We’ve all been there before, stuck at work or the office, or overseas in a new place, and running into blocked websites left and right. It’s incredibly frustrating, but a problem that’s all too common unfortunately.
Often times, schools and workplaces put network restrictions in place to keep employees focused and on task. That’s all fine and good if you never need to keep up with an eBay option, or check your Facebook, or even just engage in a little shameless time-killing. But we’re all human, and restricted networks, more often than not, are just a total pain.
Even more frustrating, many countries actually have nationwide bans on certain content, restricting your access to sites like Facebook and Google. In many countries, politically sensitive content is strictly off limits, and there’s even government surveillance in place that monitors your activity online.
What Are Geo-Restrictions?
The types of content restrictions that are actually dependent on your location are known as geo restrictions. For instance, the internet censorship that China is famous for is known as geo-restricting, and it basically means that so long as you’re in that country, you won’t have access to that content.
How Do Servers Know Where I Am?
It’s a creepy thing, to be online and trying to access a website, and get denied because your location doesn’t have access. It means that the server you’re requesting data from knows your rough location, and is limiting your access accordingly.
But how do they do that?
The answer is simple, with your IP address. This unique code is attached to the device you use to access the internet, either your router, smartphone, tablet or whichever WiFi-enabled device you’re utilizing.
When you try to access a website, the server sees your IP address, which gives them your rough geographic location (usually in proximity to the nearest major city), and gives you access to content accordingly.
It’s how the internet knows to provide you with content in English, or advertisements to certain local services. Programs such as Adsense that run in the background of webpages use your IP address to target advertisements to you based on your location, which is why you’ll often see obviously placed ads with a nearby city in the tagline.
How Can I Get Around Internet Filters?
Getting around these content restrictions isn’t as tricky as it used to be. While proxy codes work sometimes, it’s definitely a case for trial and error, and requires you to dig into those computer settings to try them out.
The easiest way to get around content filters and access blocked websites is by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It’s a subscription service designed to not only give users access to blocked content, but also privacy while online.
How Does a VPN Work?
When trying to understand how a VPN works, the easiest thing to visualize is a secret passage in a house. Where the house is like the internet in this analogy, the passageway is the VPN. You’re still on the internet, but you’re taking an alternate route and flying under the radar.
VPNs give you access to blocked content by providing you with access to their worldwide network of servers. When you download their software, you just choose a server location and connect.
From there, you’ll have access to any content that is available in the location you’ve selected. Your real IP address is blocked by the VPN, and to servers, it looks as if you’re actually accessing from the server location, rather than your actual location.
This has the added perk of protecting your anonymity. All of your content and internet activity is impossible to trace back to you, and you bypass content restrictions entirely.
Your privacy is also protected, since the VPN encrypts all of your traffic for you. Everything you do while connected to the VPN is fully protected and private from everything from hackers to government surveillance.
What Should I Look for in a VPN?
There are plenty of options out there for VPNs, and trying to figure out which ones are ripoffs and which ones actually do what they’re supposed to can be kind of tricky, especially if you don’t know what to look for.
Here’s a rundown of some of the key features you’ll want to look for in a VPN, and just what all of that tech jargon actually means.
- Encryption: This is what keeps your data secure, and is essentially just a way of coding your data so that even if it is intercepted, it’s just illegible nonsense, and your personal information is secure. There are essentially two strengths of encryption, 128- and 256-bit, with the latter of the two being the strongest. You can generally count on 256-bit encryption to be unbeatable, so that’s the one to shoot for.
- Bandwidth: Bandwidth refers to the rate of data transfer, and companies that want to restrict your bandwidth typically don’t have a large enough network to support their user volume. Unlimited bandwidth is pretty common, so don’t settle for less.
- Multiple Connections: This refers to the number of devices you can connect to the VPN per account. It saves some major money if you can use it on more than one device, so look for a VPN that allows you to connect to both a home and mobile device, at minimum.
- Compatibility: This one’s simple enough, is their software compatible with your device? Check their list of operating systems to make sure your device is supported.
- Network size: This matters because, like I said earlier, the more servers they have to choose from, the wider the distribution of bandwidth. You’ll be more likely to get a fast, reliable connection, and have a server in your area to hop on.
So these are the basic technical specifications you need to look for. Honestly, it’s a buyer’s market, so there’s just no reason you shouldn’t be able to hit the mark on all of these with the VPN you choose. It’s pretty competitive out there, so don’t settle for less than your money is worth.
