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In places with internet censorship, you can rely on VPNs to get around restrictions and enjoy unobstructed access to the internet.
But governments and corporations are working to bar this gate. Using a number of methods VPNs and related websites are now blocked by ISPs in many countries with repressive internet laws.
In this article, we show you how to bypass these VPN blocks. We examine the way these blocks are implemented and what you can do to get around them.
But let’s first take a moment to understand the most common types of censorship and the reasons behind it.
We’ll also take a look at the extent of VPN censorship in some countries.
Why is the Internet censored?
The causes of internet censorship range from benign to repressive. Here are some of the most common reasons to justify internet censorship:
Government censorship for political motives
The most prevalent cause for internet censorship is political motives. In the name of protecting the population from harmful information, many authoritarian regimes around the world heavily censor the internet.
Massive surveillance of their citizens’ internet activities and near complete control over the flow of all information are some of the hallmarks of such regimes.
Here’s a look at VPN laws in some countries that top the lists of internet censorship
|China’sGreat Firewall is a monument to internet censorship. Active for over a decade, it blocks access to 135 of the 1000 top websites in the world including ones like Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Recently China has declared the use of all unauthorized VPNs to be illegal. However, the precise implementation of the new rules is a massive gray area with very little concrete information from official sources.
|Recently, the news that UAE had instituted strict VPN laws made waves. A number of news outlets reported that using a VPN in UAE could lead to a fine of up to 2 million Dirham (Approx. $500,000). The truth, however, is far less dramatic. Penalties under the new laws apply only to people caught using VPNs to commit a crime or an offense as defined under UAE law.
|Turkey has seen increasing internet censorship in recent years. Currently, there is a strict crackdown on VPN usage and the government is actively blocking VPNs and discouraging their use.
|For a while now, Russia has been on a crusade to keep the private information of its citizens right where it can see it. It has made it mandatory for websites to store all information related to Russian citizens on servers physically located in Russia. This rule extends to VPN providers and naturally makes it difficult for many of them to operate in Russia.
|Iran has been breaking away from the global internet in recent years. It has cultivated an intranet of sorts that works within the country. VPNs can be used in Iran but only after they’ve been approved by the government. The approval comes at the cost of agreeing to surveillance of all user data.
Corporate censorship to protect copyrights
If governments seem hell-bent on blocking free internet access, corporations are a close second.
A relentless campaign against P2P in the last couple of years has seen the shutdown of many prominent torrent-sharing websites.
In the USA, for example, there is no active attempt to either block the general use of VPNs or make it illegal.
But content streaming websites like Netflix US, Hulu and BBC, block IPs of anyone using VPNs to bypass geo-restrictions on their content.
This means that someone in the United States can’t access a web series or documentary that is only available in the UK.
Ensuring compliance with workplace rules
Many workplaces put restrictions on the internet usage of their employees. Blocking entertainment websites, porn websites, and some cases social media websites is common practice.
Censorship in this context is understandable. That is because any employer would like to ensure that employees are not wasting their working hours.
The simplest way to bypass such blocks is to just use your mobile device to access the blocked websites.
Invest in a good data plan and you can enjoy uninterrupted access to the websites of your choice at any time. Even at work.
Though, we’d advise you to be very careful and not try this unless it’s necessary. Flouting workplace rules of internet use could mean serious consequences like suspension or even termination. So, proceed with caution.
Supervising internet usage by minors
The urge to protect your kids from the evils of the world is a natural human instinct.
No surprise then that parents often exercise strict supervision on the web usage of their children.
Schools and educational institutes also implement strict boundaries on web usage. So, this type of censorship is quite reasonable and even necessary to some extent.
There is a lot of dark and disturbing content on the internet. And protecting children from accidental exposure is completely understandable.
And while protecting them is important, it is equally important to actively engage with your kids and prepare them for an uncensored internet. Young kids, especially teenagers are likely to find ways around your restrictions.
Censoring the Internet on college campuses
While internet censorship in schools is largely understandable, censorship takes an entirely new form on college campuses.
Here it becomes an attempt at thought policing.
This flies in the face of the basic principles of a college education. College is about broadening horizons and developing your own worldview rather than having one imposed upon you. Internet censorship on college campuses is unjustified.
Methods of blocking VPNs:
There are a number of ways in which access to VPNs can be blocked. Let’s take a look at the most common methods used:
Blocking access to VPN websites
One of the easiest ways to block access to VPNs is by simply blocking access to VPN websites.
If people can’t get to these websites they can’t sign up for VPN services and can’t download the VPN software. These blocks often extend to VPN review websites that provide direct signup and download links to many of the top VPN providers.
This method is rarely used as a stand-alone measure and is usually just an additional tactic in more elaborate blocks.
Blocking IPs of VPN servers
A common method of blocking VPN usage is by blocking the IPs of the servers used by VPN providers. With massive resources at their disposal, it is not difficult for government agencies to identify the IPs of VPN providers and then block them.
