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Police in England have arrested a Nottingham man accused of running a proxy server that provides access to sites subject to court-mandated blocks.

The man – who has since been released on bail – was accused of running the Immunicity proxy service, which has been taken down by the authorities. This was designed to unblock torrent sites by sending traffic through various different proxies, depending on the URL you were looking for.

The arrest was made after police – in conjunction with the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) – found evidence that Immunicity was providing access to 36 websites that had been previously been blocked in the UK for infringing copyright.

Immunicity allowed users to access sites that have been blocked by a number of European ISPs in recent years, including the seemingly invincible Avoiding Censorship: How Blocked Websites Stay Online and Accessible [MakeUseOf Explains] 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... Read More The Pirate Bay, which was blocked in 2012 5 Ways To Bypass The UK Pirate Bay Block 5 Ways To Bypass The UK Pirate Bay Block A recent UK high court ruling from a case brought by the British Phonographic Industry (the UK version of RIAA) means that The Pirate Bay is now inaccessible from many ISPs, with BT and remaining... Read More after a High Court ruling. This resulted in Immunicity being in breach of anti-circumvention provisions in UK copyright law.

immunicity-blocked

The Immunicity website has since been taken down. In its place is an intimidating notice from the City of London Police informing visitors that the site is subject to a criminal investigation. The notice also links to a number of commercial websites where music and movies can be obtained legitimately.

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Curious about what the take-down of Immunicity means for you? Read on for more.

How Immunicity Worked

It was quite impressive to see how Immunicity circumvented ISP level blocking of websites. It required users to modify their browser settings with something called a Proxy Auto-Configuration (PAC) File.

PAC files are old-hat. They’ve existed since the release of Netscape 2.0, and have remained in use ever since. They consist of little more than a few lines of JavaScript and function like any other forward proxy.

immunicity-pacfile

They instruct your browser to forward specified network requests through different addresses. These addresses contain a proxy server, which return the site you’re interested in.

This replaces what would normally happen when you type in an address into your browser; where a a DNS request is made, your browser then retrieves the content and then presents it to you.

Immunicity offered a PAC file that forwarded requests to blocked torrent sites – including The Pirate Bay, EZTV and KickAssTorrents – to its own servers, effectively circumventing ISP level blocks.

Interestingly, the PAC file also allowed users to circumvent blocks on a number of legitimate websites that stream adult content. One can only wonder if this was intended to circumvent the blocks found in most workplaces, or the new opt-out web filtering Internet Censorship In The UK - Why It Won't Work Internet Censorship In The UK - Why It Won't Work David Cameron's Internet filtering plans have started a stir. The contours of his plans are still not clear, but opinions are being formed as the debate rages across the U.K. and the world. I'm completely... Read More that is mandatory for all new Internet subscriptions in the UK.

This PAC file has been saved for posterity on Pastebin, thanks to Reddit user jomkr.

Are VPN Users Safe?

At first glance, this sounds worryingly similar to what a Virtual Private Network (VPN) What A VPN Tunnel Is & How To Set One Up What A VPN Tunnel Is & How To Set One Up Read More does. A VPN allows users to circumvent ISP level restrictions by funneling traffic through an encrypted tunnel to an endpoint where it is not subject to these restrictions.

This also has the advantage of allowing users to circumvent ISP level surveillance, as traffic is strongly encrypted before transmission. This means that it is impossible to determine whether the user is using a protocol typically associated with copyright infringement – such as Bittorrent or with the decentralized eDonkey network What's Up With eMule These Days? Is The File Sharing Network Slowly Becoming Obsolete? What's Up With eMule These Days? Is The File Sharing Network Slowly Becoming Obsolete? Believe it or not, eMule is still alive and kicking. These days, file sharing is all about BitTorrent and file-hosting websites like RapidShare and the ill-fated MegaUpload. Many of the older file-sharing applications have long-passed... Read More – or visiting sites that are typically associated with mass copyright infringement.

immunicity-firewall

However, there’s a number of crucial differences between traditional VPN services and Immunicity. Differences that make one legal, and another illegal.

