Category: technology

Best UK VPN Access for iPlayer

Which is the best UK VPN Access provider with British based servers for BBC iPlayer?  It’s a difficult question, simply down to the huge choice that is available now online.  Years ago, I was involved in a project to install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) client on thousands of laptops in a large multinational company.  The laptops consisted of wide variety of hardware, lots of different language builds and each had different software installed (even some VPN client software which needed to be removed first).   One thing I did learn throughout this project is that VPN client software can cause all sorts of problems mainly concerned with network connectivity if it doesn’t work properly.

best vpn for UK TV abroad

Reliable Software is Important

This is why, choosing a reliable VPN service is so important. For most of us, an internet connection is why we use our computers, using a poor service will at best slow down your connection and at worse completely break it. A VPN needs to be well configured, maintained and supported both at the client and the server side to work quickly, securely and seamlessly.

In fact seamlessly is an important point, because the better a service is, the less impact it will have on your connection.  If your internet speeds plummet to a slow crawl as soon as you enable the connection then it’s going to be fairly worthless.

Most people need a VPN for the following reasons:

  • Secure their connection and personal details.
  • Access blocked websites like Hulu, BBC iPlayer, ABC and others.
  • Privacy

There are other reasons, but it’s mainly to bypass blocks and ensure security, any well run VPN should be able to supply both of these.  If you’re interested in a accessing a particular service like British TV online then a fast UK connection is the priority.  This is an important point, the best VPN or Smart DNS service will actually allow you access to a network of VPN servers in different countries. However it is the speed of the specific servers that you connect to which will ultimately determine how it performs.

For example, many services offer a server in a few different countries, which is great if you are not concerned about which country you connect to.  However if you want to watch and access the BBC online then you will have to select a UK one to change your IP address, unfortunately so will many others.   Which is why for so many companies popular servers will be completely overloaded.

Identity Cloaker monitor their servers 24/7 and because they are one of the oldest and safest UK VPN Access providers on the internet they have a wealth of expertise in maintaining fast, accessible servers.  They also have deployed servers based on demand – their network has dozens of UK and US servers with huge, available bandwidth to be used for the popular media sites like the BBC and Hulu, but less servers based in other countries.

Which means their UK VPN servers are fast, very fast especially when used with the compression algorithm in the client software.

The reality is that the service is one of the best because it has been around for so long and been actively developed.  The software is sophisticated and robust, the servers have been optimized over the years to provide the fastest and most effective service.

Here’s a great example, although Identity Cloaker was originally available using the client software which redirected through a UK BBC proxy for British addresses but it was becoming apparent that demand was moving towards different devices.  For example many people were starting to stream video directly onto Smart TVs, tablets or media devices.  Making different versions of the VPN client software was almost impossible for many of these devices, how do you install software onto your Smart TV for example?

Which is why all the Identity Cloaker servers were modified to allow direct VPN connections from other devices.  Basically it was possible now to set up your VPN connection manually on tablets, ipads and phones.  You can even connect directly from your router to effectively switch every device to use the VPN even things like Smart TVs – watch this video.

This won’t be suitable for everyone of course, because by default it does effect every device connected to that router.  However it’s a marvelous fix for situations where you can’t get access to the network configuration settings and still need the a good VPN you can get access to.   Most modern routers will have this facility, although unfortunately in the UK there is a tendency for ISPs to supply heavily restricted devices.  BT have removed the majority of the connection settings in it’s Home Hub device including much of the VPN functionality.  The overriding advantage of this message though is that the IP address is classed as a residential one, a valuable asset that you’d normally pay for from a residential IP provider !

However for speed, security and reliability then I can thoroughly recommend Identity Cloaker which you can try out for 10 days using their . .

Snooper’s Charter – UK Passes Surveillance Law

This was always likely to happen given recent events, the ridiculous snooper’s charter which was originally tabled in 2012 by the then home secretary Theresa May has been approved and passed.

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Over the years it’s been blocked and repealed with good cause, civil liberties groups have described it as the most extreme surveillance legislation ever passed in a democratic nation.   It’s a huge blow to personal privacy with the government basically having access to pretty  much everything we do online.

Here’s some stand out points:

Internet provider’s Forced to Log Web History for 12 Months

This is a great one, your ISP will be forced to record every single web site you visit for 12 months.  So just imagine this, Government departments will be able to generate a list of every single web site you have visited for the last year.   Sounds a bit Orwellian,  a bit intrusive?  We thinks so!  Further imagine sitting down for an interview or an application with some Government official sitting across the desk from you with that list in hand.

Decrypt Data on Demand

The government will have the power to force any company or individual to decrypt data on demand.  Obviously no one really has any idea how this will work or how it can be implemented, but this just means it can be made up to suit the situation.  Is your VPN a protection, who knows if the law demands you hand over the key perhaps not.

