As you probably know, the Internet is not free and open-source everywhere: in some countries, people face blocks when accessing sites that are not approved by the government. Fortunately, there are ways around these blocks, and you do not even have to be particularly tech-savvy to use them.
One note: We probably do not need to tell you this, but if you are in a country that restricts freedom of expression to the extent to restrict the Internet, you need to be very careful when bypassing any blocks. There could be electronic countermeasures or even physical ones. As happened in Myanmar and China, the police might stop you on the street to check your smartphone. So first of all, be careful and take care.
How Does Internet Censorship Work?
To understand how to bypass online censorship blocks, let’s first look at how they work. You have just opened a connection from your device to your Internet Service Provider (ISP), which in turn has connected to our site’s IP address.
In order to block this site, you should somehow cut off the Internet IP address’s ISP access. Chinese censorship merely prevents traffic from going to any IP addresses that have been marked. A number of things can raise these flags; some are because the sites have content that the authorities consider subversive, while others offer gambling at, say, the best online casinos in Qatar or pornography. There are many countries where this kind of content is prohibited.
The nature of the block also reveals how we can bypass it: if your government (or even just your ISP) blocks an IP address, all you have to do is connect to another, unblocked IP address and establish a connection to the blocked IP address for you, forwarding traffic through the unblocked one IP addresses for any other sites you want to visit. There are several ways to do this, and we will go over a few options below.
Proxy or Auxiliary Internet Servers, Which Are Not Otherwise Recommended
You are presumably already familiar with “proxies” or so-called proxy servers if diverting your connectivity in the manner described above seems familiar to you. These small apps, usually easily accessed through a website, will redirect your connection via IP address to appear at that location rather than your own.
Proxies are great for bypassing a regional block on YouTube or something similar harmlessly. However, for something a little more serious like bypassing censorship, using a proxy is a really bad idea. The connection is usually not secured in any way and it is very easy to track you, regardless of the proxy provider’s requirements. Whatever you do, do not use a proxy as your primary way of getting around censored stuff.
A Protocol Called “Shadowsocks”
There is, however, one exception to the “no proxy” rule, and that is a protocol called “Shadowsocks”. Although it also does not protect the connection in the same way as other proxies, it is harder to detect than one thanks to the fact that it cloaks itself. Where most blocks can easily detect a regular proxy, Shadowsocks is an HTTPS connection, thus fooling the detection system.
Shadowsocks was developed by a Chinese developer and is widely used there to bypass the Great Firewall. No doubt it works. However, if you have any issues with this or are concerned about proxy traffic being actively searched, you may want to escalate your blocking with a VPN.
VPN or Virtual Private Network
Virtual Private Networks are powerful, if somewhat over-the-top, security tools that can help you avoid censorship blocks and still stay safe, at least on paper. VPNs not only redirect your connection but will also encrypt it through a so-called VPN tunnel, which prevents anyone from seeing what you are doing.
For most people, most of the time, VPNs are the best way to bypass censorship blocks, but they do come with some drawbacks. The biggest ones are likely to cost, even the cheapest ones out there will set you back $5 to $10 a month, which is more than some people can afford. Another problem is that you cannot always be sure if the VPN you have is a good one: the marketing surrounding each VPN seems to contribute a lot to this.
But there are always better, better and worse, and more unreliable products, even when it comes to something like a virtual private network. For example, Mullvad is probably the ideal option if you require a low-cost service that gets over all censorship restrictions, whereas VyprVPN asserts to have a unique protocol that can be ignored by the authorities.
As we mentioned before, VPNs are not bulletproof, for one, the police could simply check your phone for the VPN software, and they might be too expensive. Making an SSH tunnel to a reliable host but outside your country and accessing the Internet through it is a free, less obvious way to get around restrictions.
The downside is that you need some technical knowledge to set up an SSH tunnel. However, if you have the necessary equipment and knowledge, this may be the best option so far.
There are further techniques to get around the blocks in addition to those mentioned above, but they typically need more advanced technical knowledge or extra setup, including using Tor or switching your DNS server. VPNs with no central server are another intriguing innovation. However, because these solutions are still in their early stages, it is premature to say that they can be highly recommended.
However, to reiterate our earlier point, there is an inherent risk in going around government blocks. Torrent users risk a fine if caught, but some repressive governments may have much worse punishment for you if you are caught circumventing censorship. If you are unsure, it would be best to wait for ‘better days’ rather than take the chance. Whatever you select, we wish you safety and quick arrival of those better days.
If you do decide to bypass Internet censorship, which is especially understandable today, when we are increasingly surrounded by information from one spectrum whose creators try harder to create a single mind, instead of informing their readers and users, it is good to know that there are certain ways. But you should always be careful and know exactly how far you can go.