I bet the young people of Iran can hardly contain their excitement. The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting have just announced the launch of an Iran-only version of the popular video uploading site YouTube. It’s called Mehr and it’s the second video channel accessible only in Iran. Access to YouTube was blocked in 2009 after lots of people posted allegations of vote fraud and election fixing by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Of course there was only circumstantial evidence that the President’s landslide victory was anything but fair, his incredible unpopularity in certain areas didn’t seem to materialize in the ballot box.
Mehr is Farsi for ‘affection’ although I wouldn’t test that principle out by posting anything remotely critical of Ahmadinejad or his regime on the site. The problem that Iran has, and in fact any despotic regime – is that it’s extremely difficult to censor or filter specific parts of the internet. They couldn’t for example just block access to the various videos they don’t like on YouTube or Facebook as it would be impossible to keep track of the content. Blocking the whole of YouTube stops lots of people gaining access within Iran but not all, increasingly people are using circumvention tools to bypass these filters.
Using proxies or VPNs you can bypass these specific filters and the ‘video not available in your country‘ messages and many thousands of Iranians do just that. Unfortunately there is one way to control all access to the internet and that’s to block it completely. It’s the sort of model that you see in North Korea, where the internet is merely a basic intranet consisting of Government created websites with all access to the outside world blocked. It is suspected widely that Iran is heading in this direction with the creation of these internal versions of popular sites.
The Iranian government are frequently complaining about the way they are portrayed by bloggers, the media and journalists in general – so it is invitable that the current regime will pull the plug at some point if they stay in power. Anyway there’s no point posting the link to the Mehr website but relishing the irony I will post a link to the Mission for Establishment of Human Rights in Iran also known as MEHR.
There’s a lot of information on this site, about the various methods used to filter, block and deny access to specific websites. Content filters, geo-blocking and firewalls now form part of the internet’s infrastructure rather than existing in isolation to protect genuinely secure networks. Of course, there have always been ways around them and in reality if you had something like the portable version of Identity Cloaker stored on a USB drive, you were normally able to bypass them. But in reality most people wouldn’t want to get involved in the world of proxies, VPNs and encryption because basically they just wanted to watch stuff online.
After all if you’re faced with a big shiny flat screen Smart TV, and you find you can’t watch a video on YouTube or The Simpsons on Hulu – then downloading PC software is not going to get your far. The reality is that we access the internet in so many different ways nowadays and via a computer is just one of these. In my home just for an example, the devices capable of browsing the internet include computers, tablets, phones, TVs, an Xbox and a WiiU and probably more. The challenge is to enable those devices to have unrestricted access to specific websites, not just the computers.
There in lies the difficulty, you can’t install PC based software on your phone, TV and Games console. The most you’ll be able to control is the device’s network settings from some generic menu like this -
This will be the same for your phone, Smart TV and tablet – most devices will allow you access to these settings somehow. Although there are some which don’t – the annoying Roku won’t let you manually change all these network settings for some reason ( Geek Note : although you can remotely assign them through DHCP).
Fortunately now this is all it takes is to use Smart DNS – which you can see from this video demonstrating the procedure on an iPad.
So to bypass all but the most fiendish network blocks all you need to do is to be able to manually alter the DNS settings. Unlock BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Pandora and Netflix on any electronic device you need, just by using Smart DNS.
It’s a wonderful piece of technology, designed to bypass the commercialism and control that corporations are seeking to impose on the internet user. It’s simple to use, cheap and doesn’t impact your connection, so I thoroughly recommend it. Remember the video above – Change DNS iPad settings enables Smart DNS on the tablet but it works the same on any internet enabled device, just find those network settings and change your DNS server to a Smart one.
There is no doubt that the term VPN causes much confusion throughout the IT industry never mind the public. This is due to a number of reasons, but the confusion is largely to do with evolving technologies and how VPNs adapt with them. The traditional definition of a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is as follows;
A private network for voice and data built with carrier services.
