Archive for October, 2015
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.