Friday

My VPN Doesn't Work!

For many people around the world, a VPN is one of the their most essential online tools.   These Virtual Private Networks allows users to surf securely and have unrestricted access to the internet.   The VPN was primarily designed to add a layer of security to web transactions, however nowadays it's arguably more often used as a way to hide your location.

For example if you try and access the BBCs online service from outside the UK you'll get blocked as it's not accessible outside the country.  Same goes for Hulu, US Netflix, ABC NBC and RTE in Ireland - in fact just about every major media site on the web is only accessible from specific countries.  When you combine the other internet restrictions often applied by specific countries, huge areas of the web are often not accessible depending on your location.

So what does the expat Brit, or travelling US businessman do when they can't access all their local shows and media?  Well they use a VPN service to hide their location and let them watch whatever they want, irrespective of where they happen to be.  You'll see holidaymakers in Spanish bars watching Eastenders on their laptops whilst an Irishman streams Gaelic football on RTE online next to him.

Basically a VPN bypasses all these blocks and allows you to watch whatever you want.  Services like Identity Cloaker have adapted to locate servers in all of the most populous countries.  I have personally been a subscriber for nearly ten years now and use it pretty much every day when travelling.

My VPN Doesn't Work

Over the last year however things have been getting a little difficult, as the media companies have started to fight back. For a variety of reasons ranging they've started to try and block the use of VPNs when accessing their services. THere has always been some attempts to block the use of these methods, however they have never been that serious. It's actually very difficult to detect a properly configured VPN so the companies would have to individually block IP addresses. Although this works it's only temporary (VPN services simply switch their addresses) and it's extremely time consuming. Nevertheless the BBC attempted this purge early in 2016 and succeeded in blocking many thousands of VPNs from being used to access BBC iPlayer from outside the UK.


Other companies like RTE, Hulu, ABC and many others have followed suit painstakingly identifying addresses with multiple connections and individually blocking proxy and VPN connections from accessing their sites. Many of the smaller VPN companies have closed down, although most of the established companies have the sort of infrastructure which allows them to keep switching these addresses round so are still active.

Unfortunately 2016 saw a new development which I expect to be extended throughout this year. Netflix have been under pressure from the media firms that they license their media from to block access to these programs. The primary reason is that Netflix pays for distribution rights per country, so they only have the rights to broadcast content in those specific countries, yet a working VPN completely bypasses this.   The media giant however decided to use a different approach to blocking the virtual networks by blocking every IP address which was classified as commercial.

Suddenly the cry my VPN doesn't work went up across the world as literally 99% of these services stopped working with Netflix overnight.   The problem was that all these VPNs are installed in commercial datacentres and as such Netflix was able to block every  single one of them in one go.  There were casualties of course, people could no longer access their accounts from company offices for example, but it appears this was a price worth paying.

It's likely many more of the big media companies will follow this method, although it won't be suitable for all of them.  Amazon Prime has already followed suit so that you may have problems accessing video streams if you use a VPN with a commercial classification.  A couple of the more advanced VPN systems like Identity Cloaker have upgraded their networks to include residential IP addresses, however this is very difficult to do so it's unlikely that most providers will be able to do this.


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