The Virtual Private Network (VPN) is now a vital feature of any comprehensive security suite. By installing VPN software, you gain access to an international network of servers, which allow you to re-route your traffic through new IP address.
The two main benefits of using a VPN are:
- Encrypting your data from cybercriminals and government snooping
- Bypassing internet censorship and geo-blocking restrictions
Unfortunately, the popularity of VPNs has brought them into the awareness of those who impose blacklists. Now many authorities, companies, and organizations block VPN access completely.
Why VPNs Get Blocked
There are varying reasons why your VPN might be blocked. Here are some of the most common examples:
Some countries that actively censor the internet have also moved to ban VPN use. VPNs are illegal in Belarus, China, Iraq, Oman, Russia, Turkey, and the UAE. In Iran, they are legal, but you have to register them with the government – which pretty much defies the point of having a VPN! For any country with a nationalized ISP, blocking VPN users is a high priority.
Many streaming sites geo-restrict content due to licensing agreements. Using a VPN to access more shows on sites like Netflix is one of the most popular uses. Unfortunately, as streaming sites wise up to the practice, they have begun to use aggressive tactics to block all proxy software. For example, Netflix has blacklisted all popular VPN providers from accessing the site.
Streaming services aren’t the only internet domains that have banned VPNs. Other websites, such as Craigslist, also block many popular VPN providers. The reason for this remains unclear, although some reports suggest it’s to increase member privacy. Hotel and in-flight Wi-Fi interfaces have also been known to place proxy restrictions to ensure users to pay for entertainment via their service.
Most workplace networks put blocks on sites deemed inappropriate – e.g. porn, gambling, P2P file sharing, etc. Some companies go further and ban social media to increase staff productivity. To ensure these rules are abided, VPN services also make the blacklist.
Much like workplace restrictions, universities block P2P sites, ‘Not Safe For Work’ (NSFW) content, and any other domains of which they disapprove. Schools also ban VPN use to enforce their blacklist. As students who live on campus usually rely on the university Wi-Fi even when at home, these blocks are a clear rights violation.
How VPNs are Blocked
Banning VPN access is not as simple as banning web domains. As the software is difficult to spot, and server and provider numbers are always on the rise, no set solution exists to place a blanket block. Instead, a variety of different methods are employed to target as many VPN users as possible.
- IP Blocks: Blacklisting the IP addresses of each known VPN server is the most common tactic, as it’s near impossible to bypass IP blocks. However, it doesn’t stop users from just finding a different provider, whose servers are still anonymous.
- Port Blocking: Each VPN protocol usually uses the same port. For example, the widely used OpenVPN protocol favors 1194 UDP/TCP. It’s possible to create a dedicated firewall that filters out these ports.
- Deep Packet Inspection: DPI tactics work by scanning data packets as they pass through inspection points. VPN-protocol encrypted information can be easily detected, although the contents remain hidden.
- Blocking VPN Websites: As VPN providers can move server networks, another tactic to prevent their use is to block access to their website so users can’t install the software.
While many authorities are already attempting to implicate these methods, the internet community remains ahead of the game. Many tactics have surfaced that allows you to get around VPN block restrictions.
How to Bypass VPN Blocks
As it’s difficult to identify the specific method in use, you may need to try a few options to bypass VPN blocks.
Experiment with the suggestions on this list if your regular VPN provider does not work.
- Try a Different VPN Provider: Well-known providers are the first to fall victim to blocks. Try different VPN services till you find one that works.
- Install a VPN Beforehand: If you’re traveling to a country with strict VPN blocks, such as China, download and install your VPN before you set off.
- Change VPN Traffic Ports: Though VPN protocols typically use the same ports, it is possible to make manual edits. Choose TCP port 80 to mimic unencrypted traffic or TCP port 443 to appear as an HTTPS encryption.
- Use a Tor: Unlike the two-step VPN system, Tor routes traffic through numerous nodes to increase anonymity. While using Tor can bypass Deep Packet Inspection, the complexity of the software will slow down connection speeds notably.
- Use an SSL/TLS Tunnel: Stunnel is an open-source platform that creates SSL/TSL tunnels like those used in e-commerce. Routing your VPN through stunnel will re-encrypt your data to look like HTTPS traffic.
- Use Shadowsocks: Shadowsocks is another open source proxy application, which was created in China. It’s available on most platforms and has several dedicated forums to provide usage support.
If you find your VPN blocked, try one of the above methods to get the workaround. Make sure to take advantage of free trials and always use VPNs with money back guarantees to ensure the VPN works before you make a full commitment.