Intelligence Agencies can Hack into Our Devices and Computers

Great eh!  Not only do they get a list of every porn site you may have inadvertently clicked on over the last 12 months, but the Government can legitimately hack into your phone, TV or internet enabled toaster to pry just a little bit further.  The use of the word ‘devices’ means they have pretty much ‘carte blanche’ to break into every electronic device in your possession and create sinister, snoopy lists and databases.

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There are many other provisions, and in the spirit of oppressive regimes everywhere lots  of them are kept suitably vague and unclear.  This is important because it allows the security agencies to do pretty much anything and claim it is covered under the legislation.  Places like Iran, Turkey and China have been doing this for decades.

Is privacy a basic human right?  Many people think so, yet this legislation completely erodes that concept.   It’s been criticized from all quarters – privacy groups, United Nations representatives, lots of IT companies and even the parliamentary committee that was tasked with looking through the bill.

Nothing seemed to matter and the UK has now established a legal right to spy on it’s citizens like some second rate, despotic regime.

Is a Residential VPN Service Essential?

If you’d asked about a residential VPN service 12 months ago not many people would know what you were talking about. Although there were a few companies like Storm Proxies a residential IP provider mainly supplying addresses for use in the UK and USA. They were mainly used for people seeking that little extra privacy and in the SEO and internet marketing arenas for promoting sites and using marketing tools. However having access to a residential IP address is becoming important in another areas – bypassing region blocks.

What Exactly is a Residential IP Address?

Well the reality is that you almost certainly already have one. If you go to any of the check my IP address type sites and look at your public IP address, it’s normally been assigned by your internet provider. Your modem or router will be assigned this by your ISP to establish your internet connection. Here’s mine, heavily censored obviously –

Residential vpn service

Residential IP Address

– it is assigned by British Telecom, whom I have the misfortune to be a customer, they allocate that address and it’s pretty much out of my control.    The address can be classified as a UK Residential IP Address and that in itself has many implications for example;

  • Can Watch BBC iPlayer and all UK TV channels
  • Blocked Access if I try and watch Hulu or NBC
  • Search Engines Set to UK Results
  • Netflix will Route to the UK version only

That’s only the start but it gives you an idea about how your IP address controls what you can do online.  Of course, many people weren’t happy about all this filtering, blocking and redirection.  They wanted to watch the BBC News when on holiday, watch the rugby from Ireland and knew that the US version of Netflix was way better than any other one.

The solution was simple enough – to hide your real IP address and instead relay your connection through a proxy or VPN service.  This was a perfect way to access any web site you liked, especially as most of the best services offered a range of servers in different countries.   At the click of a button you could switch from a UK address to watch the BBC, then switch to a US server to enjoy your Hulu subscription.

The important thing was having access to a server physically located in the country you needed, nothing else mattered – until now.  

It looks like it’s going to get much more complicated in the future and we can probably thank the media giant Netflix for this.  In a few short weeks they have effectively blocked 99% of the VPN servers used to access their site.   Not only have Netflix blocked access based on the location of the IP address, they have also restricted any connections from commercial IP addresses.   The problem is virtually every VPN service uses a commercial IP address as they are housed in data centers across the world.   You can get residential VPNs from specialist providers but they are extremely expensive, suppliers like proxyrack you usually have to go on a waiting list to get a residential vpn.

Most VPN Services Can’t Access Netflix 

It doesn’t matter how advanced your VPN or proxy solution is, if it doesn’t have a residential IP address it’s going to get blocked automatically.     These residential IP addresses however are mostly reserved for domestic customers – you can get one easily for your home connection but it’s very difficult to get a range to support VPN services in different countries.     The other worry is that when other media companies see the huge success that Netflix has had in blocking VPN access they are likely to follow suit.

There is some hope,  Identity Cloaker  have come up with a solution by integrating residential US IP addresses into their infrastructure.  They are not used all the time, but merely when a connection is made to the Netflix site – it is automatically routed through a US residential VPN.  You can see this working in this video rather confusingly called Using a Proxy for Netflix which shows how a UK viewer can access the US version of Netflix through a VPN without issues.

For access to US Netflix from anywhere try out the . and see how well it works for all the world’s major media sites including US Netflix.

If  you want any volume of residential IP addresses for running SEO tools, Bots for buying from various sites and similar then you’ll need to go direct to the residential vpn providers.   The problem is a single IP address is ok for watching a movie but pretty much useless for any sort of automated tool, in fact you’re going to need access to a significant amount to stop them being banned.  The best providers have a variety of systems to make this accessible including rotating and backconnect proxies which effectively rotate the IP address automatically.

Here’s the best one by far, which you can test out for 48 hours without commitment –Storm

EU Change Forces iPlayer Rethink

There’s encouraging news that the European Union is going to be forcing the way forward in the market for digital services and one of the biggest impacts could be on the BBC iPlayer.   As you probably know the BBC iPlayer works wonderfully if you’re actually in the United Kingdom but stops working the moment you try and access it from anywhere else.  Which leads to the situation where a BBC license fee payer is blocked simply because they are outside the country,  so you can’t watch the News on holiday or keep up with your favorite soaps.

