BBC Block VPN Connection Services

It was a move greeted by shock, disbelief and to some extent even despair suddenly the BBC started to block VPN connections from across the world.     Just to roll back a little, for years the BBC had insisted that all it’s media content was only available to domestic viewers i.e those who were physically located in the United Kingdom.  However although this was official policy, the BBC did very little to actually enforce this other than a basic IP check which blocked anyone accessing from a non-UK IP address.

BBC Block VPN Connection

This IP blocking method although effective was actually extremely simple to bypass, all one needed was a way of hiding your location.

Initially this could be achieved by using a simple proxy server although in 2016 BBC started to block these following the lead of most global media companies.   There was another method left, using something called a VPN which stands for virtual private network which also allowed users to hide their physical location and IP address.

A VPN connection is virtually impossible to detect and so these have continued to work and many have switched from using proxy servers.  Unfortunately VPN services are more expensive to run and therefore these are almost always require a paid subscription.  The free ones are filled with advertising, share your internet connection with strangers and are all frustratingly slow to use which means that everything involves extensive buffering.

Here you can see in this video, a demonstration of a VPN program being used to access the BBC from outside the UK.

Although the move to paid services was upsetting to a lot of people, these subscriptions where relatively inexpensive and as they opened up all the UK TV channels are still extremely popular.   However during the second part of 2016 and into 2017 the BBC started to attack these services too.  In fact during specific times, literally thousands of people found themselves blocked almost overnight – one day they were happily watching the BBC the following day they were blocked. It almost seemed that suddenly they had figured it out, BBC iPlayer detecting VPN services – was it possible? Well no, they can’t detect them but it’s true that for many their BBC iPlayer VPN not working had suddenly occurred.

So if the VPN connection is virtually undetectable, how did the BBC manage to block so many of them?

How Does BBC Block VPN Connection Services

As mentioned, a properly configured and well run VPN service is almost impossible to detect.  Even the Chinese have thrown huge resources at identifying and blocking VPNs in order to control the huge use of them to circumvent their filtering and censorship.  They have not been completely successful and many Chinese routinely use VPN services to bypass the Great Firewall of China and indeed retain their anonymity in one of the most oppressive internet states in the world.  Other media companies have all tried in various ways too, most seem to settle with a partial success of blocking the simple proxies.  Nearly all media companies now block the easy targets so for example you can’t use a simple French proxy for M6 Replay either.

So obviously the BBC do not have anything like the technical expertise or resources to match this, however there are other options which can be fairly effective.  Firstly although the actual type of connection cannot be easily identified, they can identify when thousands of concurrent connections come from specific IP address ranges.  VPN servers will have limited numbers of IP addresses and when the BBC detects thousands of streams all being directed at the same ones then it’s likely they are some sort of proxy or VPN.

Secondly, many of these VPN services are easily identified by a little detective work.  Many of them openly advertise or display their TV watching services on their websites.  Type ‘BBC iPlayer abroad’ or ‘watch UK TV abroad’ into a search engine like Google and you’ll see some paid adverts for various websites.  All the BBC has to do is look up these services and block them manually, anything that looks like a TV watching service and not a proper security based VPN will be fair game. So there are some truth to these rumours, but it would be wrong to say that BBC iPlayer not working through VPN anymore

So in essence a little detective work and monitoring incoming connections can be a pretty effective way of blocking these VPN connections.  There is no real BBC iPlayer vpn workaround, merely selecting the right sort of VPN service.  Fortunately the older legitimate VPN services don’t advertise these facilities and also have large infrastructures with lots of servers to spread their connections. They have made little additional effort in blocking these services since the BBC iPlayer VPN 2017 purge, so the remaining companies should be fine – certainly I’ve been using Identity Cloaker for over a decade now without issues.

Companies like idc still work with all the UK TV stations despite these blocking efforts because they remain primarily security services not ‘TV watching’ proxies.

Mansfield Radio Station Hacked

Now this is class, a great example of a childish, yet sophisticated attack on an local radio station.    The station is Mansfield 103.2 FM a small local independent radio station based in Mansfield, Nottingham.   Since June 2017 the station has found it’s frequency hijacked by an unknown individual who has been transmitting an adult song called ‘The Winker’s Song’ sung by errmm Ivor Biggun (scroll down for song).

This is of course pretty funny, although some people of course have been offended.  The problem is that it’s actually quite difficult to stop this happening.   The attacker is obviously using some sort of high powered mobile transmitter, and the police would have to catch someone in the act to do anything.

It is apparently a criminal act with the communications regulator Ofcom trying to track the offender several times without success.  They have Spectrum Engineering Officers (cool job title!) working with the radio station in an attempt to identify the culprits.

Having listened to Mansfield 103.2 many years ago, I suspect it will have probably brought them a few more listeners waiting for the next attack.   The prankster had better be careful though as the kill joys have pointed out that maliciously causing radio interference carries a maximum punishment of two years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

I for one would look carefully to people who have an association with the radio company, perhaps a disgruntled ex-employee.   The song selected has to be a big clue – it is of course a rude little ditty about mastrubation which basically loops through the words – “I’m a W*nker” to a George Formby type soundtrack.   It is also introduced by a male voice with a local Nottinghamshire accent, that song is a message dedicated to someone in the radio station I suspect.

