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 188.8.131.52 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 entitled – how to spoof my ip address on an iPad or in English – how I hide my IP address on an iPad the same software can be used on any device though.
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.
It’s often a shock, after all why offer an online version of the BBC and then block anyone who isn’t in the UK. But for many trying to access BBC Iplayer when they’re abroad becomes a bit of a challenge, you know it’s possible but connecting up can be difficult. The search usually leads to things like VPNs and proxies, which for anyone living abroad are now essential – they basically give you access to all the best media sites online – irrespective of your location and IP address. So when the BBC, Hulu, ABC or M6 Replay checks your location and IP address and then decide what you can see – the proxy or VPN just tells them what they need to see – and allows you access.
For instance, I was recently in Spain with my work and got kinda bored staying in a hotel. So decided to watch some UK television online using my laptop. Unfortunately I then discovered that because I then had a Spanish IP address (from the hotels Wifi), I was now blocked from all the best UK websites like the BBC Iplayer and ITV etc. It was kind of annoying until I discovered there was a solution and an easy one at that.
By the way if you don’t know why people are so keen to get access to BBC Iplayer – you should really check it out. It’s without doubt one of the best media resources available online, in fact I don’t think anything comes close although there are some excellent US sites like Hulu and Pandora for music.
Anyway for those of us who either live or travel abroad a lot, having access to these sites is a godsend. You don’t have to sit watching a TV show in a language you don’t understand or some awful cable channel.
So What is the Solution to Watching BBC IPlayer Abroad?
Basically the problem is your IP address, everyone is linked to a specific country and it’s very easy to look up. Many websites look your location up as soon as you access their site, they then tailor what you can see based on that information. It’s called Geotargeting and frankly it’s extremely annoying – you’ll normally get an error message like the image below.
Or perhaps this one if you try and access Pandora outside the US.
The way around it is quite simple, you just have to make the website think your in a different country by using an IP address from the required country. Unfortunately you can’t modify your own address easily as this is assigned by your ISP. However you can connect via a proxy server based in the correct country and use it’s address.
So for example to watch BBC Iplayer outside the UK you’d connect through a UK proxy. If you wanted to watch Hulu from outside the US then you’d need a USA proxy, Pandora needs an American one too and so on.
It’s really that simple – the website sees the IP address of the proxy server and not your real one. This short video shows the steps of changing your IP address online –
Where do I get a Proxy Server to Watch Iplayer or Hulu?
There’s a few options depending on time and budget. You can find some free ones online if you search – however it takes a long time to find one in the right country and fast enough to relay video through. In reality you’ll be best to settle on one of the many services that are available. A commercial service should be plenty fast enough and you know it will always be working when you want to watch something. The biggest problem at the moment is Netflix which has been actively blocking both proxies and VPNs based on the categorization of the IP address – you can read about it here – Netflix blocking proxies.
The one I use is Identity Cloaker which has been around for many years – it’s way better than any of the TV watching services and does much more. Try the trial first if you are unsure to test it out – Identity Cloaker 10 day trial – it gives you access to all the top media sites in UK, USA, France, Canada and Germany to name only a few.
If you want some further information – try these for further reading:
BBC iPlayer Abroad – http://www.iplayerabroad.com/
A Very Old Post about Watching the BBC (still seems active) – http://www.anonymous-proxies.org/2009/02/using-iplayer-abroad-viewing-bbc-via.html
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 and can give you US IP addresses 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.
Netflix have implemented a new system for blocking VPNs and it’s worked very well. The vast majority of VPNs no longer work, however Identity Cloaker has updated their software to bypass the latest block. So if you want access to US Netflix, you should choose Identity Cloaker, if any other VPNs now work please post a comment.
You may wonder why I’m writing about Poland and worrying about where to find a proxy server in Poland. Well although I have no real need to access Polish websites, I happen to know a few people who live near me and do.
In years gone by the internet was pretty open, I rarely remembered ever getting blocked access to a website. But things have changed now and there are lots of filters, blocks applied all over the place. In the last few days I was blocked from accessing Hulu in the USA, my banking site and a funny video clip on YouTube because ‘it was not accessible in my region’.
