Worried about your privacy online?
Need to unblock a website?
Want to be anonymous online?
Hi, I'm Daniil. I've been a network engineer for more than 6 years and I will tell you how to access anything you want on the Internet and in the same time make your online activity a lot harder to track.
How government, ISPs and hackers can track your activity
Each month you are paying your Internet Service Provider so they will let you use their network to access Internet. They know about every site you are connecting to. Think for a minute, is there any website you went to recently and would like to conceal that fact?
How government and your ISP can spy on you
In many countries’ ISPs are obliged by the government to keep track of every connection their customers make and relay that information to government agencies whenever they demand that.
How hackers can spy on you and steal your data
ISPs networks are usually not very secure. Let's assume you live in the apartment. You connect your router to the cable that ISP gives you. That cable goes to the attic or basement where ISP's equipment is located. It wouldn't take hacker much effort to gain access to that equipment, plug their own device in between that equipment and rest of ISPs network and with special computer program called sniffer see connections of everybody who lives in that building.
Third party intercepting traffic (commonly known as man in the middle attack) is a big and well known threat to security and online privacy.
Any transmission and any flow of data in the network is called traffic.
Professionals in the field of cybersecurity came up with solution that prevents third party from getting actual data from the traffic that goes between user and a website. It is called HTTPS.
What is HTTPS
If website you are visiting is https-secured, like one you are currently on, that is indicated by picture of lock in the top-left of your browser.
That means that while pretty much everyone can see that you are connected to, let's say, Google, nobody but Google and you know, what you are searching.
If it is not https-secured, then everyone interested can see everything you are doing on that website. Every search, every word you've typed in the chat, every PM on the forum, everything.
Today almost any website will be secured with https. If you'll ever visit one that is not secured in such manner, you should never state your personal or payment information there as it would be transmitted as plain (unencrypted) text and might be stolen hackers intercepting traffic with sniffing software.
How online platforms block specific content for specific countries
Such practice, commonly referred to as geoblocking works by determining your current location based on your IP address.
IP address is an address that is used to deliver traffic in the network like how zip code and street address is used to deliver mail.
Let's say you are currently in United States. US has a huge amount of IP addresses assigned to it by IANA. Those IP addresses distributed in huge blocks to very big ISPs which in their turn distribute them to local ISPs in smaller blocks. Those addresses are assigned to customers when they go online.
Now, you want to go to some Chinese website, but you won't be able to because owner of that site has banned all of US IP addresses from accessing their site. Same can be done with specific content on said site.
This is how geoblocking works in simple words.
How governments block websites
How sites are blocked? Remember we've talked about obligating ISPs to collect and keep record of what their customers connecting to? Often IPSs obligated to block anything government deems "bad".
It can be done via restricting customer's access to IP address of "bad" site or by intercepting customer's DNS request and replying to it with IP address of page that says something like "sorry, this website is blocked".
We've just talked about IP addresses. Everything in the network that exchanges traffic has one or more of them. Websites are no exception. Domain Name System or DNS for short is what translates website name, such as speedvpn.biz, that is convenient for you to remember and write in your browser address bar into IP address that your device can use to connect to something.
It is not even required for your local ISP to comply with government on this one because in order to get to something on the Internet your traffic has to leave network of your local ISP and go through the network of much bigger ISP that is either complying with the government or straight out owned by it.
How and why ISPs can slow down connections
Slowing down connection to specific sites (throttling it) can be done simply by applying specially configured QoS policy.
Contrary to what you may have read limiting general speed of your connection is not the same practice to what is described below even though it is done via same mechanism. If upon signing contract you've agreed on speed of 100Mb/s it would be only fair for your ISP to limit your connection to the speed of 100Mb/s.
Why ISPs have speed limits? Every network has a certain throughput. If everybody in the network would be able to transmit data with no speed limit said throughput would be hit very quickly and network will not function properly if at all.
