choose out of about twenty countries to route your connection through. Use a British server and you’ll have a British IP address, an American service will give you a US IP address and so on. Using this you can check out the prices of all sorts of site based on different physical locations.
For example I always use this to watch the BBC from Ireland but I recently wanted to book a city break for my family. Funnily enough I got completely different prices for flights based on an Irish address to a British address despite the flights being identical in every sense. Unsurprisingly I have found that generally my standard UK address gives me a much worse deal than a French or American on for some reason.
It’s almost essential nowadays to have access to a VPN or proxy service, not just for the security concerns but because the internet has become a minefield of blocked sites, copyright issues and geo-inspired redirections. A few years ago, you were rarely blocked from any website but now it’s a daily occurrence and if you live outside Europe or North America it can be even worse.
Now there are lots of reasons for these blocks but most of them revolve around copyright and profit maximisation. Sometimes that video or movie is only licensed in a specific country so cannot be broadcast to other locations – a ridiculous notion in the concept of a global network like the internet. However there is an important proposal being tabled by the European Union that could change the way that digital products are sold and distributed across the world.
Basically it is proposing a ruling that ensures the portability of digital products in line with one of the EU’s fundamental ideals of a single market. What that means is that if you buy a service anywhere in Europe you should be able to access your purchase from anywhere. This is clearly not the case at the moment, even to the extent that a British License fee payer loses access to the iPlayer the minute they leave the confines of the UK. They are not alone and virtually every global media service blocks and restricts access based on locations.
This would be fantastic for the consumer and no longer would we need to use a plethora of proxies to access content online. It does get ridiculous sometimes, when you switch from a US VPN like this one minute in order to watch NBC and then to a UK one to watch the BBC. Some days I switch IP addresses a dozen times to avoid various blocks especially if I visit the Far East It’s also getting worse with the BBC who were reasonably relaxed about these circumvention techniques now starting to target and block VPNs in order to maximise their commercial revenue from the new BBC Store.
It’s frustrating to see a service like Netflix delivering vastly different products dependent on your location – the US version of Netflix has thousands more films than most other country variants. Obviously the Media companies are less than impressed mainly because it restricts the level at which they can leverage different markets to maximise their profits. One comment from the leaders of a TV and media lobby –
“Any intervention that undermines the ability to license on an exclusive territorial basis will lead to less investment in new products and reduce the quality and range of content available to consumers.”
John McVay – CE of TV Producers Organisation Pact
There is plenty of opposition from other media organisations of course and whether any proposals can withstand the lobbying remains to be seen. It is still unclear if the changes would permeate to the USA but in all it could be significant change in the way we access digital products and services.
A new surveillance bill giving much stronger powers to various security agencies will be introduced by Theresa May next month. November 4th will see the release of the new Investigatory Powers Bill which will force telecoms and internet service providers to retain their customers web browsing for 12 months. To blunt the complaints from the ISPs, they will be paid to cover the extra costs involved in storing and handling all this data.
The access to this sensitive data will only be granted to police, intelligence agencies, National Crime agency and the HM Revenues and Customs. So in reality it means thousands of people with links to any of these agencies will potentially be able to see what you were doing online over the last year.
The measures are fairly similar to the previous Communications Data Bill(popularly known as the Snoopers Charter) which was blocked by the Liberal Democrats. Again the new bill is far reaching and covering pretty much all web activities from email to web browsing and even Facebook and Twitter. It sounds like there will be no exceptions and all platforms and everyone of us will be included.
Remember they are just proposals.
The justification is of course fairly predictable, terrorism, espionage and criminality. The ISPs are being paid not only to retain your emails, internet usage and other electronic communication but also to organise it and make it easily searchable to the various agencies.
There are of course many people who feel this is an unjustified invasion of privacy – here’s few of my objections.
- You only spy on the innocent – people who have something to hide can and do encrypt their communications which won’t be accessible.
- Can Governments be trusted with this huge and very personal data – I suggest not.
- Is is justifiable to spy on millions of innocent in the small chance they’ll catch the odd ‘stupid’ criminal or terrorist.
