What do North Korea, China, Cuba have in common with the UK and Australia? Restricted Internet access!
Yes, that’s right: From Edinburgh to London, website blockades block thousands of sites, a majority of which are the URLs of known torrent or streaming websites. Chances are, if you live in the UK and tried to go through our list of the top torrent sites or the best places to watch movies, you weren’t able to access many of them, were you?
Australia isn’t better off, with website filters blocking everything from your dentists office site (for “child abuse”) to known downloading portals. And don’t forget so many other alleged 1st world countries with similar laws in place.
What can you do about all these attempts to censor your connection? Of course, you can always use a VPN service to completely avoid any attempts to censor or track your activities, but you might not always have access to it if you use your friends computer or some public terminal. So, here is a list of some alternatives ways to get around filtering, some well-known, some in the more exotic category.
1. Use a public web proxy like HideMyAss.com or Webproxy.net
The easiest and most convenient way if you need a quick & dirty way to circumvent basic, not very sophisticated censorship technology. Allowing instant, encrypted access to any website you want with having to create an account anywhere, these services are sufficient to look for torrents or magnet links, however not really capable to deliver streams or download anything.
Use them like a band-aid, there to somewhat fix the problem when other alternatives are not available or take too long to implement. Remember though: Most of these services log who you are (your IP address) and what you access, and are thus totally unfit for anonymization.
By the way, a few proxy sites specialize on torrent sites; check ProxyBay.info for an up-to-date list.
2. Use Tor or the Pirate Browser
While both of these programs are way too slow for streaming or downloading, there are a very easy and effective way to unlock pretty much any website or low-bandwidth online service you can imagine. Using the Tor network to circumvent any filtering, a technology which is feared by governments and intelligence agencies like the NSA alike, the only places where this method is not available are countries with very strict Internet surveillance, none of these being located in the EU or most 1st world countries.
After downloading the software, simply fire it up and it will do the rest. The browser itself is a modified version of Firefox and is pretty self-explanatory. After a few moments it’ll be connected to the network and ready to use.
One downside is slow website loading, at least when using the original Tor version.
An alternative is the “PirateBrowser”, developed by The Pirate Bay. It doesn’t make you anonymous since it only routes parts of your traffic through the Tor anonymization network, but is usually much faster.
Both programs are completely portable and very small, so you can load them to your USB stick and use it on any computer you need it. PirateBrowser is only available for Windows, while Tor works on any operating system
3. Change your DNS server
This’ll only help against the most simple filtering attempts. A little background: A DNS server resolves domains (like www.Google.com) into the corresponding IP address (188.8.131.52 in this example), it is kind of a phone book for the Internet. The easiest way to censor websites is therefore to simply manipulate it to give out wrong results, so that your browser doesn’t know which IP the site is hosted on.
In the past however, governments and ISPs have often been surprisingly lazy and relied on such simplistic strategies. The obvious way to go around this is to use one of the many available, uncensored alternative DNS servers.
A good list can be found here: http://www.wikileaks.org/wiki/Alternative_DNS , and the YouTube video below explains the setup for Windows 7 and Vista.
Designed specifically for the UK, Immunicity is a free service to unblock sites blocked by the government. After configuring your browser, which takes only a few moments, all requests for sites listed in their database as restricted will be redirected through the service, including porn and other streaming sites. While this service doesn’t help you to access Facebook at your workplace or at school, nor encrypt your data or make you anonymous, it might not be for you, but in general it will help loads of people. On the downside, speeds might be too slow in peak times when too many users use them at the same time, and you can’t use it to circumvent geo restrictions, as are rife of sites like Hulu.com and similar.
Update: Immunicity, along with several torrent proxy sites, was taken down. Bummer, such a handy service!
Most people have used this service at least once to roughly translate websites, but few know that it can also be used to access restricted websites. The service loads a copy of the requested page on its servers and sends it back to you, and because the Google server might not be subjected to the restrictions you are, you might be able to access file sharing and streaming sites with it.
Finding magnets or torrents is one thing, playing back videos is another. In any case, if you just need to find new stuff for your file sharing software, it might be worth to look at this neat little trick.
6. Use a VPN (strongly recommended!)
And, of course, there’s the always popular VPN, uncensoring everything from websites to protocols and downloads while maintaining speed and making almost any activity online anonymous. Check this article for more. In our view, everyone should have one, as it eliminates most problems people have with their Internet connection when downloading.