Why ISP throttling is a thing? Big ISPs are either a part of conglomerates that include many different companies or big enough to own other companies.
Let's say you are client of ISP A and want to watch a movie from online cinema owned by conglomerate B. You would pay them a small amount of money monthly and watch what ever you like.
However, ISP A don't want your money to go to B, they would rather put it in their pockets. They are slowing your connection to cinema owned by B so you would be forced to pay for cinema owned by A instead.
This way A does not have to compete with B in fair manner.
Such practices are more than annoying. They are unfair, infringing on one's privacy and threatening to one's safety.
My first encounter with this issue
I was a teen when I needed to unblock a website for the first time. I had very little understanding of how networks work and couldn't do much about it but to use anonymizers. They were slow and very inconvenient to use. It could take 30 seconds or more to load each page I wanted to see.
Later, when I've became professional in the network field, I quickly realized that there is much better solution for both bypassing access restrictions on the Internet and preventing people from spying on me - VPN.
What VPN is and how it works
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. Imagine you and your buddy want to exchange private documents over the Internet or play old game together that requires your computers to be next to each other. That would require a network connecting yours and his PCs. And you wouldn't want anybody else to have access to this network, you are exchanging private documents, remember? VPN is exactly that.
Think about VPN as a network on top of the network. VPNs have their own addresses inside of them. Those addresses would be used to deliver traffic between yours and your buddy's computers. This is a network part of VPN.
Security part of VPN is encryption. Encryption is a very large topic and I'll talk about it in another time. For now, it is sufficed note that encryption is a two-way thing. Both sides must agree on how they are encrypting and decrypting traffic. If not, nobody will be able to understand what other side is transmitting, like if two men would be talking to each other in different languages.
A bit hard to understand? See picture below:
Here is how accessing a blocked website using secure VPN works:
Traffic from PC delivered to a website and back. Person never sent to "sorry, this website is blocked" page. While inside of VPN tunnel traffic is actually encrypted twice: first by https and second by VPN app.
To sum up the above:
How I used to do that
I've used to rent virtual servers to set up my own VPNs. I've installed and configured special software on those servers and on my PC. That allowed me to access Internet as if I was on that server in different country and not at home on my PC. That was convenient and easy to use once everything was set, but this approach has 2 big flaws:
1) Let's say I had a server in Germany, and I needed to access something like I was in US. I would need another server in US to do that. And another one for Brazil and so on and so on.
2) Second flaw comes from the first one. If you want to be flexible with your VPN you need to have a lot of servers. If you have a lot of servers, you are paying a lot.
I used to do that. I was paying a lot more then I should've been. That was until I discovered another way:
- 1Lets you use VPN on iPhone, android, PC and Mac. You can use it on almost any modern device.
- 2Lets you use VPN in Chrome and Firefox.
- 3Does not require any technical knowledge to use. Installation is very simple.
- 4Has a lot of servers in many different countries. You'll be able to access any website you want.
- 5Provides reliable encryption. No one will be able to get your data.
- 6Actually very fast VPN.
- 7Does not log or store any information regarding any of your activity to further protect your privacy.
What People Are Saying About NordVPN
I don't usually trust testimonials on seller's site, so I went to the TrustPilot. Here's what people are saying:
“Easy to use, Steady and Fast!”
"Easy to use, have a lot of servers, the connection is steady and fast, very good!"
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“I am taking the time to give this review to let people know that this is the best thing I have done to be safe and private on line. This Nord VPN is awesome and really works, it is very simple to use for us less computer wise persons. I highly recommend specially"
“Prompt and efficient help"
“I had real WiFi issues whilst using the nord vpn. I was guided step by step in ways to help. And it works"
Grab NordVPN and protect your privacy! Don't worry about government and ISP restrictions on the Internet anymore!
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Nobody will know what you are watching and what websites you are visiting!
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"Perfect and secure tool to stream…"
“Perfect and secure tool to stream content from other countries that are usually blocked. The customer service is also very quick and friendly. I would really recommend NordVPN if you love to stream all kind of content from around the world."
