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Iran Launches YouTube Alternative

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.

Latest Stupid Erdogan Move – Turkey Blocks Twitter

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.

Twitter Blocked by ErdoganIt 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
  • Looks like an admission of guilt
  • Lots of ways to bypass the blocks quickly and easily (Identity Cloaker for one)
  • 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!

Using a French Proxy for M6 Replay

France Ip

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

Watching Coronation Street on ITV Player Abroad

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!

Change Encryption Level

Change Encryption Level

If you need it only for a short trip or want to test it first – you can try the 10 day trial out here.

Keep the World Free, Well at Least the Net…

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.

Changing a Device’s IP Address – Region Free, Smart DNS

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.

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

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.

netgearWNDR4500

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.

DNS Settings on Router

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.

assign-dnsto-roku

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.

This video is useful –

You can find it on YouTube it’s about Smart DNS

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 from Overplay 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.

How Can I Get the American Netflix?

I’ve just cancelled my Sky cable service, I realised that my wife and I rarely watched any of the channels. In effect we were paying the £65 monthly subscription (that’s $98!)  for my youngest to watch reruns of Scooby Doo on one of the kids channels. This we decided was not great value for money so I went in search for more options in the world of online media and streaming services.  After some investigation and recommendations from a couple of US friends – I decided Netflix was worth a go and signed up for a month.

So here we go – my shiny new subscription to Netflix already streaming mindless rubbish to my 14 year old son.

Screen from the Netflix UK site

Screen from the Netflix UK site

Now don’t get me wrong, I was quite impressed – there’s loads of shows and lots of choice.  The interface builds up your preferences from what you watch – which is clever except when  you have a teenager watching South Park all the time which messes up your selection.  The missus and I settled down to watch episode one of a series that we’d somehow missed but everyone else in the universe had been enthralled by – Lost.   So all was good except I kept searching for new stuff recommended by some Americans, and couldn’t find them.

It turns out that the UK and the US versions of Netflix are very, very different.  In fact from my initial research it seems that the American version of Netflix is much better than all the other country variants, even just over the border – Canadian Netflix isn’t anywhere near as good, unfortunately it’s not easy to get the U.S. Netflix.

So How Can I Get American Netflix ?

Just as every online service in existence, where you live determines what you can access and as often is the case the best value if to be found in America.

Fortunately  there is a way around this, by changing your IP address and tricking the Netflix application about your location you can access the American version of Netflix fairly easily.   Now I use two separate services for switching my location and keeping my connection secure, both are fast, easy to use and well supported – Identity Cloaker and Overplay.

In this instance I’ll use Overplay to switch my location to a US one -

Accessing US Version Netflix

At the top you can see the Overplay application, which is pointing at a US server – you just select the country you need from a list.  Now when I start Netflix I am treated as a US surfer and get the American version of Netflix which has loads more content and is much more up to date than the UK version.  Netflix operates as a global company so it’s important to highlight that my account is still a UK one, but will change as I move location.  So if I was physically in the USA – my UK account would show the US version of Netflix.

You can use any VPN based service to change versions like this, Overplay and Identity Cloaker are definitely worth trying though as they are by far the best value out of any I’ve tried. Here’s a good video on YouTube which illustrates –

Incidentally this method is based on the PC, you can use similar methods on lots of other devices, like Wii, Routers etc.  For iPad – try this post and select a US server instead of a UK one, before you connect to the Netflix site.

Turkish Protests – Is Social Media so Bad?

If you were asked for the greatest menace facing society, what would you go for?  Something like war, famine, disease, religion, capitalism or perhaps global warming and impending environmental disaster?  No, perhaps you’d plump for something more specific depending on your location perhaps malaria, HIV or your local dictator someone like Robert Mugabe?

Well whatever your choice, I suspect not many would pick Twitter or Facebook – but that’s seems to be the choice of Recep Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey.  The quote was -

“Social media is the worst menace to society”

Well I think what he really means, is that social media is a menace to those in power especially when your people don’t like very much what you’re doing to their country.

