Hi there! The topic of censorship is a loaded one, and how to bypass it is only one piece of the puzzle – to understand the problem, it’s essential to understand the context too. That’s why I will discuss why and how the internet is censored and look at one of the many ways of combating censorship – using a virtual private network (VPN). I promise you it’s going to be worth your time.
Keep in mind that it’s a complex subject, but if you’re looking for a quick answer, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered.
Table of contents
TL;DR: how to bypass internet censorship with a VPN
First of all, get a VPN. Preferably a premium one. VPNs create a tunnel outside your network to another server on the internet, bypassing many internet restrictions.
Most of the time, internet blocks are regional, so you must change the internet protocol (IP) or the domain name system (DNS) address. These two main credentials show your approximate location.
Pick a server in a country you want to access the internet from, and voila! You can’t access X, but you can use a VPN that accesses X in your stead. Also, a good VPN uses obfuscation – which hides the fact that you’re using a VPN.
We live in a time of paradox (have we ever not?) – the internet is meant to be free, but some governments limit that freedom. Having said that, I’m not here to pass judgment but to merely share knowledge. Censorship often rubs elbows with legality, making it hard to talk about internet restrictions, especially as a VPN service provider – it’s like dancing in a minefield.
However, the world isn’t just black or white, so I’ll refrain from saying what’s right or wrong and leave that up to you, dear reader, to decide.
But, getting back to the topic at hand, – we can only talk about a solution if we get to know the problem first.
Why is the internet censored?
Restrictions usually exist to keep people from accessing content that is considered potentially harmful, damaging, or illegal. Sometimes it’s a restriction, and sometimes it’s censorship – one factor to determine the difference is the motivation behind the block.
Whether restrictions are bad or good boils down to the motivation behind the limitations. Let’s dive deeper into the usual reasons for blocking access to parts of the internet.
Schools filter their network to restrict students from accessing distracting content. The usual sites that get the short end of the stick are social media, gaming, gambling, pornography, firearms, etc. (you get the point). Such filters often lead to students searching for ways to unblock Soundcloud just to listen to their favorite music during recess.
To save your child from potentially harmful content, you’d restrict access to some parts of the internet, right? RIGHT?! The “Parental Control” option on your smartphone or smart TV blocks access to specific domains. To serve and protect our youth!
In the same way a school tries to keep students concentrated on education, a workplace will use commercial filtering software to keep its workers focused on their jobs, often blocking “time-wasting” sites.
Some religious groups try to keep their communities from being exposed to content deemed immoral. Some, like Christians, have developed tools like “Christian DNS filters” that filter out violent and malicious content.
Some governments block sites that promote activities that are considered illegal, like torrenting or pornography. Other governments try to conserve their traditions and keep away from outside influence, thus forming close ties with the internet service providers (ISPs) and building a wall around their internet.
The main types of internet censorship
Often the case is that censorship intertwines with a country’s legal system, so there is always a judicial side to the topic. However, we’re here to look into the technical side of it. To understand how a VPN overcomes blocks, you must first get to know the block itself.
You might’ve heard this, but the common folk calls it pulling the plug – cutting off any connection to internet routers.
Sometimes, a domain owner will remove search results or part of the content from their portal to comply with a country’s legal requirements – you won’t be able to access something that isn’t there.
IP address blocking
Every internet place has an IP address, and your ISP can block you from accessing that address. The most common victims of such a block are social media platforms and news websites.
DNS poisoning, hijacking, filtering, and redirection
A DNS is a system that translates human language to robot language (and vice versa) – from www.surfshark.com to 22.214.171.124.
Such DNS blocks jam your browser from translating the blocked domain’s name. In other words, your browser can’t understand the address you want to visit.
Uniform resource locator (URL) filtering
When such a filter comes into contact with a blocked URL, it stops your browser from loading it.
It’s like a border patrol for your web browser and the data it wants to access – a filter that checks internet packets. If the packet is considered secure and verified, the filter lets it through, and vice versa. Modifying this filter can stop packets of data going through – it stops website access.
A denial-of-service attack (DoS)
Done by overwhelming a service provider’s server with various requests. The idea of a DoS is to overload the server and prevent other requests from being fulfilled. Similar to when a server crashes when too many people are on it. In layperson’s terms – a webpage can’t let you in because it’s dealing with a ton of fake guests trying to enter.
How to bypass internet censorship with a VPN
The circumvention depends on the block itself – there is no cure-all, but a VPN is closest to that. Remember that sometimes and in some places, VPNs are prohibited, leading to a constant cat-and-mouse game.
But let’s talk about the times when you can and are using one – what can it do to jump over some of the hurdles on the internet?
Good virtual private networks will always provide you with a secure connection to the internet via an encrypted tunnel – meaning the data between you and the service you’re trying to reach is only understood by the two of you.
A VPN software changes your IP address, making the most used regional censors obsolete – IP address blocking, DNS poisoning, URL filtering, and packet filtering. A VPN also solves the problem of a DoS attack – you can’t get targeted if they can’t find you or your address.
A VPN can’t make an offline page reachable (yet), but if you suspect your country of censoring search engine results, don’t lose hope. Connecting to the servers of a country you know doesn’t filter their search results will fix the issue and disperse all doubts.
But your internet traffic has to go through your internet service provider, one way or another. Which means they can see you’re using a VPN. So bypassing internet censorship securely can only be achieved with certain VPN features.
What to look for in a VPN
Bypassing a certain threshold on the web is one thing, but doing that safely is another. One must know how to trek the land of VPNs safely. But while the internet is brimming with VPNs, and they all seem to do the same thing, the differences hide in the fine print – the features and upheld policies.
Encryption is what all VPNs do, but premium VPN providers go the extra mile to increase cybersecurity. Some security features can be part of a VPN deal – ad blockers, password managers, search engines, antivirus, browser extensions for phishing detection, and so on.
The term “VPN features” also incorporates additional security measures. These might include the Kill Switch, multi-hop routing, and an obfuscator to hide the fact you’re using a VPN at all. There are more features, but all of them depend on individual providers.
Note: Most free VPNs don’t come with loads of features, so keep an eye on the feature tab. Also, did you know that many free VPNs keep their lights on by selling user data to third parties? Advertising companies, snoopers, or even the government – it depends on the VPN provider’s policies.
The policies a VPN provider follows
Many paid VPNs follow he no-logs policy – not keeping a record of your browsing history. For example, Surfshark doubles down on its policy by having RAM-based servers which don’t allow keeping data for long. You surfed with Surfshark, and the next day the data is gone.
Note: Remember to check where the provider’s HQ is – some policies depend on the HQ’s local jurisdiction. For instance, China allows a VPN server to be legally established with one exception – the government can inspect all data traffic.
A summary of the bypass – check VPN features & align with authorities
To bypass internet censorship, turn on your VPN and select a country you want to connect to. This may be a short answer, but it has a robust background. Apart from that, remember to check the local authority’s take on VPNs and stay informed of the blocks to know IF and WHEN a VPN can help you.
Does a VPN bypass censorship?
A VPN bypasses most techniques meant to censor internet content, especially geolocation-related ones like regional blocks.
How do you bypass censorship?
Use anything that changes your IP or DNS – a VPN, a proxy, smart DNS, or TOR software.
Do VPNs bypass content filters?
Yes, a VPN bypasses content filtering – you connect to the servers of a country that you know is not filtering its media.