- Edward Snowden has shown us that security agencies have completely ignored privacy laws to this point, how can we trust them.
It’s finally happened, after years of apparent indifference to the millions of ‘unofficial’ viewers, BBC iPlayer is now blocking VPN services that are being used to watch the BBC from outside the UK. To recap, since the demise of the BBC International service the only way to watch the BBC from non-UK locations is to use a proxy or VPN to hide your real location.
What happens is that when you access the BBC website it looks up the location of your IP address, if it’s in the UK then everything works – if not then you get another version of the site with no live programmes and no BBC iPlayer. Fortunately it’s not that difficult to bypass these blocks, all you need (or needed) to do was to connect using an intermediate server which was based in the UK. This would make it appear that you were in the UK and hence everything would work fine. The BBC would assume that the IP address of the VPN server was yours and then allow you access, as long as the VPN server was in the UK.
Over the years many different media services have waged war on these services. Proxies were the first to fall, almost all the big online media companies now block access through a proxy server automatically – although they still worked with the BBC iPlayer until this last update. Companies like Netflix and Hulu were particularly aggressive in blocking VPNs – also their legal departments were targeting the companies who openly marketed these services. The BBC however didn’t really seem that concerned occasionally closing down the odd provider but doing little technically to block these services.
How is BBC iPlayer Blocking VPN Services ?
At the moment it’s fairly simplistic, but you might have discovered very effective -simply blocking the IP addresses of these services. All they need to do is to identify which IP addresses are being used by multiple users and block them from accessing the content. It’s not difficult to do, although it also will block legitimate UK users who use a VPN for security too.
Once the IP address of a VPN service is blocked it becomes useless for accessing any of the BBC iPlayer or live streaming programmes. Most of the biggest and widely marketed VPN services have been affected – my IpVanish account suffered the block although apparently they are working on a fix. Ultimately it can turn into a game of ‘Whack a Mole’ with IP addresses being continually changed and then blocked by the BBC – usually someone gives up in the end. Fortunately my Identity Cloaker account still works perfectly which is probably largely due to the fact that the number of users per IP address is limited and the company is very low key in advertising the TV watching functionality.
Ultimately the best advice is to avoid any VPN company who openly markets themselves as a BBC iPLayer VPN service, these will definitely be prioritized and worse may be closed down completely. It has happened in the past and is relatively easy to achieve – usually a legal threat against the hosting companies does the trick. It is unlikely that the BBC would be able to block access completely, simply because they would have to be constantly updating it’s firewall tables with new IP addresses to keep up.
In the battle to circumvent blocks, filtering and censorship – Smart DNS technology was like a breath of fresh air. It catered for people who didn’t care about security and encryption – they were just concerned that the USA version of Netflix was much better than theirs or they desperately wanted to watch the latest version of Dr Who on the BBC online. Both situations were restricted depending on your location, to watch the vastly superior US version of Netflix you had to physically be in the US and to use the BBC iPlayer you needed to be in the United Kingdom.
Clearly all couldn’t be true, and slowly we’ve all got used to being blocked and redirected depending on our location. Of course, we could all use VPNs and sometimes even proxies worked but these are expensive to run especially fast ones. Imagine the costs of thousands of people streaming video all across the world – the hardware and bandwidth requirements are substantial. Decent VPN servers cost a lot to run and hence the subscriptions had to reflect this, people tried to piggyback free servers across the world but these are generally hacked or illegal servers which carried substantial risk to your personal data.
Smart DNS threatened to change this, instead of relaying your entire connection through a server in the required country it merely redirected a few packets to fool the geotargeting of the target server. When you connected to Netflix – Smart DNS could fool the server into thinking you were in the UK, US, Australia or Japan with only a few misdirected packets of location data. This meant it was fast, and secondly it was also much cheaper as the bandwidth costs of the Smart DNS supplier were much smaller.