The backdrop for this idiotic comment is of course the protests in Turkey.  Starting in Istanbul seemingly with a small protest trying to save a park, the authorities piled in the police with tear gas and water cannons. Suddenly the hundred became thousands and then hundreds of thousands as the protests spread across the country through the major cities.   Paul Mason of the BBC a veteran reporter of these protests has been shocked at the sheer size.

This of course put’s the prime ministers quotes into context, if my people were rising up against me – I suspect I would also consider Twitter to be a real menace.

This has of course moved on from the protest about a park in Istanbul. The cries from the crowd are along the lines “long? live atatürk and f*ck erdogan”. Kemil Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic is rightly still a hero to many Turkish especially the young. They have seen however the model of a free, democratic, secular society slowly being eroded by a religious man who seems to have been in power for too long.

Just for clarification – secular means keeping religion out of government, whereas the President seems intent in turning Turkey into an Islamic state. His latest laws are restrictions on the sale of alcohol – he mentions that people who drink are alcoholics anyway. The internet has been heavily filtered over the years with most of the social networking sites being blocked at some point over the years.

That’s not all many gay and lesbian sites (message boards, information sites, not pornography) have been banned, Richard Dawkin’s site was banned after he ridiculed a book on creationism, the list get’s longer and longer every year. Many Turkish people and indeed a vast number of expats who live in the country have used proxy sites for some time to be able to access sites often blocked by the Turkish Government.

Here’s hoping it can be resolved peacefully and the Turkish people get the government they want and deserve.

What is Internet Filtering (and How Can you Beat it)?

This is becoming a more and more important question as we spend an increasing amount of time online. What exactly is internet filtering and should we learn to live with it or try and bypass it at every turn?

It’s probably best to start with some background, and define some of the types of filtering you’ll find online and who enforces them. All sorts of people could potentially be filtering your internet access, largely dependent upon your location and situation. Governments often filter extensively – places like China, Thailand and Iran heavily restrict what you can see or do online. More worryingly many places monitor rather than block which has led to many bloggers for instance being imprisoned for merely expressing an opinion online.

Web Filtering
More democratic nations are also starting to increase the amount of filtering they engage in. Australia seems very keen to introduce an extensive filtering system whilst Iceland are proposing to block internet porn completely from their country.

There are also more understandable filtering which takes place in your workplace, schools or colleges generally to prevent individuals accessing inappropriate sites or spending their working days on Facebook!

Surprisingly though all this filtering is usually obtained through very similar methods. Your local college is liable to be filtering your internet feed using the same methods as the Sudanese Government. If you decide you do want to beat internet filtering – then here’s two of the main methods used;

Filtering TCP/IP Headers

Every TCP/IP packet consists of two main sections, the header and the data. Inside the header you’ll find the destination IP address effectively where the request is being sent to. A simple but popular method of internet filtering is to maintain a list of ‘blocked IP addresses’ any request sent to these addresses is either dropped or blocked. It’s nto a very effective method though and means spending a long time keeping an up to date list of IP addresses and servers. It also often ends up blocking legitimate sites by mistake.

Filtering Based on Content

A more sophisticated method which involves looking at the data in the packet and not simply the address from the header. It usually involves an investment in new hardware to enable content filtering. This method is much more configurable and will allow blocks on inappropriate content such as porn, gambling etc without the reliance on maintaining a static list of sites.

It’s not perfect and there are still ways to beat this method of internet filtering too, it can also heavily impact the speed of the connection as well.

There are many variants of these methods and of course you’ll find lots of different security configurations employed as well in many organisations. For example many companies will only allow outgoing web requests out through a single server address normally a controlled proxy server. This is to stop people using the free basic web proxy servers that you find over the internet.

So Can You Beat Internet Filtering?

The simple answer is that you normally can. Evading the simple TCP/IP header filters is relatively straight forward – just finding a proxy server which does not have it’s IP address listed will normally do the trick.

Obviously it’s more difficult if you’re faced by a sophisticated content filter like BT Clean Feed, Websense or Optinet. These are actually looking in the data for both web addresses and specific keywords or patterns in the content itself. The simplest way to stop these content filters blocking you is to make your browsing unreadable by encrypting it. Encrypting your data means that the filters can’t actually see what is in the data in order to make a decision, when combined with a proxy server you can normally beat most internet filters.

