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Netflix Blocked VPN and Proxies – What Now?

Surely it cannot be true! Is Netflix blocking VPNs and proxies? Are we doomed to be locked into our own crap region of Netflix or even worse are people outside the Netflix coverage locked out completely. Well the simple answer is yes, at the moment Netflix is investing a huge amount of time and resources in blocking not just proxies – they’re also blocking VPN services too!

It’s come as a bit of a shock for many, most people go through the following stages with most region locked content.

  1. Annoyance – tried to watch a show, video or broadcast online somewhere like YouTube, BBC or Netflix and got blocked.
  2. Research – learn about region locking and finding out that it’s simply based on the location of your IP address
  3. Solution – realising that if you hide your IP address by using a VPN or proxy will bypass all these blocks and let you watch whatever the hell you want!

Once you reach the last stage all those annoying blocks and filters simply disappear.   You can watch anything from anywhere, irrespective of your location – for example I have sat in a Spanish bar watching the News on the BBC (UK IP address), then switched to an American IP to watch the US version of Netflix then watch some football on RTE (the Irish Broadcaster).    Without a suitable VPN service none of these would be possible, for me it makes a massive difference to my viewing options.

Netflix Blocks Proxies and VPNS

Now over the years, many of these online broadcasters have made various attempts to thwart these efforts.  In fact it would probably be safe to say the use of very simple proxy servers are now pretty much gone as far as bypassing region locking goes. There has been no such thing as a Netflix proxy that worked for many years, in fact the only major broadcaster who didn’t block proxies were the BBC but even they started doing this last year.   The problem is that the use of a proxy can be detected very easily by all these sites which now makes them fairly useless.

No worries, for we still had VPN services, the virtual private network connections are encrypted and almost impossible to detect.   Unfortunately these too started to suffer casualties and many broadcasters have waged a sort of half-hearted war on VPN servers too –  individually blocking the addresses of popular ones which became too mainstream.   It was never that bad though and usually you could just switch to another IP address and it would work fine.

Netflix have changed all this, they’ve really gone to war with VPN services and have actually managed to block 99% of them from working.   You’ll hear many tales of woe from people who have VPN accounts set up simply to watch the US version of Netflix which no longer work.   Netflix blocked VPN services every where, well very nearly all.

So how are Netflix blocking proxies and VPNs?

They have succeeded where many have failed by adopting a different tactic. Instead of trying to detect the VPN connections or individually identifying specific IP addresses, Netflix have focused on the origin of the VPN addresses. You see most IP addresses are grouped into two distinct groups –

  • Commercial IP Addresses – assigned from data centers for websites and commercial servers.
  • Residential IP addresses – assigned by ISPs to their customers from their internet accounts.

All the VPN and proxies came from the first category, so the VPNs all had commercial IP addresses. Netflix simply detected which group the connection was from and blocked all the commercial IP addresses whilst allowing the second category through. If you connected with a commercial IP address from a proxy or VPN to Netflix this is what you’d get this –

Netflix blocking proxies and VPNs
Suddenly almost overnight Netflix blocked VPNs, proxies and Smart DNS solutions from everywhere – they still couldn’t detect the presence of the technology – but they knew if the IP address was commercial.   However there’s a solution in this video entitled Netflix Block VPN services.

Fortunately there is some hope, a couple of the most advanced VPN systems had already identified this cause and have made plans to rectify. Identity Cloaker is one of these and have introduced code to detect when the VPN is used to connect to Netflix, when it does it is relayed through a residential IP address which is allowed through. It works perfectly and should do for the foreseeable future, although the downside is that residential IP addresses like this are much more expensive so there may be some pressure on subscriptions.

 Identity Cloaker is now one of the only VPN/Proxy services which is not blocked by Netflix.  Try the trial here.

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European Initiative – Is the Digital Market Changing

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.

bbceu-iplayer

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.

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How to Authenticate a User – Cookies

Nearly every web site faces this dilemma – how to authenticate and identify the users of it’s site. In real life it’s not difficult, you can give someone a photo id or pass, or even ask people to show their drivers license.

The point is that in the real world, you can provide proof of your identity by using a physical credential. So you can borrow a DVD from Blockbusters or get a discount in a hotel by simply showing a specific card that you possess.

The Digital Identification Dilemma

Unfortunately it’s not quite the same in the digital world, it’s impractical (although not impossible) to supply physical credentials to prove your identity. But it does work on basically the same premise – the web site request your credentials and you need to supply them to continue.
cookies

An online authentication system like a web site – needs to be supplied with one of the following:

  • Something you possess
  • Something you know
  • Something you are
  • Any or all of the above

All these are called ‘authentication factors’ and the more that is supplied – then supposedly the more secure the system is meant to be. For instance if you hear a phrase like ‘Two Factor Authentication’ it simply means that you need two of the above to verify your identity. For example an ATM machine is a good example as you need a card (something you possess) and a PIN access code (something you know) in order to draw out some cash from your account.

In the digital world there are many simple but slightly unreliable ones, for instance verifying your location by IP address is simple to code, but unfortunately unreliable as they c an change freqeuntly. There is one main way of authenticating a user online and that is the ‘cookie’. It’s a term that most of us will be aware of but perhaps not entirely sure what they are.

The cookie is defined as a ‘handle, transaction id, or other token of agreement between operating systems’. The cookie is like the ticket you get when you leave your suit at the dry cleaners. It’s good for only one thing, to get your suit back. The cookie is exactly the same in digital format – a record of a specific transaction or visit. The only difference apart from the lack of a physical token is that the cookie will be updated each time you come back and visit the same site.

This is basically what happens when you visit a web site:

  1. Web site asks browser to store some information.
  2. Web site supplies the information.
  3. Browser stores the information in a file locally (the cookie).
  4. Cookie doesn’t contain any private information.
  5. Cookie is presented on subsequent visits.

It’s not that complicated and it’s not intended to be. The real aim is to identify subsequent visits by the same individual – with the aim of storing passwords, preferences and choices made by that person. All the major browsers have the facility to block or restrict cookies of course if you are concerned about the privacy issues.