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Watch videos through anonymous surfing


Watching videos online is more popular than ever. Cisco reported that 30% of all internet traffic is now video, and they estimate that by 2013, that figure will reach 90%. But despite this boom, much of the video content on the internet is geographically restricted – be it for users in internet censorship countries like China, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates, which have banned YouTube, or for expats and travelers who, in leaving their home country, are denied access to their favourite video sites, like Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and ITVPlayer.

How do You Unblock Filtered Websites Such as These?

Well, as a matter of fact, services have been around for a number of years which hide your IP address free of charge and allow you to bypass a blocked site and watch videos through anonymous surfing. However, many of these free proxies that bypass internet filters only work with some video sites, and all suffer from unreliability. This makes the question How do I fool systems censoring the internet for free? a complicated one to answer: in certain cases you have to be prepared to pay to access restricted video content. Let's take a closer look...

How can Expats and Travellers Watch Videos Through Anonymous Surfing?

Anonymous surfing can be achieved in different ways and to different levels of effectiveness. Most video websites that seek to limit access to their country's residents do so by monitoring IP addresses – numbers that identify every computer by its geographical location and which are made available to any site that a computer visits. This means when you visit a site like BBC iPlayer while living or traveling abroad, their server knows you are not within their country and blocks you from accessing their content. Only by presenting an IP address from within that country will you be able to access the site as normal.

In nearly all cases, it is completely legal for you to do so.
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The traditional way to get around blocked sites is by masking your IP address (and therefore your actual location) with a web proxy. These services (also known as anonymizers or proxy servers) are generally free and very simple to use: they operate entirely online and require no software download, no configuration of your computer or browser and no account registration. Web proxies are sites that look much like a search engine, but instead of searching the internet, they actually visit it on your behalf. You simply enter the name of the site you want to see and the web proxy will retrieve that site's content for you and display it on your browser as if you had gone there directly yourself. The web proxy will replace your IP address with one of its own and in this way will fool the site into believing you are located somewhere other than your actual location. Most of the best web proxies allow you to choose a country of origin for your IP address and in this way you can often unblock internet filters as if you never left your home country.

Unfortunately, web proxies have become widely used by foreign residents who have no legal rights to access the video content and, in response, many of the video sites – such as ITVPlayer – have worked out ways to identify and block users entering the site through a web proxy. This is done either by matching the proxy's fake IP address against a database of known IPs used by proxy servers, or by identifying your computer's real location through programs that operate outside of your browser (Flash Player for example). Because of this ever-evolving struggle between censors and users, a web proxy is rarely a long term solution for expats or travelers who want to watch videos when abroad; and with sites such as NetFlix, Hulu and ITVPlayer, it is not a solution at all. And if that wasn't drawback enough, another downside of using free anonymous internet surfing to access video content is that most web proxy providers are regularly overloaded with users, so accessing bandwidth-heavy video content is invariably very slow and unreliable.

For these reasons, most expats prefer to subscribe to a VPN (Virtual Private Network). These services offer many advantages over web proxies for internet users located outside their home country who want to watch videos through anonymous surfing. A VPN works in a similar way to a web proxy – also helping you to get around blocked sites by masking your IP address and therefore your location – but a VPN does so at a much more secure and complete level. By connecting to a VPN server, your computer channels all internet access (not just its browser's) through an encrypted tunnel. The server, like a web proxy, uses one of its own IP addresses from a country of your choice, retrieves all content that you request and sends it to your computer; only, with a good VPN correctly configured, it is all but impossible for any third party to see who you are or what you are viewing. This being the case, VPNs are used widely by security conscious Internet users who wish to surf anonymously, privately and securely – and they more than satisfy the needs of expats who want to bypass a blocked site and watch videos in their home country.

The main reason VPNs are so superior to web proxies in allowing you to watch restricted videos is that because all your internet access is channeled through the VPN your computer will not divulge your real IP address through other applications like Flash Player, which you often need to view the videos online. Therefore ITVPlayer will all grant access to a user coming in through a VPN.

Further, because VPNs limit the number of users operating off their server, you are much less likely to encounter any slowing-down of your internet use. Of course, this point is of great importance to those who want to watch videos through anonymous surfing. However, even with such limitations on user numbers, unfortunately internet traffic can still hit congestion either side of the VPN server and your video viewing experience negatively affected. To address this issue, the best VPN services offer intelligent routing – a system by which they monitor traffic on the internet, and when one of their subscriber's connectivity is seen to be slowed by general internet congestion, that connection will automatically be redirected to a more open (faster) route. This is a major plus for those using a VPN to watch bandwidth-heavy videos and one that should be born in mind when you choose a VPN provider. is one such VPN offering intelligent routing.

Some other considerations are required to guarantee you encounter no problems using a VPN to watch videos through anonymous surfing:

  • First you should choose a VPN that employs SSL encryption protocol (eg. OpenVPN); this is the protocol used by HTTPS browsers and is therefore allowed to pass through firewalls.
  • Secondly, one should configure both the VPN server and your computer to connect using TCP port 443 (the port used by your browser); and lastly, make sure you select what is known as a 'designated IP address' from your VPN. A designated IP address is one that only your computer will have access to, which means that it will not appear on any databases that censors keep of IP addresses used by VPNs. With these three things done, you can be sure that your internet use is indistinguishable from normal browser-based traffic and you will encounter no problems whatever in your internet use.

The only downside of choosing to use a VPN to watch videos through anonymous surfing is that you must pay a monthly subscription to do so. The rates, however, are really very reasonable considering the level of privacy and security you receive in return – and you will be able to unblock internet filters permanently. Another thing worth noting here, though, is that if a restricted video site itself requires a monthly subscription from you and demands payment originating from that country (a US credit card, for example), you will need to satisfy that demand as usual – of course a VPN won't hide the fact you are using a foreign credit card or bank account to make your payment. This is something for expats to bear in mind if they no longer use a bank account from their home country.

Part II: How Can Residents of Internet Censorship Countries Watch Videos through Anonymous Surfing?

Written by: 
Robin Welles; expats team, internet security team