Fortunately for those of us who get cross about these sorts of things – there are now loads of tools and services which can bypass these blocks which use VPNs and proxy servers. It’s easy to find one if you want standard countries like US and the UK but they can be difficult to find for smaller countries.
Using a Polish Proxy
For example my friend comes from Krakow but now has settled in the UK. But much of his family are still in Poland and he often finds himself connecting back to Polish websites. Unfortunately increasingly he gets blocked because his location (or IP address) is outside Poland. Last week it was a Polish TV site online and a bank based in Krakow that had an online service. It’s exactly the same reason you can’t access Hulu from the UK or some of the cracking shows on Canadian TV that are online.
The technology is called Geotargeting and the easiest way you can see this demonstrated is simply by using Google. So here’s what I get if I go to Google –
Google checks my IP address when I connect, cross references with a database of IP Address/Country and sees I’m in the UK so delivers the British version of Google.
But unfortunately this technology is also used to lock me out of many web sites and applications that are not UK based. SO I can’t watch Simpsons on Hulu, listen to music on Pandora or anything that is restricted to other countries.
Anyway I’ll show how I can change my IP address to a Polish one as a quick example. All I need to do is connect to a Polish server and tunnel my connection through that. This will then fool the web site into thinking that’s my location. There are lots of services which can do this but one I use often is called Overplay
Here’s the software working, I just select the country I need and then press connect. In this case I want to get an IP address from Poland so I select a Polish proxy server from the list. I then just put in the username and password and I’m connected – that’s all there is to it – takes about 10 seconds.
Here’s the connection screen, then you just minimize it to the task bar and carry on as normal. However while this is connected all my requests are being routed through the server in Krakow, and that’s where I’ll appear to be from.
Now you can see that if I visit Google, this time I’ll be given the Polish version because my IP address is listed from Krakow. If I change connections I’ll be given a different version Of course this isn’t particularly useful as I’m not really in Poland. But if I wanted to access a Polish media site or online banking then it would be very useful.
Here’s another option demonstrated in this video about accessing TVN player.
If I changed to a US server I could use all the American sites even on my Ipad, change to Canadian server and watch Canadian TV and so on. They’re well worth checking out as you get all the servers included in the subscription – helpful support too – Overplay Trial.
So why would you want to do this? Well the simple answer is that the US Version of Netflix is much better than any other one. It has thousands more shows and films, plus much more recent releases – some of it only just out of European cinemas for example.
There are many examples but here is just one brief explanation of why you may want to change Netflix to US version. It started for me when I became rather hooked on a Sci-Fi series called Lost which you might have heard of. My partner and I had both managed to miss the hysteria about this show the first time round, but got well and truly hooked after a few series. This is one of the great advantages of Netflix, you can find a show you like and then watch the whole thing over a few weeks, with no huge gaps between series.
Just look at this – six years and six seasons of one the best Sci-Fi shows ever made, all for a few dollars a month subscription.
I think it happened about half way through, when we were up to season 3 – we’d been watching for a few weeks an episode a night. Then disaster struck, it just disappeared, gone with no warning or anything – boy were we mad! We were not alone, loads of people were online complaining about this sudden withdrawal and the only help was a vague promise that it might return to the UK Netflix at some point. This was the trigger, up to then I didn’t realise there was such a thing as a UK Netflix but if you search online you’ll find lots of information on this. The best estimates I’ve seen suggest that there are around 4000 items on UK Netflix, but about 9000 plus if you change Netflix to US version.
It is surprisingly easy to do, and after a few weeks of investigating plus trial and error – I think I have found the best solution. First of all forget about using American proxies, VPNs and security programs for this – you don’t need them. Sure they all work, but are difficult to install on anything other than a PC and also can really slow your connection down.
What you need is something called Smart DNS – which is basically a very clever way of accessing any of the world’s country restricted websites by hiding your real location. The best Smart DNS service can hide your location by just rerouting a small part of your initial connection with a server, allowing you to stream directly from the media site after that. Your internet speed will remain pretty much untouched but a whole new world of internet media sites will be opened up to you – from BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Pandora to the US version of Netflix it doesn’t matter where you live.
