Avoiding Censorship: How Blocked Websites Stay Online and Accessible [MakeUseOf Explains]

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the pirate bay 300   Avoiding Censorship: How Blocked Websites Stay Online and Accessible [MakeUseOf Explains]We’ve been hearing a lot about website-blocking recently, particularly with anti-piracy organizations forcing Internet service providers to block access to The Pirate Bay in the UK and elsewhere. However, when UK Internet service provider BT blocked The Pirate Bay, the block was only in effect for a few minutes before The Pirate Bay bypassed it.

How exactly do supposedly blocked websites like The Pirate Bay remain accessible to so many people, in spite of all the efforts to block them? The answer lies in the way the Internet works.

How Websites Are Blocked

When you load a website – say, by going to thepiratebay.org – your computer contacts its domain name system (DNS) server and locates the numerical IP address associated with that website. The DNS server responds with the website’s IP address and your computer contacts the IP address. Domain names like thepiratebay.org and makeuseof.com are human-readable shortcuts that DNS servers translate to numerical IP addresses.

Blocking can cut off access at the DNS level or block access to the website’s IP address itself. Your Internet service provider runs your default DNS servers, so it can modify them and point thepiratebay.org or another domain name to a “Blocked” page.

virginmedia block   Avoiding Censorship: How Blocked Websites Stay Online and Accessible [MakeUseOf Explains]

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There are several ways around this – you can switch your DNS server to an alternative DNS server that isn’t run by your Internet service provider (ISP), such as Google DNS or OpenDNS. You could also visit the website’s IP address directly – for example, 194.71.107.80 is one of The Pirate Bay’s IP addresses, so you can access The Pirate Bay by plugging this number into your web browser’s address bar.

Blocking can also cut off access at the server level. To prevent people from using the above methods to get around the blocks, ISPs can block access to specific IP addresses, preventing their users from communicating with the IP addresses entirely.

How Websites Bypass Blocks

If only DNS blocking is occurring, websites can tell their users to switch DNS servers or access specific IP addresses directly. Even if specific IP addresses have been blocked, a website can quickly add a new IP address that point to the website.

For example, after The Pirate Bay’s IP addresses were blocked, The Pirate Bay immediately added several new IP addresses that pointed to their website. While users could no longer access thepiratebay.org or 194.71.107.80, The Pirate Bay was now also available at 194.71.107.82.

A Pirate Bay representative told Torrent Freak that “they can continue adding new addresses for years to come.” It’s like whack-a-mole – when an ISP blocks an address, a new one immediately springs up.

pirate bay at ip address   Avoiding Censorship: How Blocked Websites Stay Online and Accessible [MakeUseOf Explains]

Legal System Slowness

Compounding the problem for those who would block websites is the way the legal system works. The blockers often require court orders to block specific domains and IP addresses. Some of these court orders may allow the blockers – anti-piracy groups in the case of The Pirate Bay – to add new IP addresses to the block on short notice, while some do not. As some ISPs in the Netherlands responded when Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN told them to block The Pirate Bay’s new IP addresses – “we will do not comply without a court order”.

Even if all court orders allowed anti-piracy groups to block new IP addresses without going through the legal system again, court orders would have to be obtained in a variety of countries against a large amount of ISPs. On the other hand, The Pirate Bay can add a new IP address accessible to the entire world and circumvent the block in a few seconds.

Other Ways to Bypass Blocks

The Pirate Bay doesn’t even need to bypass the blocks itself. Pirate Bay users have a variety of ways to bypass the block, including accessing The Pirate Bay through proxies or virtual private networks (VPNs), which “tunnel” the traffic to another ISP. From The Pirate Bay’s perspective, the user is accessing their website from another country without website blocking. The tunnel then passes the traffic in encrypted form back to the user – as the traffic is encrypted and the user isn’t communicating directly with The Pirate Bay, their ISP has no way of blocking this traffic.

In fact, The Pirate Party UK hosts a proxy that UK residents can use to access The Pirate Bay on ISPs where it’s been blocked. Tor, designed for accessing websites anonymously and circumventing government censorship of the web, can also be used.

pirate party uk protest   Avoiding Censorship: How Blocked Websites Stay Online and Accessible [MakeUseOf Explains]

The Streisand Effect

Word spreads about new ISP addresses and other ways to bypass blocks extremely quickly. When a website as big as The Pirate Bay is blocked, news stories spring up and alert users to the block and ways of getting around it. The block may actually increase traffic going to the blocked website as a result of the increased media attention and exposure.

This phenomena is known as the Streisand effect — named after Barbara Streisand, who, in 2003, attempted to remove photos of her house from the Internet. In response, news coverage about the incident resulted in a larger number of people seeing the photos. Similarly, people reading news stories about blocks of a website like The Pirate Bay may wonder what all the fuss is about and check the website out for themselves. News of the block actually increased traffic to The Pirate Bay.

Have you ever had to get around a block to access a blocked website? Do you have any other questions about how websites are blocked? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credit: M2Ys4U on Flickr

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35 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

jessemanalansan

Good article! :)

Chris Hoffman

Thanks, Jesse!

Reply

Krishnapriya

Awesome, pirate bay is blocked in my country(Malaysia) too and to bypass it, I always used Tor or proxies. I never knew that it could as simple as using the IP address to bypass the block.

Chris Hoffman

Yup, depending on how the block is implemented, using the IP address will work! They may also block IP addresses, but that’s more work — especially with the Pirate Bay constantly adding new IP addresses.

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Ben

I did not know about ‘The Pirate Bay’. Checking it out now. Thanks.