It’s a definition that was perfectly adequate for many years however, more recently, a VPN has come to describe the establishing of private and encrypted tunnels through the internet for transporting voice and data. So here’s some more up to date and hopefully more accurate definitions as described by the LAN Times Encyclopedia of Networking -
Voice VPN – a single carrier handles all your voice call switching. The ‘virtual’ in VPN implies that the carrier creates a virtual voice-switching network for use by utilising it’s own switching equipment.
Carrier-based voice data VPN – Packet, frame and cell switching networks carry information in discrete bundles (packets) that are routed through a mesh of network switches to their destination. Carriers can program virtual circuits into these networks that simulate dedicated connections between perhaps specific sites or locations (within a company’s control). A web of these virtual circuits can form a virtual private network over a controlled packed switched network.
The new guy on the block and the most likely technology if you see it mentioned on the internet outside the IT department is this -
Internet VPN – an internet VPN is similar to the previous two definitions except that the IP-based internet is the underlying network.
So in definition an Internet VPN is simply a secure way to move packets across the internet using specialised equipment. It can be done using a variety of methods using a Transport mode, encrypting just the payload and leaving the headers readable so the packet can be forwarded by any hardware across the internet. The other method is Tunnel mode, which can be used with protocols like IP, IPX and SNA to encrypt and encapsulate into new IP packets for distribution, this technique is more secure as it also hides both the source and destination of the packet as well.
A Tunnel mode Internet VPN is probably the most likely technology that is being discussed when you see and hear discussion of a VPN online. Here’s a practical example of one of the commercially popular VPN technologies available on the internet, for an individual who doesn’t want to invest in the extensive infrastructure required – this is an example of how you can buy VPN online.
Here you can see a low cost, highly secure internet VPN which can be used to provide security, hide all your online activities and obscure your exact location from any web site you visit. This particularly has become much more important over the years with the rise of geolocation, where web sites block access based on your location. Using a VPN tunnel you can change your virtual location at will, which millions now use as useful tool to watch websites that are normally inaccessible to them.
Wow what a geeky title, well hopefully this post isn’t too dull but it’s inspired by a few emails I’ve been having. Now a lot of us, are living a pretty region free life online, with the use of certain programs and services we are not blocked and redirected based on our location. So I don’t have to watch the vastly inferior version of Netflix just because I’m currently in the United Kingdom, I can watch the US Version instead! It’s all pretty straight forward on a computer, laptop or smartphone – load up the program, switch servers or use a Smart DNS service and you can choose your own virtual location with a false IP address.
But of course the world is not that simple, and many of us have different devices that are getting blocked. Media streamers, Smart TVs and there are even NAS disks which can download stuff from sites for you automatically. These just like our computers can get blocked based on their location too, and there’s no obvious way to install programs like Identity Cloaker or mess around with network settings. Now obviously installing a sophisticated security program written for a PC or MAC isn’t going to work but how about the smart DNS services that a couple of the leading VPN/Proxy providers have developed. These services work across all sorts of platforms – phones, games consoles, Smart TVs, tablets and computers – in fact virtually anything which has access to the internet.
Here’s the Smart DNS Service I Use -
Just in case you don’t know smart dns is a sort of halfway house to unblocking blocked media content online. It basically routes part of your connection through a specific server using your DNS settings. So you’ll establish initial connections through a US proxy server for instance and then stream directly through your own connection. It works great for unblocking restricted media sites like the BBC for example. All you need to do is enable your IP address with a Smart DNS service and then change your DNS settings on the device you need.
So I Can Change the Location of a Device like a Roku, Boxee or a Smart TV?
Yes you can but this isn’t always obvious, because many devices don’t let you alter or change network settings like DNS servers.
How Can I Change Roku Network Settings
So let’s take for example this device, the amazing Roku which really is that big! This device allows you to stream content directly to a TV via a HDMI cable. Most people use it to access Netflix, Youtube, BBC Iplayer and channels like that. But it is a network enabled device and is therefore affected by the location of your IP address – so stick a Roku on a TV in the USA and it won’t get BBC Iplayer for example.
