Throughout the internet at the moment this is a common cry - support calls and posts of anguish all saying the same thing - why has my VPN stopped working? Why does the BBC not stream anymore, why is Netflix blocking VPN servers!
In truth though most of these VPNs are actually working perfectly well, the problem is that many websites have started blocking the use of them.
Region Locking and VPNs
The spectacularly rise of the use of virtual private networks is not entirely due to the worries about cyber crimes and lack of privacy online, although these are a significant factor. The real reason is the increase is the use of region locking - the practice where particular online entertainment services are restricted based on your physical location.
So for example, you can't use the wonderful BBC iPlayer to listen to the cricket or watch David Attenborough unless you connect from the UK. Your Netflix subscription won't give you access to the US Netflix site (which is by far the best) unless you're physically located in the USA. All this is kind of annoying especially for scenarios where a BBC license fee payer can't watch the BBC News online if he's out of the country or an American traveller can't watch Netflix when he's abroad on business.
A VPN solved all this, because your physical location wasn't determined by where you happened to be - simply where the endpoint of the VPN tunnel was. This was the IP address the website saw, so a UK VPN would have an English IP address and so on. So I can sit happily in a hotel room in Istanbul, fire up a US VPN service and stream US Netflix directly to my laptop without an issue. The same thing works for thousands of other media websites - a VPN unlocks them all.
This worked great for literally millions of people and now sophisticated VPN services like Identity Cloaker mean that you can get access to connections in lots of countries across the world. You can unblock TV stations in whichever country you need simply by switching to a VPN based in that country. For example I frequently switch around the different regional versions of Netflix to find something I want to watch - the US version has loads more stuff than any other though.
So what's the problem with VPNs now?
Well the issue if that the world's copyright system is in a bit of a mess when it comes to global access, which is why so many restrictions exist.Netflix might pay for the ability to stream a certain blockbuster in the US but it may not have those rights for the UK or Canada for example, which is why they have so many different regional versions. Most companies are coming under increasing pressure to stop this practice and enforce the region blocks.
The BBC has started blocking loads of VPNs en masse and so have lots of the other big media broadcasters who operate online. One of the most aggressive though is Netflix which seem to be trying to completely block all VPN access to their services - you'll just see this picture if you try.
Over the last few weeks virtually every single VPN provider has been blocked from accessing Netflix - which is why so many people are getting upset. Remember you can pay for a Netflix subscription but if you're country doesn't have a licensed version then you'll get no access.
How are they doing this and what's the best VPN for Netflix now?
There are potentially a few methods companies like Netflix could be using for doing this. However it seems fairly obvious which one they are employing. Most IP addresses in use on the internet are split into two sections - residential and datacentres. Most VPN servers are of course set up in these datacentres across the world and they're fairly easy to identify. Although these companies can't identify that a VPN is being used they are able to determine that an IP is non-residential - which is how they are blocking VPNs so conclusively.
Obviously the war is now moving on and a couple of the best services are fighting back. Identity Cloaker will be releasing an update to it's program this week which will include several hundred residential IP addresses in it's service to be used when Netflix is being accessed. These are indistinguishable from normal home based IP addresses so won't be blocked. The disadvantage is that they are much more expensive so we could find that the best VPN for Netflix turns out to be quite expensive, but perhaps these companies will absorb the cost.
For those still suffering - with the BBC, Hulu and others such as Netflix block VPN services - there is good news. Identity Cloaker Netflix have risen to the challenge and integrated loads of residential IP addresses into their infrastructure - primarily for Netflix use - currently only supporting US Netflix (which is the best anyway!)