Category: TV

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 . .

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

Do You Trust Your TV? It Could be Spying on You.

Well if you have a new Samsung TV then perhaps you should think twice before answering that question.  Their new generation of Smart TVs have a voice activation feature that allows you to switch on and off, change channels and stuff like that, but it’s possible that this comes at a significant cost.

 

An eagle eyed EFF activist called Parker Higgins, took the time to read the privacy policy of these TVs and discovered a rather alarming paragraph which stated –

Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.

So let’s just have a think about this, if you enable the voice recognition function on your shiny new Samsung Smart TV, the bloody thing will not only listen to all your conversations it will also transmit them to a myriad of  third party companies.  Your TV would actually be sitting in the corner of your room spying on you!

Now putting aside my personal dislike of all voice enabled devices, I mean why is talking to an inanimate device preferable to pushing a button, this is a seriously worrying threat to people’s privacy.  For a start you’d have to be permanently on your guard, who knows where your conversations are going to – just some spotty Samsung technical geek  or more likely a selection of marketing companies?   Secondly, it’s not only spying on you the owner of the TV but anyone who happens to be in the room – have they given their permission ?  Should anyone entering your living room be given a disclaimer and need to sign a consent form !!

Samsung have now modified the wording in their policy insisting that the TV doesn’t in fact listen to ordinary conversations.  This is however rather difficult to believe after the initial policy wording,  I mean you’d never put that down in writing if it wasn’t in some way true.  There is obviously little thought being put into the design of these devices, as far as privacy goes – relying on stuffing a few sentences deep in the TVs documentation (which it probably thought nobody would read).

There are other aspects to the technology which makes it even more unlikely that conversations can’t be monitored by the device.  For start the TV is capable apparently of recognising complex requests like –

‘recommend a good Sci-Fi Movie’ or ‘open BBC iPlayer

I mean a TV would have to listen to pretty much everything to pick up and filter requests like that, this is beyond someone like me shouting OFF  in his stupid accent.

What is more that the TV doesn’t have a single microphone, you can’t just huddle in the corner away from the TV whispering – there’s another in the damn remote control.   Cunning move, the TV remote in my house for example it is the singlest most difficult to find device by far.  It routinely turns up in all sorts of obscure locations and I’m sure my children are on some sort of retainer to hide it every time they’ve finished watching.

Well I for one, will not be purchasing one of these things, however unfortunately it will also involve me upgrading my general level of paranoia.  I foresee a future of creeping around electronic stores or checking the backs of friends TV sets when I enter their house  (and of course enquiring about the location of the remote).

Does anyone really need this rubbish !!

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.

isyourfridge-spamming

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.

The Netflix Throttling Mystery – The VPN Solution?

There is of course a big problem with the most popular sites on the internet, and that’s the amount of  traffic they generate.  As our use of media sites like Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Hulu which stream video across the net increase then so do the costs for the people who have to carry that traffic – the ISP.

IS Netflix Being Throttled

It’s kind of tough when you think about it, each time someone subscribes to Netflix, the ISP of that customer will see their traffic usage sky rocket.  Combine this with some users downloading hundreds of Gigabytes a week from BitTorrent sites and you can see there problem.  Each customer will cost more and more to support, while these other companies effectively transmit their service over your infrastructure.   If all ISPs charged a bandwidth costs, that wouldn’t matter much – but the current status is that due to competition most offer unmetered access.

The big telecoms giants in America seem to have come up with a solution, although it’s not a terribly popular one.  Comcast and Verizon are being increasingly suspected of throttling traffic to these sites, especially to the vastly popular Netflix.  This effectively means that your data is un-metered normally but the speed will be capped when you access specific sites or transmit certain data like streaming video or accessing BBC iPlayer, Netflix or Hulu for example.

On the whole, this behavior is generally denied, it’s commercially bad news to admit that you will cripple the speed of some of the world’s most popular sites.  It’s of course, extremely annoying to watch a film and wait every ten minutes for it to buffer!

The evidence is mounting and some users on Comcast and Verizon have discovered that if they stream video over a VPN connection then they see huge speed increases.  A virtual private network of course shouldn’t increase your speed at all, you are adding another hop to the journey of your data, plus a layer of encryption too.  Although the fastest VPN providers like . will normally see minimal performance impact you wouldn’t expect to see a huge speed boost.

Speeding Up Netflix Yet this is what seems to be happening to many – stream direct from Netflix and your connection will struggle.   Fire up a VPN connection and stream through that some people are getting 10 or 20 times the throughput.  This increase has been reported by many people who have repeated the test using different sites and VPNs.

There are some other potential explanations, one of the most plausible is that some network pipes are simply becoming saturated.  If Netflix traffic is normally travelling down specific links to reach these big telecom providers, then there’s going to be a huge amount of traffic there.   Watching Netflix in the USA over a VPN will provide an alternate route, perhaps one with little congestion – hence the speed boost.

The jury’s out at the moment, both these scenarios could be true.  It’s definitely the case that using a VPN not only allows you access to the different language variants of sites like Netflix (Canadian or UK users can get US Netflix for example) but also boosts speed significantly.