Frustrated by limits on who can watch what online? Here's how to use proxies, VPNs and assorted anonymisers to keep your surfing identity secret and work around limitations.
With credit card and identity fraud on the increase, we all want to surf the net securely and privately, but if you google “private surfing” you’ll find a nightmarish list of services promising to keep your identity and web surfing secret.
It’s hard to know where to start. While the services come in under various names, they basically fall into two categories. Some “anonymiser” services provide a mixture of both.
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The simplest way to make your surfing anonymous is to use a proxy service, in which you connect to the net via a computer (proxy) set up by a third party. Any site that tries to capture your IP information or location finds the proxy’s details.
To connect via proxy you download a browser plug-in or set up a direct connection to the proxy via Windows networking. There are free and paid services. If you choose free, be prepared to trawl through lists of free proxy servers to find ones that work.
Good free proxy servers quickly get swamped so you need to be constantly on the lookout for new ones. While paid proxies have better uptime, proxy services in general aren’t good for watching geographically restricted television, since they can rarely handle streaming videos.
A big problem with proxy services is proving their legitimacy, since they are very easy to set up. Forums abound with stories of poor tech support and of paid proxy services taking people’s money.
You can check out a frequently-updated list of open proxies around the world at proxy.org
VPN services provide you with a an encrypted “tunnel” into a VPN server that completely hides your identity and location. Unlike proxies, VPN servers can set aside a lot of bandwidth for you and will handle streaming video.
If you select a VPN server in the country with the restricted web TV services you want (say, in the UK for the BBC’s iPlayer or in the US for Hulu) the content provider has no way of knowing you are from abroad and the video will play as if you’re local.
But search for VPN providers in Google and, like for proxies, you get an endless list of companies whose legitimacy is virtually impossible to check. However, amongst them are some well-known names that provide VPN services as part of a larger suite of networking and security services.
These include names like Steganos and the one we eventually settled on, Comodo, a US security software vendor. We signed up to Comodo’s TrustConnect service, which costs US$6.99 a month for 100GB of data (or US$49.99 a year). You download a small client, install it and it automatically connects you via VPN to a Comodo server.
The critical part is that it also lets you choose from a list of geographically disparate VPN servers, so we changed the connection to a UK-based one. We went to the BBC’s iPlayer site, and pronto, the content streamed as if we were in the UK.
We connected to a US-based VPN server, went to Hulu, and it worked too.
We must stress that we don’t condone Australians accessing content that is restricted to them, but we are concerned that British or US visitors to Australia are unable to watch their favourite shows on the BBC’s iPlayer or the US network’s Hulu service.
Antonio is a geek whose primary aim in life is to migrate all of his computer and web usage to his BlackBerry (since the company pays for it!). He’s one of several BlackBerry users who will write about their Crackberry addiction.