Smart DNS should be ideal for this sort of situation, it’s not a full blown VPN connection but should be enough just to fool the media site into the location you specify. Except the Roku has no network configuration settings, you can’t directly modify it’s IP address or specifically it’s DNS server. Perhaps these are blocked for a reason, I suspect companies like Netflix wouldn’t want people to be able to access these settings – but who knows?
However you can modify the settings in most cases either on your router directly or by using DHCP which is the protocol that sits on your routers, Wifi access points and modems which dishes out IP addresses for all the devices on your network.
Here’s the settings on my Netgear router which allows the device to allocate IP addresses on my internal network – you allocate a range – 192.168.1.1-192.168.1.254 in this case and each device will be assigned it’s own address when connected to this network.
On a full proper DHCP service, alas not on this particular router, you can also specific other details including which DNS server to use. You could also set up your own DHCP server on a computer to allocate, their are loads of free versions you can use. For Smart DNS to work you need only assign the specific Smart DNS server to the device you wanted to work. So I could assign a specific DNS server to my Roku remotely, which could either be a US, UK or any country enabled by the service you use.
In my situation with this router, I would just assign the Smart DNS setting to the router itself in the DNS settings. All this does is enable everything in my network to use the Smart DNS setting which in many cases is more suitable for people.
These are normally in internet or LAN settings on your router, instead of getting them assigned from your ISP specify the Smart DNS ones you’ve got from your provider like Overplay.
If you’re lucky the DHCP service on your router will allow you to specify the DNS settings like this TPlink one.
So you would simply assign your Smart DNS settings to your devices by assigning them in the DHCP scope. So everything on your network would get assigned this DNS servers including your Roku, Boxee, Ipad or whatever. If you want some devices to have different DNS settings then simply assign them locally on the device, they won’t be overwritten by DHCP.
I should however urge a word of caution particularly due to my tests. The above works fine for most devices for assigning network and DNS settings to devices on your network. However it doesn’t always fool the media site on some devices for some reason.
I can use Smart DNS Proxy on any number of devices like computers and phones to access the US version of Netflix when in the UK for example, but it just makes my Roku stall when connecting **. The server works fine and is assigned but there’s something telling Netflix that my Roku is not in the US – so please bear that in mind before buying big subscriptions for these services before checking.
This is no longer the case, not sure if there was a problem with my Roku or the firmware, but this now works fine. Just update your router with the Smart DNS settings and you can switch between whatever version of Netflix you need.
Many people end up on this site, because they’re looking for a method to change their IP address to a UK one.
There’s a variety of different reasons for this, quite often it’s British Expats who have moved abroad and still want to watch the BBC or ITV, some people who just like UK Television or simply those who realize that a British IP address is much less likely to get blocked or filtered than their own.
funny but completely irrelevant
It’s kind of sad really, the internet used to be a very level playing field, and one that was open and accessible to everyone – irrespective of location.
Those times have changed though, and wherever you are based you’ve probably come across one of those “video not available in your country” or “sorry that’s not available” type messages. The reality is web filtering and blocking is becoming increasingly common, even if you’re based in somewhere like Europe or the USA. Having said that the likelihood of it happening increases greatly if you’re in a country like Turkey, China or Iran whose governments heavily filter the internet.
In any case, although these blocks are common place, there’s no doubt that having something like a US or UK IP address means that you’ll get denied a lot less often. In fact if you use the advice in this post, you can actually ensure you’ll never get blocked at all, ever.
But let’s start with getting a British IP address. Your IP address is the number (internet protocol number) assigned to you when you connect to the internet. It is actually completely unique to you and can also used to link you to a specific location. Most of the major web sites do this when you connect, they look up your IP address and then check your location.
So why is this a problem? Well just have a look at this screenshot, which I took last week when I was waiting for a plane in a Turkish airport.