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Obviously there’s now a whole range of VPN and IP proxy products available to circumvent the blocks but should it really be necessary for a valid purchaser to use these just because they happen to be out of the country for whatever reason.

The BBC is not alone, virtually every large digital media company on the internet operates under similar restrictions.  You can’t watch Hulu or HBO from outside the USA, M6 Replay is blocked outside France and so on.  Even supposedly global digital companies do the same, your Netflix account will only work if you are in a country it which it operates,  certainly seems a nonsense in this digital world.

EU Proposals are designed to move towards a single European digital market with the idea that if you legally buy content in one country there should be no restrictions on accessing them in any other country.   Currently there are all sorts of restrictions on digital content usually fuelled by complex copyright rules and regulations.    However these could all be overruled if it became a new right for EU citizens that these digital products were portable across European boundaries.

As it stands it’s just a proposal, the planned implementation if it gains approval is 2017 however we might have to wait a little longer than that.  Firstly there are genuine concerns that some countries will not be keen to support this proposal, particularly those who like to protect their own culture and national media.

There are also some powerful and well funded lobby groups who feel that it is a fundamental right to be able to control production and distribution based on specific territories.  However of course, they would say that because it enables them to operate profit maximisation techniques by selling for different prices in European regions – certainly not the definition of a single market.

For the BBC there will also be some technical difficulties in implementing a system which allows license fee payers the rights to watch wherever they are in Europe, the current BBC iPlayer has no real authentication system like Netflix or Sky. It is likely that the changes required will take some time, perhaps even beyond the 2017 implementation proposal.

However at least there is hope on the horizon that we will genuinely be able to access digital content internationally without having to use a VPN or Smart DNS that we have legitimately bought, without having to pay individually in each country we want to access it from.

Lessons from the Internet of Things – Do you Trust Your Fridge?

The ‘Internet of Things‘ is one of the most discussed topics on technical forums at the moment. The idea that you can enable all sorts of devices with a network card and a bit of memory to attach it online obviously has many benefits. It reminds me of the excitement of the ‘Trojan Room Coffee Machine which was a live video stream of a coffee machine hooked up in Cambridge University, via MPLS and an Acorn Archimedes (remember them!) in 1993. Sure it was just a coffee machine, certainly the picture rarely changed – it was either full, empty or half empty – but the realisation that you could check on it in real time without leaving your chair was kind of exciting at the time. The web cam was switched off in 2001, but many of us can still recall checking that the geeks in Cambridge had enough coffee.

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Nowadays of course, our devices are increasingly network aware, printers were of course, the logical first piece of equipment to stick online, it saved having them hooked up to computers and people could use them remotely. However it didn’t take long for hackers to target the first network enabled printers to infiltrate networks, distribute malware or just muck about by sending huge print jobs to them.

A story has broken this week in the security press which adds a strange twist with the first reported Spam attack by a fridge. The report released by the security firm, Proofpoint claims that a fridge took part in sending 750,000 email messages in a wide bot enabled Spam attack. It’s actually a little late as there have been similar reports as early as 2013 of this new vocation of our kitchen appliances, however it’s still rather disturbing.

Many of us, will perhaps question the need for kitchen appliances to have access to the internet. I for one can happily live without my fridge tweeting me that I’m out of milk, in fact being nagged by my fridge doesn’t appeal at all!! Manufacturers will point to the fact that internet access will provide a host of other benefits like fault finding and notifying manufacturer of potential problems. Again, the old school method of the fridge simply stopping working seems more than adequate. Imagine getting a call from a Samsung customer representative who has just been notified that your fridge light is not working by your erm fridge. It’s an internet horror story and the benefits negligible at best and in reality pretty much pointless.

Enabling these devices means there’s another headache you are responsible for, you’ll need to configure your fridge to connect, ensure it’s got a strong password and it’s behaving itself online.  How do you connect to your fridge, could you compromise other logins, should you use a VPN to connect?  Coming down in the morning and finding your fridge cornered by the FBI might seem far fetched but it’s not as ridiculous as it might seem.   Using these devices in botnets to attack other machines, send out spam or as proxies to attack other machines is perfectly feasible and it’s actually happening now.

Network security on these enabled devices is normally an after thought, it’s often much easier to hack into a network enabled device than a laptop or computer.   For example how many people would log onto their fridge after purchase to change the default password – but if you’ve bought  a fancy internet enabled smart fridge it’s something you really should do.   Already hackers have demonstrated how to to steal your google login from a Samsung fridge, at this years DefCon conference.  The fridge ran a flawed implementation of  SSL which failed to check false certificates making it vulnerable to MiTM attacks.

This ‘internet of things’ basically sounds like a huge pain, introducing fairly pointless benefits at the cost of loads of hassle and vulnerabilities.  Of course for things like printers and using my Smart TV to access online entertainment then it makes sense.  However I for one will not be upgrading my fridge anytime soon.