To save you all googling – here’s the song –

The prankster also seems to be trying a little comedic timing too, with the latest hijack taking place half way through a live family broadcast from a local Mansfield event.    Hopefully he’ll now stop, because he’s bound to get caught eventually and we need more proper hackers around like this guy.

Maybe though, perhaps he’s a millionaire super hacker who’s adapted some long range drones with a radio transmitters controlled by a secure VPN and will never actually be caught – just the drone shot down. Only to mysteriously return and play the same song every time Nigel Farage does a radio interview somewhere, excellent….

 

 

Best Smart DNS vs VPN – (Making a Choice)

For the expat, the traveller or the film/TV buff the internet can often seem to contain lots of filters and blocks on their favourite websites.  This is because of something called geo-blocking or  geo-restrictions (also a host of of other names) and is effectively a system used to limit access to web content based on your physical location.

So for example if you try and watch coverage of the UK election madness on the BBC website from outside the UK the geo-restrictions will stop you watching. Try and access your US Netflix or Hulu account whilst travelling and the same thing will happen.  It seems that on the internet your  physical location shouldn’t really matter, however it does – very much.

Smart DNS vs VPN

In fact this practice is growing exponentially, literally thousands of websites restrict access based on your location.   Just browse on YouTube and you’ll find thousands of videos on that site which are restricted to specific countries.  It can be very frustrating, especially for those who travel a lot and inevitably people find one of two solutions to bypass these restrictions – Smart DNS or VPN.

The technology for these has been around for a long time, and both can be used to access most region blocked websites.  So what’s the difference, which one should you choose?

Should it be Smart DNS or a VPN Service?

Both of these technologies are mostly effective in bypassing most region blocks, however the way they work is quite different.

VPN (Virtual Private Network) – these are services which create secure, encrypted tunnels between your computer and a specially configured VPN server.  They have been used for decades to provide security by encrypting all your data and anonymity by hiding your IP address and location.  When you are connected to a VPN server the website cannot see you true location only that of the VPN server.

To bypass the region locks you just need to ensure that the VPN server is based in the location that does have access.  So for instance to access the BBC iPlayer you’d need a UK VPN server, a US one for Hulu and so on.   The connections are made from your device on demand, so you could connect to a UK VPN from your computer or tablet and watch the BBC or ITV then disconnect and browse normally.  the majority of the VPN services will offer servers based in many countries, so you can just select which one you need.

Smart DNS – is a newer technology based on using specially configured DNS (Domain Name Service) Servers.  These normally just look up the IP address or name of the server you are trying to access, but Smart DNS servers offer an additional service.   They are configured to intercept requests to certain region locked websites and route the connection through a server based in that particular country.

So if you request access to the Hulu website for example to watch a video, the Smart DNS server would automatically route your connection through a US based server.  This means that your connection is only rerouted through a different server when it’s required to bypass a region lock.

So that’s it really – both will usually allow access to region locked websites, so which one should you choose?

Well firstly the price – you’ll find that both are relatively inexpensive however Smart DNS will normally be slightly cheaper.  This is because a Smart DNS server routes through a simpler server and only incurs bandwidth charges for specific servers.   A VPN service will tunnel your entire connection through the VPN server and therefore the bandwidth costs will be much greater.

Smart DNS is also easier to set up on different network devices, it requires no software or client component.  You just change your DNS settings to point at  the Smart DNS servers, therefore it’s simpler for things like Smart TVs and media devices where you can’t always set up a VPN connection.   You can even set it up directly on your router fairly easily too, this has the advantage of applying the settings to all devices on your network.  It’s not always convenient to do this, however it is essential if you want to apply to devices which have no configurable network settings.  This video is a demonstration of setting up best Smart DNS directly on a router –


The VPN is the only one which provides security and anonymity.  Not only is all your data encrypted, your identity is hidden too.  You should always use a VPN to access secure sites like email, online banking and Paypal when using public internet access like Wifi hotspots.

The choice between smart dns vs VPN really depends on your circumstances if you have any requirements for privacy, security and encryption then a VPN is definitely your only option.  Remember Smart DNS services provide no security beyond basic routing to bypass region locks.  A VPN connection is also much harder to detect than a Smart DNS relay, so they generally work better with sites like Netflix which try and block the workarounds.

Here’s two options –

IDC is a full security product with a super fast VPN service  for accessing BBC Iplayer, Hulu and all media sites.  They have loads of  USA and UK based servers so if you want to watch the BBC Iplayer service then it’s probably your best option. They do have lots of servers in the France, Germany, Australia, Canada and throughout Europe as well though.  They also don’t automatically renew your subscription either which I like.

Overplay is another great little company, I like their VPN with Smart DNS  which is easy to use.  Lots of US servers included in the standard subscription. They also have the widest selection of servers although perhaps many won’t use most of them.  If you need a server in somewhere unusual they are most likely to have them.