As far as the other perks go, it’s generally nice if they also offer:
- 24/7 customer support
- live chat or phone support
- easy-to-use software
- a fast connection
- a money-back guarantee
- referral program for free service
If you’re not sure how a VPN checks out in these categories, check out some reviews to see how they did. We have a lot here on Secure Thoughts, based on real trials with these companies, with speed test results to give you an idea of what you can expect.
Top 3 VPNs to Unblock Websites
In the mean time, here’s a short list of some of the top options on the web for VPNs and how they stack up in these categories.
#1 Choice: ExpressVPN – 9.5/10 – Fastest, most secure connection
So first in my little roundup here is ExpressVPN, and for a good reason. The thing is, a lot of times, you wind up compromising speed for security with VPNs. All of that top notch encryption can really bog down a connection, making it tricky to stream Netflix and download music (a deal breaker for me).
With ExpressVPN, you get unlimited bandwidth, two connections per account and an incredibly fast connection, despite the military-grade encryption that’s used. I’ve used this VPN a lot, and I’ve never had any trouble streaming Netflix, downloading music from iTunes, or anything else that tends to suck up bandwidth like a black hole.
What really sold me on these guys though was their customer service. They are just so damn fast. These guys always respond to emails in less than 20 minutes and of course their live chat support means you can get help instantly if you need it.
Their software is easy to use, and they include a 30-day, money-back guarantee, so you can always snag a refund if it just doesn’t work out. ExpressVPN is a fast, easy way to access blocked websites, no matter where you are.
#2: IPVanish – 7/10 – Fast connection, but no compatibility with iOS
So next in line we have IPVanish. This VPN also boasts military-grade, 256-bit encryption, but a connection that’s reliably fast and effective. IPVanish’s network is large enough to facilitate worldwide access to blocked content, but secure enough to protect you from hackers and government snoops.
This is another VPN that’s super easy to use, but with the advantage of also having 24/7 customer support. Of course, there’s a bit of a catch. You can’t get ahold of these guys instantly like you can with ExpressVPN. IPVanish only offers email support, and they tend to take an hour or two to respond.
Also worth noting is that their software isn’t compatible with everything. You can use IPVanish on Windows, Mac, Android and Linux, but it’s not compatible with iOS. You’ll need to stick with ExpressVPN if you’re using a mobile Apple device.
However, IPVanish also offers a two-week guarantee though, so there’s always time to change your mind if you don’t care for its setup.
You can check out IPVanish here.
#3: HideMyAss – 5/10 – Slow connection and customer service
I’m not crazy about HideMyAss for a few reasons, but one of the biggest definitely stems from the problems I’ve had with their customer service. This VPN really leaves you hanging if you have problems of any kind.
Even though they’re 24/7, they’re not nearly as fast as ExpressVPN. I swear, anytime I’ve ever emailed these guys, it’s been at least 48 hours to hear back, and their live support isn’t any better. If you need to get in touch with them, plan on waiting at least 20 minutes to speak to ‘the next available representative.’ It’s maddening.
HideMyAss is compatible with most major operating systems, including Windows, Mac, Android, Linus and iOS. However, their software is a lot more complicated than what you’ll see with ExpressVPN or IPVanish. There are tons of features and settings to get lost in, and it can be a bit overwhelming for beginners.
At the core of the problems with HideMyAss though is definitely their connection speed. If you plan to use a VPN to access things like Pandora, Netflix or Hulu, plan on having a lot of problems. No matter which server I connected to, this VPN just can never seem to keep up.
There are just better options out there for accessing blocked websites. I wouldn’t waste your time with HideMyAss.
You can find HideMyAss here.
Conclusion: Get a VPN to Access Blocked Websites
If you’re at work, school, or in a country with restricted access, chances are you’re not going to be able to access the content you want. These content restrictions block access to everything from political content to streaming services, and there’s not a lot of leniency there.
More often than not, even filter circumvention services are blocked, so before you get stuck high and dry, make sure you download ExpressVPN.
ExpressVPN unblocks websites by hiding your IP address and giving you access to a network of remote servers. You can then access these servers and appear as though you’re in an entirely different place. They’ll protect your privacy, open up your access, and keep your activity from being traced back to you.
Remember it’s a buyer’s market. When you get a VPN, make sure you don’t compromise speed for security, get ExpressVPN to access blocked websites.