Firstly, Immunicity’s servers only accepted requests for specific websites. If a user edited the PAC file to add another website, it would simply error out, or refuse to process the request. In short, Immunicity were specifically providing access to websites that had been blocked by court order, or were known to facilitate copyright theft.

Furthermore, VPNs are what could be described as a dual-use technology. Sure, you could use them to access The Pirate Bay and grab the latest episode of Game Of Thrones, just as much as you could use them to privately and securely check your e-mail in the airport.

Whereas Immunicity was a service that had no other legitimate usage, a design fault that would later prove to be its undoing.

This means that your favorite VPN service isn’t about to be shut down. They’re safe, and so are other services like Hola, which offer a browser-integrated VPN

Now Is A Bad Time To Launch A Circumvention Service

Months after the High Court ruled The Pirate Bay was to be blocked in the UK, the UK Pirate Party launched its own proxy service. After a few short months, it defiantly waved fingers in the face of this deeply unpopular court order. And then, it was promptly shut down under the threat of legal action.

Other proxies have suffered a similar fate. Immunicity is not alone in finding itself on the wrong side of the law. In a quote to Wired Magazine, the head of the City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit said “We will come down hard on people believed to be committing or deliberately facilitating such offenses”.
immunicity-piratebay

It seems that the age of the pirate proxy is over. But there are alternatives.

Firstly, you can roll your own proxy server. All you need is a VPS (I recommend Digital Ocean DigitalOcean: The Best VPS Host For Newbies DigitalOcean: The Best VPS Host For Newbies Read More ), an installation of NGINX, and the Pirate Bay Proxy PHP script available from Github.

You can also invest in a VPN. Some of these have the advantage of not retaining any logs of your Internet activity, and tend to cost just a few dollars per month.

There’s also a Chrome and Firefox plugin called Hola. This allows you to selectively push your network traffic through VPN endpoints, allowing you circumvent ISP level blocking, in addition to annoying region restrictions.

Or, you can go legit and kick the piracy habit for good. Can’t be bothered paying for music? Spotify has a free plan. You can also get your movies and TV fix through the likes of Netflix, iPlayer, and Hulu, if you’re based in the United States.

Immunicity Has Gone – What Are You Going To Do?

Were you a long-time user of Immunicity? Have you got an especially novel way of circumventing censorship? Tell me about it. The comments box is below.

Photo Credit: Gil C / Shutterstock.com

 

  1. Free Anakata
    September 21, 2014 at 3:47 am

    Whack-a-mole, whack-a-mole, whack-a-mole... you shut one down, another will just crop up again. These idiots are wasting taxpayer dollars fighting a losing battle when they could be going after real criminals and terrorists. Why not spend that money fighting real threats like ISIS instead of "cracking down" on people who hit the precious wallets of the major media cartels. Fk the copyright cops anyway, they're going nowhere fast and will soon be as obsolete as the pony express.

    • OurRightToSurf
      January 24, 2015 at 2:28 pm

      Amen to that my friend....

  2. Rebel
    August 14, 2014 at 1:32 pm
  3. immun.es
    August 12, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Clones have already started to appear...

    http://immun.es/

  4. MrX
    August 12, 2014 at 5:46 am

    I think that most people want to pay for their entertainment. The problem is content. In my country, Sweden, we don't get the content as fast as you guys. A game of thrones episode takes over a year to get here. That is just ridiculous. We live in a connected world. There is absolutely no reason for region blocking or year long waiting for episodes. It's like the content providers don't want to make money.

    • michel
      August 12, 2014 at 5:35 pm

      There might be no good reason, but there are reasons, and they are laws and statutes, and the way content distribution works for the people who need to be paid for their work. This is changing. Content is not the problem, impatience and feeling entitled is the problem. There's more content available for free than anyone can reasonably consume in a lifetime. It doesn't have to be Game of Thrones.

    • Baphomet
      January 18, 2015 at 6:22 pm

      Ignore Michel the corporate drone.

  5. Chris Baker
    August 11, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    A fascinating and well written piece. I am informed and entertained.

    • Matthew H
      August 12, 2014 at 12:02 am

      Many thanks Chris! Glad you enjoyed it!

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