There are two ways to access websites that are geo-restricted: Smart DNS and VPNs.
Smart DNS (Domain Name System) will replace your current location with one allowed by the regionally restricted site.
VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) encrypt your traffic and send it through one of their servers. The site you are accessing identifies the VPN server rather than your IP address.
There are other ways to access geo-blocked sites, but they are often unreliable or less secure. Tor and proxies comprise the alternate options, and we will touch on those briefly.
Certain sites and streaming content providers opt to block access based on the physical location of the person. The technology uses the IP address of the user to determine their location.
The practice of geo-blocking occurs for multiple reasons. First, licensing and copyright regulations play a major role in the decision to block specific regions. Streaming media providers are frequently required to block access for specific shows and movies based on licensing agreements.
This results in someone in Australia being able to see a show that someone in England may not have access to.
Additionally, geo-restrictions are placed by government agencies to prevent their citizens from accessing certain content or information. This can be done as a restriction and censorship or as protection from malicious sites.
Some companies use regional restrictions to their advantage for financial gain. Prices at online merchants can often vary based on a shopper’s location. Airlines vary their fares based on the country the passenger is booking from.
Many sports fans have experienced geographic restrictions for years. Commonly called a “blackout,” teams and leagues use this tactic to increase in-person viewership of events. It is also used to accommodate contractual obligations to television networks.
In each case, a geo-restriction limits free roaming of the internet by certain people groups. There are many reasons that necessitate evading these blocks.
The European Union has started taking unique steps toward limiting the reach of geo-restrictions by outlawing “unjustified” restrictions. The definition of an illegal restriction is unclear, but steps are being taken to allow users to travel freely throughout the EU and carry their access with them (i.e., a UK resident can enter another EU country and still have access to UK content).
The Process of Geo-Restrictions
An IP address is an identifier used by your Internet Service Provider (ISP), or the provider you are connecting to, and provides it with two key pieces of information. It identifies where you are and what you are looking at.
The ISP can track the websites you visit by following your IP address. It knows where you are because each IP address is given a locator code that details the country it originates from, at a minimum.
Geo-restrictions rely on the IP address to identify what country the person browsing the internet is in. If the IP address comes back to a restricted region, the site will be restricted.
Bypassing Geo-Restrictions With a VPN
You can use a VPN to hide your IP address. This is accomplished by the information being sent through the VPN servers before moving on to the website.
A VPN also offers the unique opportunity to falsify where you are located. A high-quality VPN provider will have servers in many countries and allow you to select which you prefer to use.
A VPN is the ideal way to avoid geo-restrictions, as your ISP cannot see your traffic and shut down your connection. It is important to evaluate your VPN provider and ensure they protect your personal information and offer secure, reliable connections (for example this one).
Smart DNS and Geo-Restrictions
Smart DNS will not hide your IP address. It does allow you to falsify your Domain Name System and trick a website into believing you are located elsewhere.
The benefit of a Smart DNS is faster connections. The obvious drawback is the lack of encryption.
Proxies and Geo-Restrictions
A proxy creates a replacement IP address and displays it to the website on behalf of the person browsing the web. Assuming the IP address relates to the appropriate region, it could help evade geo-restrictions.
Proxies are not a secure way of avoiding a regional block. They are also slow. There is a risk of your IP address being detected if an unsecured browsing protocol is used.
The Onion Router was developed by the United States military to provide an anonymous browsing environment. Tor operates by sending data through multiple servers around the world.
Tor connections can be blocked by government agencies. The browser is connected to unsavory uses of the web and is often seen as dangerous. Tor is often slow because of its need to send traffic through so many servers.
There are multiple options for someone who wants to evade a geo-restriction. A high-quality, paid VPN service is the clear choice for a secure connection that allows a variety of server locations.