As you can see it didn’t work, a polite but firm message informing me that I could only watch the BBC iPlayer when I’m in the UK. It’s been like that for many years and it doesn’t matter where you are – France, Spain, Canada, Japan or the US – anywhere outside the UK and you’ll be blocked. The reason is that you won’t have a British IP address which is the mechanism the site uses to control access.
You’ll see exactly the same thing happen on thousands of other sites. Try and access Hulu from outside the USA or the music site Pandora, then exactly the same happens. It wouldn’t perhaps matter so much if these were small unimportant sites, but the reality is that most of the biggest, best and most important media sites on the internet do this.
But fortunately there is a way to bypass these blocks by hiding your real IP address as and when you require. You can also show the site you’re visiting a completely different one if you need as well. It’s all done through using an intermediary server which sits between you and the web site your visiting. These servers are called proxies and you can use them to bypass virtually any country based filter. You just use a proxy in the correct country before you visit the site – so a UK IP proxy will allow you access to the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 for example.
In fact there’s now a mini industry built up giving people access to a variety of these proxies in different places, precisely to bypass these blocks. There are even a few that sell a software tool so you can simply click at the country you need and they do the rest. Here’s one of the best of these being demonstrated in this video -
This is a program called Identity Cloaker, a security program that as well as protecting your internet connection by encrypting everything you do, also allows you to hide your real location when you need to. So you just click on the country you need and that will be the IP address assigned to your connection. Switch from UK for the BBC, choose an Irish IP for RTE, grab a US address for American only sites like Hulu and so on. It takes literally a minute to switch from country to country.
If you’ve ever been blocked or filtered from a site this is your solution. It also works if you live in a country which blocks websites itself. It’s very popular in countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Thailand for example both to hide your location, bypass blocks and keep your browsing private.
Somewhere within the Turkish Government surely there must be someone who is able to tell PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that his latest tactic of blocking social networking sites is incredibly stupid. Unfortunately it would seem not, as that is exactly what has happened within the last twelve hours.
Here’s an example of what happens if you now try to visit the social networking site Twitter using a Turkcell mobile phone. The same thing happens if you try and access from any other device, a fact which I have confirmed with several friends who live on the Turkish coast and in Istanbul.
It has been made legally possible by a dodgy piece of legislation passed last month by the Government which allows websites to be blocked on a variety of spurious reasons and without the need of a court order which was previously required.
The main reason (as always) why the Turkish leader hates social networking sites so much is because they are used to distribute the numerous allegations of corruption within his government.
Twitter was used to distribute the phone call recordings which allegedly take place between Erdogan and his family discussing where to hide various large sums of money from the corruption investigations. The PM denies this allegations and insists these recordings have been faked, but they are making him very mad indeed. There are apparently some more recordings to come, which happily this block will have virtually no effect on whatsoever.
It is of course utterly pointless to block access to these sites for a variety of reasons – which many corrupt leaders have found out to their costs. Here’s some of the more obvious ones -
Thousands of alternatives available to distribute information
International condemnation – not a way to run a democratic republic!
It will be interesting to watch over the next few weeks, if Erdogan keeps on this track and blocks access to even more social sharing sites. In reality it will probably have little effect other than to galvanise the opposition and attract even more international criticism. He may however take notice that his technical efforts have been of limited effect domestically, the number of tweets sent within the country has not even fallen! Blocking access to these sites just makes you look like you have something to hide, expect to see increased protests and opposition if he chooses this route. Turkey are of course unfortunately already noted for their level of censorship, these blocks only bring the eyes of the world down on his undemocratic censorship. In any event, the only really effective method to restricting access to sites like Twitter is to block the entire internet, a bit like North Korea or move up to the sort of solution China has employed to block access, needless to say this would not be a popular move!
A couple of years ago I spent a small fortune on a French Language course issued by the BBC for my eldest son. He was struggling with French at school so I bought this course which was based on the adventures of some cartoon character called Muzzy. It was pretty boring in French and English and my son hardly watched it at all, much to my annoyance ! What I should have done though is introduced him to the wonderful media channel based in Paris called M6 Replay.
