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ENTERPRISE

Remove Internet Limits With A VPN (Part 2)

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Websites can limit access to certain content depending on where in the world you’re located, such as in the example where someone is travelling abroad and can’t watch iPlayer or if you try to access a US service from the UK. How can websites tell where you are in the world? One very simple way that they could do this is to examine the IP address. Every computer (well, actually your router to be strictly true), is given an IP address by your ISP. Every computer on the internet must have a unique address, because this ensures that data can be sent to the correct destination. ISPs don’t just make up IP addresses; they are allocated blocks of them and whole countries are allocated blocks of IP addresses too.

Go to nirsoft.net/countryip and you can select a country and see the range of IP addresses that have been allocated to it. Notice how the first of the four numbers making up the IP address changes with each country. Go to whatismyipaddress.com and you can see your own IP address and probably your ISP too. A website can simply use a look-up service to see where in the world you’re located and then allow or deny access to its content.

Where Am I?

How can websites tell where you are in the world?

There are many companies providing this service and they run VPN servers. You run VPN client software on your computer, which connects to the company’s server and that computer fetches the web pages, email or whatever. It’s a sort of halfway house and everything between you and the VPN company is encrypted so no one, not even your ISP, can eavesdrop on your internet activities. Communications from the VPN company to the website is just normal internet traffic, but eavesdroppers just see network traffic from the VPN company and there’s no way to tell it belongs to you. If a website tries to spy on you, for example, it can only detect the VPN company.

“You’ve paid for, it so you should be able to watch it whether you’re at home or away”

Your computer does not directly communicate with a website, mail server or whatever, and everything goes through a VPN service provider, a bit like going from London to Glasgow on the train, but changing at Manchester, both going and coming back. An interesting side effect of the way VPNs work is that because a website communicates with the VPN company and not you, if the website tries to determine anything about you, such as where in the world you live, it will only be able to tell where the VPN company’s computer is located.

Going back to the story of the person working abroad wanting to catch up with Eastenders on BBC iPlayer, he can’t access it directly because iPlayer will determine that he is abroad, and only UK residents can watch iPlayer. After all, we pay a licence fee for the privilege and foreigners don’t. If the person abroad connects to a VPN and the VPN’s computer is located in the UK, iPlayer will determine the location as being UK-based and will allow the person to watch the online television shows.

Eastenders on BBC iPlayer

Eastenders on BBC iPlayer

Is it legal? If you’re a UK resident and pay the BBC licence fee, then what does it matter where you are when you watch the television programme? You’ve paid for, it so you should be able to watch it whether you’re at home or away. iPlayer does in fact let you watch programmes abroad, but you would have to download and save them to the disk drive before you left. Using a VPN just saves you the hassle.

Other regions of the world have similar restrictions on online content, and you may be prevented from accessing certain things in the US that are for US residents only. Netflix, Hulu and others spring to mind, but there are also other products and services that you might want to access. By using a VPN service provider that has computers in the US, or wherever the content is that you want to access, you appear to be a local resident. Your network traffic travels to the company’s computer secretly using a VPN connection and then it goes the short distance from there to the website. A VPN is therefore a very useful way to access services abroad.

VPN Providers

SecurityKISS offers five different VPN plans. The cheapest is free and the most expensive costs $12.8 a month or $115 a year. There are three others in between at various prices. There are several differences between the various plans, but the most obvious is the bandwidth limit. The free plan offers just 300MB a day, which would be fine for general web surfing, but it wouldn’t be any good for watching online video streaming. The Ultimate plan offers unlimited bandwidth, though, and there are several options between. As the plan price rises, so does the number of servers. When we tried it, the free plan was offering one server in France, two in the UK and two in the US. The Ultimate plan offers 11 countries with up to eight servers in each country.

Internet speeds are quit low with free VPNs, which is a fraction of the normal speed

Internet speeds are quit low with free VPNs, which is a fraction of the normal speed

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