“I just had the best customer service experience"
“I just had the best customer service experience of my life. I was directed through the chat system to an employee by the name of Jordan who within seconds was able to solve my issue."
My professional experience
I've graduated as an information security engineer while I was working as a network administrator.
Later I became lead network engineer and a head of network department later yet.
During my career I've interconnected many data centers, remote sites, corporate and home offices, armored and unarmored vehicles and I can say that VPN is a way to go if you need to protect your information from being stolen or falsified while it goes through the network.
I'm not good with computers / technology. Will I be able to use NordVPN?
Yes. NordVPN is very simple to download, install and use.
For installation pick video for your device from this list.
For usage check video below. Yes, it's for Windows app, but apps for other platforms will not differ much:
Wouldn't free proxy extension for browser do exactly the same?
If you only care about unblocking a website, then yes, it will. However, there is a huge BUT:
1) As we've talked above, your connection to most websites nowadays is protected with https. If you use such proxy you are relying on its owner to tunnel SSL through their proxy and not to intercept your data, sell it to third party. If you use VPN app, such as NordVPN, your traffic will still go through NordVPN's network, but they won't be able to get any data from it because https encrypts your traffic.
2) It is free service on the Internet that has to sustain itself somehow. Most of the time it is ads in the content you are viewing. So, if you don't like seeing ads you should probably use different method of unblocking websites.
3) Once again, it is free service on the Internet and a lot of people are using it. Most of the time free web proxies will not provide great speed.
Wouldn't free VPN do exactly the same?
Again, if you only care about unblocking a website, then yes, it will. If you need a good speed, reliability and security, then no, it would not.
Just like free browser extensions, free VPNs are used by a lot of people and because of that they're tend to be slow. They are not nearly as flexible or reliable as paid VPN service because they have a lot less servers for you to connect to.
Imagine you are trying to watch something, and connection is not that fast already, so you're watching in 480p. And now one of the servers goes down and now you have even greater number of users populating even smaller number of servers and even slower connection as a result.
Security is a big concern too. Free VPNs do not have a good encryption.
Wouldn't TOR browser do exactly the same?
No. If you just want to access blocked website you will have to disable almost every security feature that TOR has, such as enabling "normal" handling of cookies, disabling NoScripts, etc. If you won't do that, most websites will not work as expected, for example, you will not be able to complete captcha. By the time you disabled all of that you will be using just a Firefox (because TOR is Firefox with a few addons) with secure, but very slow proxy extension.
If you are doing something sketchy on the Internet, you should definitely use a VPN and Tor together because TOR browser alone is not secure enough to prevent you from being tracked by government agencies.
I'm currently in the higly restrictive country. Can I still use it?
I'd like to try NordVPN, but what if I don't like it?
It does not cost a lot to use NordVPN, but here is their money-back policy just in case.
What you will get with NordVPN
100% Satisfaction Guaranteed
100% Satisfaction Guarantee
You are fully protected by NordVPN 30-days money-back guarantee. If you are not satisfied with what you get you can contact NordVPN support and they will issue a refund.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it enough to use VPN alone to be protect my privacy?
In the age of surveillance VPN is necessary to remain anonymous on the Internet. It is required to preserve your privacy online.
However, VPN is not enough on its own.
Think of VPN as a part of the network. It protects you from hackers and authorities trying to intercept your traffic and track you down using information is said traffic.
Yet, your browser is an application and web server running, let's say, Google.com, is an application too. VPN can't do anything about applications.
Web browsers store site-related information such as preferred volume of playback, language settings etc. in files called cookies. Websites can manipulate those cookies however they like unless you specifically configure your browser in the way that would prevent them from doing so.
Big corporations, such as Facebook are caught time to time on selling this information to advertisers and governments.
Flashplayer, if you still have one in your browser, has cookies of its own too.