All looked great but, the warnings have been there for some time that Smart DNS might not be so future proof. Firstly it stopped working on many different media devices like the Chromecast or Roku where mysteriously the applications started to enforce public DNS servers. This meant that you could no longer specify your own DNS settings which effectively stopped you using Smart DNS. This caused problems however, particularly with speed where millions of devices where suddenly using public DNS servers like Google’s 184.108.40.206 server presumably without financial compensation, this issue slowly disappeared.
There’s no doubt though particularly for media companies like Netflix and Hulu, Smart DNS are in their targets. Yesterday I tried my two Smart DNS accounts to try and get access to the Japanese version of Netflix (which has some great movies on it), all my attempts failed with the simple message – ‘blocked’ despite having worked fine the day before. Specific IP addresses are simply being blocked from accessing the Netflix and Hulu services, it’s blunt and unsophisticated but it works.
The reality is that these global media providers are coming under increased pressure from the movies companies to block the use of circumvention particularly Smart DNS. The reality is that it costs them money if they receive a fee for licensing the movie in a particular country and then millions of people end up watch it all over the world.
Of course they can do this with VPN and proxy servers, simply block access from specific IP addresses. Which is why it looks like staying low key and using a more discrete service is a sensible option. Some of these bigger VPN companies market very aggressively and directly promote specific TV stations, sporting events and TV channels in their advertising. This makes them instant and high profile target for IP blocking, it’s probably best to avoid these companies – particularly for long subscriptions.
Identity Cloaker, is certainly worth a look – marketed only as a security product it’s been working for many years by deliberately keeping a low profile. Is it the end of Smart DNS? Well in some ways it’s more vulnerable than VPNs but only time will tell if it lives on.
A VPN is primarily a security product, a secure virtual private network which can protect data in an unsecure environment. Nowadays that insecure environment is normally the internet, an amazing global network that has transformed our lives but as far as security goes it’s pretty hopeless. The problem with the internet, is the very reason it’s become so pervasive – it works with all sorts of different devices. Can you imagine if the internet was segmented – my Apple Mac could only connect with Apple Web servers or web sites on Linux servers could only be accessed via Linux desktops? It would be fairly hopeless, yet it would be much, much easier to implement security in this context.
Of course we do have security in our web browsing of sorts – it comes in the form of the SSL layer in HTTPS. The little padlock you see at the front of the web address means that your communication with that web site is encrypted and is not transmitted in clear text. Everything else that goes through your browser does travel in clear text across hundred of routers, switches and hubs owned by a myriad of companies and organisations. HTTPS is not that secure anyway and connections can be intercepted and accessed but it’s certainly better than nothing.
However it’s without a doubt that a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is much more secure, it consists of an encrypted tunnel between two points in which data is transmitted. It ensures that nobody can intercept data, particularly at it’s most vulnerable point which is at transmission. You can see the attraction particularly if you’ve ever sat using a public wifi network at a cafe or hotel with a packet sniffer and seen everyone’s data fly across your screen (try it!).
So of course security is important however the reality is that today a VPN service is not always used for it’s primary purpose. It’s more used for hiding your IP address – in order to bypass filters and content restrictions. Using a VPN as an online IP changer – like this video demonstrates:
Means not only can you bypass heavy handed government filtering, such as Turkey which routinely blocks the big social media sites. You can also side step the much more common geo-blocks which the world’s major media sites operate. Most of these need you to be in the country of broadcast to gain access – USA for HBO, UK for BBC and so on. However if you use a VPN which terminates in a specific country then you can bypass these blocks. So the next generation of VPN software allow you to switch your connection between different countries therefore bypassing all these blocks.
Which is great but of course, if you’re just trying to stream the latest ‘Game of Thrones’ onto your PC or laptop, you’re probably not that bothered about security only whether you can watch without buffering and in HD. The secret to this of course is speed, a speed VPN for PC is the important factor not whether someone can decrypt your data – a video stream isn’t that interesting anyway.
There’s quite a few articles on this site about how you can hide your real IP address and use one from a different country. However most of these are based from the perspective of a computer or laptop, on these devices it’s much easier to buy – ‘spoof my ip’ software specifically designed to accomplish this task. However many of us now, browse the web, watch movies on other devices too – ranging from tablets, smartphones and smart tvs. So here’s a quick introduction on how to spoof your ip address on an iPad or in English – how I hide my IP address on an iPad.