There are a few, but I only found one which was –
- Easy to Install
- Allowed you to Switch Netflix Locales
The last point is important, although you might want to watch the US version of Netflix the majority of the time – there are some things only found on your home version. For example French and German Netflix have lots of content in French and German, which won’t be on the US version. So you want to be able to switch between the versions –
Instead of switching everyone automatically to the American version of Netflix, this Smart DNS service allows you to switch version using this web page. This is incredibly useful and makes it a doddle to switch between different versions when ever you need. Without this method you’d have to remove the Smart DNS settings from your devices to go back to the original version of Netflix. Anyway here’s how you install it on a computer, but as you can see it’s just as simple to utilize on a Smart Phone, Mac, tablet or any network enabled device.
Basically after you have subscribed to use the Smart DNS servers, you just need to change the default DNS server in network settings. It’s usually accessible on most network devices – I personally use it on a WiiU, Playstation, iPhone, iPad and Smart TV.
For anyone who spends a lot of time online, Smart DNS is one of the most useful applications you can have. It basically is a special DNS server which can filter requests to specific websites and hide your true location. So for example you can use it to watch US only TV stations like Hulu and NBC from Europe, or stream BBC iPlayer or ITV player onto a device outside the UK.
You can get the best value Smart DNS here – Smart DNS Free Trial.
Previously people used proxies and VPNs to bypass these restrictions but these had two main drawbacks –
- Could be difficult to configure outside a PC/Mac environment.
- Involved streaming all traffic through the proxy/VPN server.
For example a proxy server might need a username and password to access, which is fine if you’re using a PC application, but not so easy to get working on a Smart TV or games console. Smart DNS provided pretty much the same functionality (as far as accessing media sites) by simply changing one setting in your network configuration – here’s how it works on a PC.
Pretty neat eh? It can be set up on most devices, once you have enabled Smart DNS for your account, then you just need to find how to change the network settings on the device.
Here’s where to find it on a Samsung Smart Hub TV
The settings and screens can vary from model to model, but hopefully these will point you in the right direction.
You’re looking for the network settings information either in the Wired or Wireless connection settings. If you’re using a wireless connection most of the Network configuration will be assigned automatically by your access point, but don’t worry if you look for manually set the settings you can override the DNS setting (which is the only one you’re interested in).
Simply change the Primary DNS setting to the Smart DNS proxy address then change your country region within the Smart Hub. On most of the current TVs you do this by pressing the following keys – fast forward, 2, 8, 9, rewind keys on your TV remote. Please note if you have a F (2013) or H (2014) model of Samsung TV there is a new key sequence. This will bring up your Internet Service Location where you can change to the country you require, for example American Netflix will require you select the USA.
There are approximately 10 million Twitter users in Turkey but many are reporting bad news. It appears that the social networking site popular across the word has been blocked to many Turkish based users by the country’s telecommunication’s regulator. It’s not quite clear whether this ban has been implemented completely but certainly many users are reporting being redirected towards a warning page when trying to access Twitter.
Here’s the message one mobile phone user got when trying to reach the site.
Twitter and indeed other social networking sites have of course been banned before in Turkey, YouTube was offline for about 2 years before the block was lifted. This time the Turkish Government have been more up front about the ban with the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan vowing to ‘wipe out Twitter’.
He is quoted as saying
“I don’t care what the international community says at all. Everyone will see the power of the Turkish Republic,”
The reason is very probably linked to numerous documents being posted reportedly showing evidence of the widespread corruption relating to the Prime Minister. There have been numerous allegations including recordings of telephone conversations where the prime minister discusses where to hide various huge amounts of money so investigations can’t find them.
Mr Erdogan is of course citing other reasons and legal issues but the reality is very plain to the majority of people and all the Turks I have spoken. Corruption is rife among the upper echelons of the Turkish Government and Twitter is allowing people to speak about it – hardly surprising it’s being banned.
Of course it’s utterly futile and in many senses only serves as an admission of guilt in many people’s eyes. The ban will be circumvented and there are a myriad other ways that any information can be circulated just as quickly, blocking Twitter is just plain stupid.
If you need some help getting into the site then just use a program like Identity Cloaker illustrated here which will bypass all the Turkish web sites blocks quickly and easily. If you want to try it first the demonstration version of Identity Cloaker is available free here for download actually allows access to Twitter so you could use this version for free to access the site and a few others.