While this is the most popular method of VPN blocking, it is far from an airtight measure. It is virtually impossible to keep track of all the IPs used by every VPN provider out there. Especially since VPN providers periodically change their IPs to stay a step ahead of the censorship.
However, as we can see in China and the UAE, governments have been able to successfully block known IPs of VPN providers that don’t comply with government regulations.
Blocking server IPs in addition to blocking access to VPN websites is the most common approach to block VPNs.
One more, simple yet effective way to block access to VPN services is by blocking the ports used by those VPN protocols.
For those who are not familiar with technospeak, ports are basically gateways for data transfer in network communication. Each port is identified by a port number associated with it and by common convention, specific ports are assigned to specific service types.
This means that anyone who wants to block access to VPNs just needs to identify which port the VPN protocol uses and then block it. This effectively blocks VPNs.
Deep Packet Inspection
Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) can inspect every piece of data traversing the internet as it passes through a checkpoint in its journey. It is the most advanced method of blocking VPNs, as it has the ability to accurately identify the type of data passing through.
Recently UAE and China have been investing in Advanced Firewalls with DPI that have proved highly effective in blocking VPN traffic.
What a DPI does, basically, is identify the type of the data that it’s inspecting.
For example, it determines whether the data packet before it is an email, a Skype call, a YouTube video and so on.
Now, VPN protocols use fairly obvious encryption for their data packets. While the data remains encrypted, it is easily recognized, even by using basic DPI techniques. And once it’s identified as VPN data, it is promptly blocked from going further.
How to bypass VPN blocks
There are multiple ways to achieve that, ranging from easy to complex.
- Try a different VPN provider
The simplest method of bypassing a VPN block might just be to try another VPN provider. While many of the major VPNs might be blocked in a certain location, odds are that most of the lesser–known VPN services are still working fine.
Make sure to exploit the free trial and money-back guarantees on offer. Almost all VPN providers have at least one of the two. This way, in case, that VPN gets caught in the net of censorship, you can easily cut ties and move on to the next one.
- Set up your own VPN
You can always set up your own VPN. It means losing out on many of the cool features offered by the major VPN providers, but on the upside, it’s completely private and completely legal. Even in China!
By running your own VPN server you get your own unique VPN IP that will fly below the radar of any censorship. You can use your home PC as your VPN server or you can rent a VPS from a VPS provider.
- Install the VPN beforehand
If you are going to a country that has blocks on VPN usage (refer to the list above), then your best bet is to simply subscribe to a VPN provider and download their software before you leave for your destination.
This automatically gets you past the most basic blocks that can be put on VPN usage.
In many countries with anti-VPN laws, while access to VPN websites are blocked, pre-installed VPN applications are able to function without a hitch.
However, if you forgot to do that before landing in a VPN-unfriendly country, there are still ways out of this censored hell. You can use various tools to bypass censorship and reach VPN websites that way.
Ways to bypass website blocks to download VPN
Here are some of the most effective ways to get around censorship that you can use.
Tor – This is the go-to censorship-busting tool. If you don’t mind the slow speed that is. It is an excellent way to anonymously bypass geo-restrictions on VPN websites and get the service you’re after. However, the Tor network is very easy to block. And if that’s the case in the location where you are, then you’ll have to try something else to fix your little problem.
Shadowsocks – Another way to circumvent censorship to get to a VPN website is by using Shadowsocks. Quite popular in mainland China, Shadowsocks is an open-source proxy project that can get you past the website blocks.
Psiphon – Psiphon is a free censorship evasion tool. It uses a mix of VPN, SSH and obfuscation technologies to get you past most website blocks. Even if the Psiphon website itself is not available you can still get the software simply by emailing them at [email protected].
Change port numbers
Changing Port Numbers is a good way to get around port blocks. Most VPN services provide the option to change port numbers directly from the application or from the server end. You can change your current blocked port to a port number that is likely to stay open.
Here are the two ports with high probability to remain unblocked:
TCP port 80
Used by HTTP, TCP port 80 is the port for all unencrypted web traffic. Blocking it means effectively shutting down complete internet access.
So, you can expect this port to stay open even in locations with extensive censorship. However, there is a catch. It offers negligible protection from even the most basic DPI techniques. VPN traffic through this port is quite likely to be found out and blocked.
TCP port 443
This is the port HTTPS uses for secure transactions over the internet.
This means all encrypted traffic relies on this port. So, blocking it would result in shutting down all commerce and banking over the internet and therefore it is guaranteed to remain unblocked.
It offers the additional benefit of encryption and unlike HTTP protocol, VPN traffic through this port is extremely difficult to detect by DPI techniques.
Now you know how to bypass VPN blolcks. Try out the different methods listed above, moving from the simplest (just switch VPN providers!) to the more complex solutions.
Make sure to take full benefit of free trials and money-back guarantees offered by most VPN providers. You don’t want to invest a year’s subscription and then find out a couple of months later that that VPN has also been blocked now.
So, wherever you are, keep an active eye on the censorship imposed on your internet access and you’ll be able to ensure continued access to your favorite websites.