The Internet is a vast expanse and there’s a ton of information out there, most of it is legal, while some of it is illegal. Unfortunately, due to a number of reasons, sites that have content that may be in the clear might also get blocked by either the authorities, your ISP or sometimes even your office network administrator. Gaining access can be considered to be a very technical and complicated process, but it really isn’t. We’re going to look at some of these ways to unblock sites. Most of these techniques are really simply, while a couple of others might need more than a minute or two to get running.
Unblocking by changing your DNS server
A DNS server is like an index, with a list of domain names – such as YouTube.com, Tech2.com and pretty much every other site on the Internet. When you type in a website address in your browser, your computer sends a request to the DNS server and it tells you the IP address for that site. One of the easiest ways for ISPs to stop access to a particular site is by removing the entries for the sites that need to be blocked. ISPs can choose to redirect the request to a different site or a notice page as well.
A simple DNS server change could open up your connection
However, there is a way around this. There are free, fully open third-party DNS services run by organizations and other ISPs. The most popular ones are run by Google and OpenDNS. All you need to do is change your DNS server settings to theirs. In a typical Windows 7 system, head over to the Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center > Change adapter settings. Right click on your network adapter, click on Internet Protocol Version 4, click on Properties. Click on the Use the following DNS server addresses and enter the DNS server of your choice. Google’s DNS addresses are 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11, while OpenDNS’ are 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124. Click on OK to save the settings and reboot your PC.
Using browsing proxies
Browsing proxies are services that allow you to use their Internet connection, thus bypassing most of the restrictions setup by the ISPs or the network administrators. There are plenty of these on the Internet that can be accessed through your browser. All you need to do is access them and enter the URL of the site that you want to access in the address bar provided by the site. All the requests will then be channeled through that browsing proxy server.
One of the many browsing proxies available online
The only downside to this of course is that if the browsing proxy itself gets blocked by your ISP, you’ll have to find another one. Some of these browsing proxies, depending on how popular they are, can be slow to access. A quick Google search for ‘anonymous browsing proxy’ will give you a long list of services available on the web.
Using Google cached pages and Google Translate
One of the simplest ways to access text content on blocked pages on the the web is using Google. The popular search engine maintains a cached mirror of most of the popular web sites. When you search for a particular site on Google, look for the cached version of the page by clicking on the >> icon on next to the search result. A linked called ‘cached’ should be available there. Clicking on it will load the cached version of the page. This mirrored content is refreshed quite often, so you won’t be left with outdated content. The downside to using this technique is that you may not be able to use interactive content, such as Flash and streaming media. Even sites that require login and passwords will not work.
Using Google's cached feature to access content on sites
Another way to access content is to use Google’s Translate feature – it’s accessible at http://translate.google.com. The service allows users to translate text from one language to another. However, if you enter the URL of the site you want to view, choose the page language as anything, but English and the translated language as English. You should be able to view the blocked site in English.
The most popular and easy to use tunneling service, is called TOR. It’s a software that connects to a network that claims to offer anonymity on the Internet. Of course, you also get open access to web sites. Head over to the TOR site and download a copy of the software for your operating system.
TOR – the easy to use, network if you want anonymity
Once installed, the program should run and connect to the TOR network. It should also install a plug-in for your browser. For example, in Firefox you should be able to enable or disable traffic from being channeled through the TOR network, giving you open access to the Internet, all by a click of a button.
Using a VPN
Using a virtual private network or VPN, as it is popularly known is a more secure and concrete way to access the web. The system works by setting up a connection that is channeled through your ISP, through to a VPN service or a computer that has open Internet access. Using this technique, you should be able to access the web freely with no restrictions on sites, keywords, services, etc. Unfortunately, VPNs are a bit more complicated to set-up. For one, you will need to find a free, open service service that allows VPN connections or you might need someone with an open connection to allow VPN connections to be made to his or her system.
VPN services with free schemes are cropping up all over the place
Most consumer versions of the Windows operating systems come built with a VPN server that allow one client to connect. To use this, you’ll have to add a new VPN connection through your Network Connections feature in Windows and enter the authentication as set up by the person running the VPN server. Setting up a server is also relatively easy. One of the ways to try it is by running a VPN server at home and connecting to it via your mobile device, notebook or PC at work. If you’re an advanced user and want to share your connection with multiple PCs and devices, check out OpenVPN. Another alternative is to use one of the freely available VPN programs, such as Hamachi and set up a proxy on the remote PC with an open Internet connection. There are also a whole bunch of free VPN services, such as ProXPN and CyberGhost available on the web, however these are likely to have download or speed restrictions.
If you have any other ways that you've found, do post a comment below.
Cover image credit: Getty Images
Publish date: May 7, 2012 4:57 pm| Modified date: December 18, 2013 10:12 pm