Chris Hoffman

Yup, see — this is the Streisand Effect in action! Banning something makes people interested in it and spreads the news.

Reply

Sukhamrit Singh

I am in India and The Pirate Bay and Torlock were blocked here a while ago. I just used a secured server and it worked! so instead of http://www.thepiratebay.se I would use https://www.thepiratebay.se
Same goes for Torlock – they all work just fine! Hoope this helps.

– Sukhamrit, India (Chandigarh)

Chris Hoffman

Wow — just goes to show you it really does depend on how they implement the block, I suppose. Never would’ve guessed that would work!

Aloha

Well I’m from India, and I’m interested to know which ISP you are using?
For me, my ISP, BSNL, run by the government itself, have never blocked
any website. I have been torrenting for years and will be doing the same for years to come.

Reply

Tony Alexander

Great one! Taught me a lot.

Chris Hoffman

Thanks, Tony!

Chris Hoffman

Yup, I saw that recently — I knew it! Doesn’t surprise me.

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shivam

how do we know the ip address of a certain site such as gmail??

iStoopKid

you could try opening a terminal or command prompt and typing “nslookup gmail.com” without the quotes. for example I typed “nslookup twitter.com” and it returned http://10.133.20.11/ http://199.59.150.7/ and 199.59.149.230 . all three worked and got me to twitter. strangely enough though it didn’t work with makeuseof or other services connected to google, like youtube. Youtube just brought me back to the Google homepage. Also, there are many firefox add-ons that you can use that will give you the IP address of the page you go to so you can jot that down

Chris Hoffman

Yup, those are some great tips — you can also try a website like http://network-tools.com/ if you don’t want to use the Command Prompt or an extension. Select the Lookup option and enter the website’s domain name.

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Mark

When the UK courts blocked access to TPB I was surprised I could still get access – till I realised the block was only DNS based and I’d been using OpenDNS for years. If the powers that be are vaguely serious about censoring sites, they’re going to have to try a lot harder than this!

iStoopKid

Yes, they shut the front door but leave the back door and windows wide open lol. They know what they’re doing, at least that’s what I believe. That’s why I’m skeptical about the whole mass virus removal thing on monday or whenever that is. I don’t believe that one bit.

Chris Hoffman

I believe they’re just shutting down the servers that the virus is using. Infected people will just have to change their DNS servers back — it doesn’t remove the virus, just breaks infected systems’ DNS settings.

Chris Hoffman

Yup, that’s part of the reason DNS blocking is a bad idea — people can use something like OpenDNS or Google DNS. If they forced OpenDNS to block The Pirate Bay as well, people would use other, shadier, less-trustworthy DNS servers.

It’s a bad idea to push people towards less legitimate DNS servers that could become compromised and redirect traffic to phishing sites. DNS shouldn’t be tampered with (this was a problem with SOPA in the US, as well).

Reply

amit

we have nebero software enabled by the university administration which has limited the download speed and also blocked many websites is there any simple way to bypass that an enjoy unlimited downloading and surf any website we want to …..
pls help asap……

iStoopKid

If you’re on windows you could try free proxy or vpn software like Hotspotshield (which also will work on mobile devices), Tor, and Ultrasurf. There are countless other options. I do prefer Tor with the browser bundle https://www.torproject.org/projects/torbrowser.html.en but if you are trying to get on as fast as possible then use download ultrasurf http://ultrasurf.us/. The download is ~1mb or less and all you have to do is click the start button and you’re browsing freely in a matter of seconds. I actually used it in my past 3 years in high school and it never failed. Just make sure you stay aware of updates because sometimes when ultrasurf launches a new update the older version will no longer work. Good luck and remember even though you can browse freely with this and tons of other free software, stray away from using personal info (just a bit of an extra security measure).

Chris Hoffman

Great advice, thanks! I’ve never used ultrasurf, but Tor is solid.

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7987627e5cfdd26789fd0cac537539e7

I don’t really care about torrent sites but I do use file sharing for several reasons. A simple bypass is through OpenDNS. For flexibility, there’s always VPN.

Chris Hoffman

Yup — and if you don’t care about speed, there’s always Tor.

Reply

Chris Hoffman

Yup, it depends. Failing the IP address method, a proxy, VPN, or Tor should do it for you.

Reply

Muhammad Ahmad

I always use SecurityKiss , Its best choice. You can download the software and you can configure it as a virtual private network manually, It’s free but limited to 300MB per day.

Chris Hoffman

Thanks for the recommendation! Seems like a decent free version.

Muhammad Ahmad

Thanks

Reply

Erlis Dhima

Good article! :)

Reply

Srinivas N

Chris. Gr8 article. Very interesting trivia too.
My question is how does DNS (Google or OpenDNS) keep track of updated IP adresses every now and then if websites try to change IP to bypass block.

Chris Hoffman

The website owners update their DNS records, and DNS servers pull from there.

Reply

Dan

I`m using this when I need to to access blocked sites: http://www.sunvpn.com/ . It`s a VPN service, works similar with a proxy, only faster..

Reply

Peter Clarvis

I’m so glad I discovered “Makeuseof” Am enjoying the articles tremendously.
With the variety of subjects covered, who knows, maybe I’ll also end up as a nerd.
Thanks

Reply

Ali Khan

Really enjoyed the article, there are other ways to bypass the block. For example you can go to alternative websites like http://piratebaysafe.me/. This is just a proxy that accesses and gets all of it information from the original piratebay. There are other lots of other proxies. Another way is to use google translate, just type thepiratebay.se in the first box, choose any language except English, and the language to translate to choose English.

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