Ways to Access Region-restricted Websites
The best ways to access region-restricted websites are through VPNs and Smart DNS. Two such examples:
1. A VPN (virtual private network) extends an existing private network through a public, albeit encrypted, network. The VPN allows connected devices a secure connection while masking the user’s address and location.
2. Smart DNS (domain name system) replaces part of your access request to websites with a location identifier allowed by a geo-blocked website.
This post will also briefly describe two other less reliable and secure methods: using a proxy and Tor (The Onion Router).
About geo-blocking and your access to the Internet
Geo-blocking is an Internet technology which, as implied by its name, blocks or restricts access to the Internet. The technology blocks the user if the IP address is outside the authorized geographical area.
Region-restricted or geolocation blocked websites are becoming more common. Copyright regulations, for example, force major content providers like HBO, Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon to apply geo-restrictions.
That blocking is driven by multi-nation licensing laws and other legal/copyright considerations. Consequently, content providers cannot offer web access to their products in every country. To do so they would have to buy the licensing rights in each country.
So, geo-blocking is the tool for ensuring licensing regulations are enforced. For example, try to access Pandora Radio from outside the U.S. and you’ll receive a diplomatic, but firm message that Pandora is only available in the U.S.
Geo-blocking does not have to be an impediment to your access to the Internet. Read more on how to bypass it in this article.
How geo-blocking works
Every device you use to access the Internet has a unique Internet Protocol or IP address. Your Internet service provider provides the address and knows who you are and can monitor the websites you visit. Your IP address also includes your geographical location through its country identifier.
Say, for example, you are traveling in Europe. You take your laptop computer with you. If you are in London, you will be blocked out of U.S.-only region-restricted sites because your hotel has a British IP address. Travel across the Channel to France, and you will likewise only be able to access Internet content available in France.
Geo-restrictions can also be used to the detriment of online customers. Online retailers can use geo-blocking to show different prices to customers based on their geographic area. Airlines, for example, have been known to charge higher ticket prices to customers in developed countries. Also, based on location, a user might not have access to special pricing and discounts.
More reasons geo-blocking occurs
Again, there are other reasons for geo-blocking beyond copyright and licensing. Some countries use it to block irrelevant or illegal content and malicious traffic. Some governments geo-block websites for political or censorship reasons. Also, there are times when local blackouts of sports streaming are needed to enforce network exclusive distribution rights. Likewise, geo-blocking enforces contractual agreements between the content owners and sports leagues.
So, geo-blocking can be an impediment to the original purpose of the world wide web: free, open, and universal access. That impediment has grown as e-commerce and security concerns have closed off access to premium services and restrictions imposed by laws, treaties, and copyright regulations.
Geo-blocking is restricted in European countries
Beginning in 2018, the European Union has banned “unjustified geo-blocking.” However, that ban does not apply to blocking required by legal regulations and copyright protection or to media content such as eBooks and video games.
Other EU regulatory developments are the new regulations on media portability. Content providers who charge fees for their services must as of April 2018 offer so-called “roaming rights” within the EU. So, a user from the UK visiting another country on the continent must be able to access his or her UK web content.
Other countries, totalitarian and democratic alike, however, are likely to continue the practice of geo-blocking.
How a VPN bypasses geo-blocking
Redirecting your Internet connection through a secure remote server using a VPN hides your IP address. You can also appear to be browsing from a completely different location of your choice, with added benefits of secure and encrypted communications.
Moreover, your Internet traffic can appear to be originating from a location of your choosing. You can instantly unblock any site from that location. The VPN spoofs your IP, and your Internet service provider cannot detect the final destination of your traffic nor interfere with it in any way.
Smart DNS masks your IP address
With Smart DNS you cannot completely hide your IP address, but you can mask your server-assigned DNS address. This hides your geo-location from websites you are trying to access. Smart DNS, however, is not encrypted, so it can be faster—but far less secure.
Two not-so-reliable and insecure geo-blockers: Using a proxy or the dark web
Using a proxy
A proxy acts as an intermediary between the web and a small network. Proxies can be used for bypassing geo-blocking, as they easily mask the user’s IP address. They can also cache websites for faster access later on.
Proxies, on the other hand, offer scant security, are slow, and have restrictive bandwidth limitations due to free access and overcrowding. Also, with HTTP connections, the proxy owner can detect the user’s real IP address.
The Onion Router (Tor)
Many users conceal their location through a free service known as Tor. This service hides your IP address each time the user transacts business on the web. Volunteers run geographically separated computer nodes and relay the traffic around the world without digital footprints.
While secrecy and bypassing geo-blocking are the main advantage of Tor, The Onion Router is not always reliable, and users cannot rely on fast connection speeds. Likewise, given the rather sinister history of the dark web, which relies on Tor, governments have the ability to block Tor connections.
You can bypass geo-blocking by subscribing to a VPN or Smart DNS service. A VPN quickly shares your private network through a secure encrypted tunnel and hides your identity. Smart DNS can be faster, but far less secure. If you want to access region-restricted websites securely and anonymously, VPN is your best bet.