Take a look at this video, which demonstrates how Hide IP Software actually works.

If you need a product that does this and more – then take a look at Identity Cloaker, it has the technology to encrypt and cloak your protection plus access to an extensive network of proxies all over the globe – servers in the United States, Britain, France, Canada and many more across the world. You can use it for complete seclusion, to circumvent web filtering,censorship or even just to watch Hulu, BBC Iplayer or any media site you enjoy. The proxy will shield your IP address and the encryption will protect your data from logging and content filters.

A Fake UK IP Address

So why would anyone want to change their IP address to a fake UK one? There are a variety of reasons actually but the usual answer is either TV or they’ve been blocked/banned from some forum somewhere and want to get back on.  Anyway there is an answer for  people who want to watch the UK TV channels on the internet from anywhere in the world.  It also works if you’ve been banned from your favorite forum because some moderator just decided to ban you.

So whether it’s a pining for Match of the Day, the BBC News, documentaries or any of the wonderful UK TV channels that are only accessible to those who have a UK IP address, or disguising yourself so you can rejoin a forum – the answer is here.

The problem is that the BBC, ITV and Channel Four like most media companies online use something called geotargeting. It all sounds a bit geeky and technical but in fact is rather simple. It’s a shortened term for geographical targeting and is a simple way for a website to deliver different content to readers in different locations.

Here’s a very simple example – here’s a search conducted with a US IP address for an electrician -

You can see that the search engine has looked at the location based on my IP address and given me US based results.  However on the very same computer if I use a fake UK IP address – the same search yields quite different web addresses.

I now get results based on electricians in the UK rather than the USA.  Which is of course exactly what I need if I was in the United Kingdom at the time.   Google looks at your IP address when you connect and uses that information to tailor it’s results and adverts.

So in this situation geotargeting is actually quite useful and you’ll find nearly all big web sites will use this technique to some extent.   Unfortunately often it’s a case of blocking access rather than customising  your content.  For instance every large media site does this – Hulu, NBC, BBC, ITV, M6 Replay etc.

How The Web Site Determines Your Location from Your IP Address

It’s actually a very simple procedure, the moment you connect to a web site, your IP address is recorded.  It is then looked up in a Country directory or database.  It’s quite easy to do for your own websites too.

You can access one of these country databases from companies like Maxmind, download it and load it into a database or a spreadsheet. You can pay for a service or just run your own scripts to determine which country a particular IP address is registered to.

So this is what happens every time you get blocked from accessing a resource online because you have the ‘wrong’ IP address.  So for instance here’s what you need to use the following sites -

There are obviously many more.  One of the problems is many of the people who are blocked are just travelling, working abroad or Ex-Pats who just miss their home TV stations.

But of course it wasn’t long before people figured a way to bypass these restrictions.  Initially discovering that you could use proxy servers to sit between you and the website you were trying to access.   The proxy server IP address was the one that was checked so you could use a UK proxy for the BBC and a US proxy for sites like NBC and Hulu.

So now a mini industry has built up supplying proxies and VPNs to allow people to access the sites they wish.  The very best of them supply you with a huge list of servers in different countries so that you never need to get blocked again.   Many openly advertise themselves as TV proxy services but I’d be careful with those as they tend to get shut down. There’s some useful advice in this video about fake ip addresses and proxies.

Of course I use  Identity Cloaker whose software is easy to use and offers access to servers in about a dozen different countries (including USA, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Australia and quite a few more).It works with just a click of a button and you can change your address to a US or a fake UK IP address or whatever you require. Their trial offer is here - Identity Cloaker.  You can see it in action on this page – Watching BBC Iplayer - there’s a video towards the bottom of the page you can watch too.

There are loads of other services available though, but be careful as it’s easy to set up a proxy server and sling up a fancy TV web site.  The hard part is providing fast, secure servers especially important if you’re going to be streaming video from the like of Hulu and the BBC.

Updated Post and links.