Then there are scripts that can be used to make your browser do something on your behalf, like when you open some shady site and there are bunch on annoying pop-up windows.
Both cookies and scripts are required for normal functioning of most websites, so completely disabling them is not an option for a normal browsing.
I'll do another article on this subject sometime later. For now, you will have to do your own research.
It sounds like ISPs are some kind of evil masterminds. How is that?
Well, it is and it isn't: some ISPs that are big and don't have any ethics, such as Verizon, will slow down (throttle) connection to resources belonging to their competition so you will be forced to use their analog of whatever you were trying to use. Online cinemas are great example of that.
However, it is very unlikely that ISP can make a profit out of tracking their users. If anything, it is causing them to lose a lot of money because they need a lot of equipment to store information about their user’s activity.
No company wants to lose money, of course, so they are forced to increase their prices. That's right! Part of what you are paying for the Internet access pays for spying on you.
Governments around the world are forcing ISPs to spy on their customers. It is truly age of surveillance we live in.
Unfunny note: you might think that if ISP now has more equipment, they would hire more people to maintain it, or at least increase salaries of people that already work for them, but no. Most companies will just shove new servers into faces of their employees and say, "this is your problem now, we expect these servers to work 24/7".
Why would government spy on me?
Total and complete surveillance and monitoring of the population. Suppression of political opposition.
If you think that this sounds like crazy conspiracy theory you should learn what Edward Snowden is known for.
VPNs are banned where I live. Can I still use NordVPN?
You will need to contact NordVPN support on this one, but most likely you can.
I've read claims on the Internet that VPN will make me completely invisible on the Internet. Even my ISP will not know where I am and who am I. Is it true?
Look, you've signed contract with your ISP. There are your name and address there. They have your address. And they probably gave you some sort of login information you have to enter to be able to access Internet through their network.
There is no way your ISP will not know that you are transmitting something, they just will not know what you are transmitting and what you are actually seeing (youtube, this very website, something else). They will just see transmission of encrypted data between you and some VPN server. They won't know anything else and this is very important part of protecting your privacy.
Owner of a website you are visiting will know their site was visited, however, they will just see a connection from something that may or may not belong to some VPN service.
What is a "bad" site? Why would government block something?
Some websites contain actual extremist information and are blocked because of that.
However, such sites are vast minority. Most of blocked website are blocked due to bogus copyright claims or because they belong to political opposition of the current government.
Can I use VPN to hide my location?
From owner of the website? Sure. From your ISP - no.
Even if you somehow manage to connect to their network without their permission, they will still be able to:
1) Track you down to the port of their equipment you've connected to if you're using cable.
2) Track your location down to a few meters if you are on cellular network.
3) Track your location down to a few dozen meters if you are on a satellite network.
Can I buy NordVPN with Bitcoin?
Yes, NordVPN is VPN that you can buy with Bitcoin.
What are the other risks of not using VPN?
Every trace and every evidence you leave can be used against you but won't be used in your favor. Imagine following situation:
You and your buddy were playing some sort of shooter one against the other and he got you a bunch of times. Later you went to some forum and discussed your gaming session and you said something along the lines of "I'm soooo killing you". You never meant anything bad, you are just buddies that play shooter together.
A few weeks later your buddy is getting attacked. Attacker never being caught. A year later investigation finds your post on that forum saying "I'm soooo killing you". They request IP address author of that post had from the admins of that forum. Then they contact your ISP and ask them who of their clients visited that forum at the time that post was made.
And this is just you. And now you are charged with whatever happened to your buddy.
This story might sound ridiculous to someone who is not familiar with how police and "justice" systems work around the world, so, here are few examples:
Another way to get in trouble for not using VPN is to post online something that could be regarded as being against current government of countries like China, Russia, Thailand and some others while being in said country.
Got any more questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Do not think to yourself "I'll get it later"! Get your online security today! NordVPN will protect you from being spied on, will unblock any content you'd like to see and prevent ISP from throttling your connection. Do not stay unprotected!
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