So in this scenario, I’m travelling away from home and I just have my iPad with me – am I locked out of all my favorite shows because I can’t connect through a proxy server. Well no you’re not, in fact it’s just as easy to hide your IP address on a tablet as it is on a PC in fact you can usually use the same software or service. But for start let’s just put up a video showing you the process in case you don’t want to read the rest of this post.
This uses my favorite security software Identity Cloaker but instead of using the software you just create the VPN connections manually – you can see how simple it is in the video.
However here’s the steps if you don’t like videos
On your iPad –
- Select Settings
- Select General
- Select Networks
- Select VPN
You can see in the image, I’ve already created on VPN which I use for accessing US based sites. However you can have any number set up so just select add VPN configuration and you can add another one. You should get to a screen like this (might change slightly if you’re on a different version of iOS).
Now I know it looks kind of complicated and technical but it isn’t really – here’s a break down of what you put in the fields. Just leave the configuration on L2TP and fill in the boxes. If you’ve subscribed to Identity Cloaker there’s a list of them in the members area or support will email them to you. If you’re setting up a VPN with another company you’ll need to check with them to make sure that the servers are VPN enabled and what the configuration settings are.
- Description – Give it a name based on which location UK Connection, US Connection etc, then you can select quickly which country you need
- Server – Put in the server name you got from the members area.
- Account Name – Your Identity Cloaker Username (or other VPN)
- RSA SecurID – Ignore this
- Password – Your Identity Cloaker password.
- Secret – The VPN Secret Name is in the members area.
That’s it, if you have the information at hand it literally takes a couple of minutes – press SAVE (top right corner currently) to complete. Then you should have an extra VPN connection listed on the screen like this –
To use the VPN you simply have to select the one you need and then turn VPN to on from the top of the screen. Whichever VPN you have enabled will then connect, I have the British VPN selected in this demonstration screen. It’s worth putting in all the different connections you need all at once, then you can just enable them whenever you need. You’ll see the VPN connection being made and then this logo at the top of your screen
So when this is enabled all your traffic will be encrypted and routed through the selected VPN server. You can set up a selection of VPNs all to different countries, I use about six to spoof my ip address to a variety of locations.
Therefore you will also appear to have the IP address located with each server so if you want to watch the BBC iPlayer enable your UK VPN and so on – your real IP address will not be visible.
If you haven’t got Identity Cloaker yet – I can definitely recommend it, it’s probably best to try the 10 day trial first to see how you get on with it. They have a very professional set up and the servers can cope with streaming video without any issues. However there are a couple of other decent companies and the process will be very similar to use them.
I first started watching Canadian TV online a few years ago, for a couple of reasons – first a few of my friends went to live there and kept telling me how great it was. The second was because the biggest channel CTV.CA, had some great shows which weren’t available on other online channels in the UK. One of my favorites was called Ice Pilots about this company who flew across the Artic and you could only get it on the Canadian History channel for some reason.
I was able to watch it by selecting one of the Canadian proxy servers in my subscription to Identity Cloaker. I don’t think that many people used the Canadian proxies, as they were always seriously fast and streamed video without as much as a stutter. This worked by routing my connection through the Canadian proxy server which meant I appeared to have a Canadian IP address and so didn’t get blocked.
Used to work like a breeze –
This is what happens now –
You need to login to your Cable provider before getting access to the live streaming section of CATV, which means that a proxy is not enough any more or indeed hiding your IP address like this. It’s an interesting development and the first time I’ve seen this method used anywhere to stop geo-blocking avoidance techniques. Most companies are not actually that bothered about VPNs and proxies as long as they are seen to be doing something to block them, but perhaps this might herald a change in attitude.
The BBC for example only do single checks at the beginning of the programme which means that you can effectively disconnect the proxy after you’ve started and it will still work. They don’t currently do any real checks and blocks and even a simple proxy will work with BBC iPlayer.