If you live outside France you’ve probably never tried it as you need a French proxy to access it. However it’s a wonderful site and has all the top US and European shows as well as some French stuff. On it you can find the shows like the Simpsons that teenagers actually like but they are all dubbed into French.
It’s a great way to practice and learn your vocabulary and it’s way more interesting that the frankly rather boring BBC character Muzzy – pictured here. The site is really slick and well designed and just really features all the shows and films that the channel broadcasts throughout France.
Getting Access to M6 Replay Through a French Proxy Server
So if you do try and access the media site from anywhere outside France you’re going to get blocked by default. The site looks up your IP address when you connect and if it’s in France you’re ok but if you are not then you’ll get the following warning.
Which in case you’re interested says something like - “This video is unavailable. Please try and access it later”
But it’s not worth it as you’ll always get blocked as long as you are connecting from a Non-French IP address. However as we have seen with lots of other media sites across the planet – this is relatively easy to bypass as long as you have access to a proxy or VPN server that is based in France.
Now you can find these online if you search hard enough, but the problem with the free ones is that they’re not very safe and most of them are so overloaded that it’s impossible to stream video across them. So if you want to access M6 replay or any French sites often then it would make sense to invest in a a private proxy service. There’s a few with French servers but make sure you check first before subscribing to any of them.
To illustrate I’m going to show you how I use my copy of the security software Identity Cloaker to access m6 Replay. It has a selection of different proxy servers included in the subscription there are UK, US, European and Australian proxies including some French proxies too.
You can see in this graphic the user screen of Identity Cloaker, all you need to do is to scroll down the list and select one the French servers and then press connect. As soon as you do this you’ll be connected through a secure SSH tunnel to one of the companies Paris based servers. Identity Cloaker is primarily security software which also encrypts your connection – if you’re just watching video then you should turn the encryption off at the bottom of the screen.
Now when you go to the M6 Replay site instead of seeing your IP address they will see the address of the Identity Cloaker proxy server. As long as you have selected one of the French servers the site will think you are based in France and not block access to any of the content.
As I mentioned it is possible to find French proxy servers which you can connect manually too, unfortunately it’s fairly difficult to find suitable ones. If you want to try have a look at this site which lists open proxies by country – http://proxy.org/proxies_sorted.shtml they change by the hour though so keep checking back.
Just put a video up showing this process on YouTube – it’s entitled – French TV Online. Here’s the video with a step by step guide to accessing the M6 Replay site.
For those who don’t have hours to spend searching there are lots of commercial alternative which offer fast, secure and safe proxies in a variety of countries. Here’s the service I recommend - Identity Cloaker, it’s inexpensive and extremely easy to use – the program sits in your task bar and you can switch proxy servers at the click of the button. Try the 10 day trial first to see if you like it – you’ll find it opens up so many possibilities with proxies all across the world including a French Proxy !
Updated – Just checking – August 2nd, 2013 – still working for M6 Replay
Well this post might seem a little trivial but for my better half, it’s the first interesting thing I’ve posted in 8 years of blogging. The title says it all – how can you watch Coronation Street using the ITV player application when you’re outside the UK. In this instance we’re in France for a romantic break (and yes that seems to include watching Coronation Street on my laptop!), and such are blocked from a whole host of UK only websites including the ITV player site.
Anyway here’s the video I made using the excellent Screencast-O-Matic, this application is well worth using if you ever need to make any videos or screen casts.
That’s all there is to it, quickly change your IP address to a UK one and then you can watch ITV Player (or BBC Iplayer) wherever you happen to be. What’s more at the same time you’re protecting your internet connection and personal details whilst accessing the web through some unknown Wi-fi connection. Remember though to fully protect your connection you need to ensure the encrypt connection button is highlighted in Identity Cloaker, you don’t need to encrypt Coronation Street though!
Interested in the future of the internet? I suspect it’s being fought out in the land of the free. Not keen on being spied on?
Please, Please, Please – Watch the video and then support these guys – Demand Progress
Check out this post on using Smart DNS to obscure your location, although for privacy a VPN is better.