A website block or ‘ban’ is a technical measure intended to restrict users from accessing specific websites or resources. Website blocks can be implemented in multiple ways, but typically users are denied access to a web server based on the IP address of their machine. This is known as an IP-based block.
A website block is intended to restrict users from viewing particular parts of the internet.
If you use the internet often, it’s likely you will have come across these restrictions at some point in your online life. Some common website blocks include:
An inability to access a certain country’s Netflix library.
Geographically restricted YouTube videos.
Being blocked from messaging or viewing other users’ profiles on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Gambling or gaming websites that are blocked at school or work.
Online censorship by authoritarian governments, such as China’s block on Google.
Websites issuing personal bans to users that break their rules.
In this section, we’ll first introduce our six favorite methods for unblocking a website. These are the most effective ways for you to access restricted content online.
We’ll then move onto four less reliable alternatives that you can also use.
Screenshot of a website block imposed by the Chicago Tribune.
1Use a Web Proxy
Using a web proxy is a quick and easy way to unblock a website.
A proxy acts like a middleman between you and your destination website.
When using a proxy, your internet traffic gets routed via an intermediary server rather than going directly to the website. The server then visits the site on your behalf and forwards you its content.
How you connect to the internet through a proxy server.
A proxy hides your IP address and true location from the websites you visit.
From the website’s perspective, your traffic is coming from the location of the proxy server.
Because proxy servers hide your IP address and make it appear as if you’re browsing from another country, you can use a proxy server to unblock a website that is blocked in your location. Just make sure to pick a proxy server based in a country where your desired website is unblocked.
A web proxy will also allow you to unblock websites at school or at work. These blocks tend to focus on the restricted website’s IP address or URL.
When you browse with a proxy, you never actually visit the website yourself. The proxy visits the site on your behalf and forwards you its content. You can’t get blocked because you never actually connect to the banned IP or URL. It’s that simple.
There are lots of different types of proxy server, but most people use web proxies. Popular ones include: Hide.me, HideMyAss, Whoer, and kproxy.
Web proxies do come with certain risks. Most importantly, they are not encrypted, meaning your ISP, government, school, workplace and hackers can all monitor your online activity.
For this reason, we strongly advise against using a proxy for anything involving personal or sensitive information.
Web proxies aren’t always the most reliable or safe way to unblock websites either:
Proxy servers get overcrowded, causing slow connection speeds and even crashing.>
Web proxies work at the browser-level, meaning only traffic sent from the specific browser window you are using will be routed through the proxy server.
Web proxies have been known to inject adverts into your browsing session. More worryingly, some have also been found to insert malware.
You should use a web proxy if you’re trying to quickly unblock single web pages or bypass filters at school and work.
Don’t use a web proxy to access sensitive information or if you’re concerned about privacy and security online.
For more information about the different types of proxy server and their potential dangers, you can read our Proxy vs. VPN guide.
Web Proxy: Advantages & Disadvantages
Web Proxy Advantages
Web Proxy Disadvantages
Free and easy to use.
Hides your IP address from the websites you visit.
A quick way to bypass geo-blocks or access sites blocked at school or work.
Most web proxies have a selection of server locations you can choose from.
ISPs, governments, schools, workplaces and other malicious actors can spy on your activity.
Can sometimes run slowly or crash due to overcrowded servers.
Known for injecting adverts and sometimes malware into your browsing session.
Only works at the browser level.
How to Use a Web Proxy
To unblock a website using a web proxy:
Visit a web proxy website. In this example, we’ve used hide.me.
Screenshot from Hide.me’s web proxy service.
Type in the URL you want to unblock.
Select a proxy location (pick a country where the website you’re trying to access is unrestricted).
Click ‘visit anonymously’. The website should appear unblocked on your screen.
2Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Screenshot of ExpressVPN with list of server locations.
VPNs are a safe and reliable way to bypass website blocks.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a piece of software that encrypts your connection and channels all of your internet traffic through a remote server in order to protect your privacy and hide your IP address.
When you access the internet using a VPN, your traffic goes to the VPN server first and then onto your desired website. Your IP address will change and your browsing data won’t be linked to your real location, making everything you do online much more private.
VPNs encrypt your traffic. This helps to hide your Internet activity from ISPs, hackers, network administrators, and other prying eyes.
A VPN will also encrypt and re-route all of the traffic sent from your device, while a proxy will re-route only the data sent from your browser window.
VPNs therefore offer a much more secure and private connection than a web proxy. For more information on exactly how VPNs work, you can read our dedicated guide: What is a VPN?
How you connect to the internet using a VPN.
Depending on which VPN provider you’re using, you’ll be able to choose from dozens or even hundreds of VPN server locations around the world. This means you can trick websites into thinking you’re browsing, streaming, or torrenting from a specific city or country.
For this reason, VPNs are one of the most popular ways of accessing geo-blocked websites.
By hiding your IP address and replacing it with a VPN server’s IP address, you can circumvent website blocks that are based on your location or identity.
You can also bypass any blocks in place at your school or work. These restrictions are usually based on the IP address or URL of the websites you’re trying to visit.
You should use a VPN if you are:
Worried about your online privacy.
Unblocking websites on a long-term basis, like when traveling.
Accessing personal information from abroad.
Trying to bypass geographical restrictions.
If you just want to unblock a single web page quickly, you’re better off using a web proxy. If you require complete anonymity, use the Tor Browser.
It is also worth noting the importance of choosing the right VPN service provider. Different VPN providers will be better suited to different needs.
If you require servers in specific locations, you need to ensure you pick a VPN provider with servers in that location.
Choosing the right VPN provider is also important from a safety perspective.
Simply put, when you use a VPN, you’re trusting the service provider with all of your browsing data. That includes the websites you visit, what you do on those websites, your IP address, and more.
It is therefore crucial that you use a reputable provider. Good VPNs will not leak, collect, or share your browsing information.
VPN: Pros & Cons
Hides your IP address from the websites you visit.
Reliable way to unblock geographically restricted content.
Wide choice of VPN server locations.
Encrypts your connection.
ISPs, governments, schools and workplaces cannot monitor your online activity.
Protects all of the internet traffic sent from your device, not just from your browser window.
Most VPN providers have a dedicated customer support team.
Your privacy is entirely dependant on the trustworthiness of your VPN provider.
Some collect, pass-on or sell identifying information about you.
Can slow connection speeds, though this is usually negligible with high-quality VPNs.
Most good quality VPNs require a subscription fee.
How to Use a VPN
Using a VPN is very straightforward — choosing which VPN to use can be more difficult.
We strongly recommend that you find a reputable and trustworthy VPN provider before committing to a subscription. Low quality VPNs can be unreliable and even dangerous. If you need help choosing a VPN provider, our best VPN recommendations are a good place to start.
How to install and use a VPN will vary depending on which service provider you choose. That said, most VPNs will follow the same general steps.
To install a VPN:
Choose a VPN provider and visit their website. If you’re seeking a mobile VPN, find your provider’s application on your device’s app store.
If it’s a paid VPN, select your preferred payment plan. The longer you sign up for, the cheaper the monthly fee.
Once you’ve signed up and the VPN is installed on your device, you will be able to open the application and choose a server location. Make sure you’ve enabled OpenVPN and the VPN kill switch.
Once you’ve hit connect, you’ll be able to begin browsing securely.
3Use the Tor Browser
Tor (or The Onion Router) is a browser designed to ensure maximum anonymity online. If staying anonymous is your primary concern when unblocking websites, Tor is the solution.
Initially created for the US military, the Tor browser is a popular free technology run by volunteers around the world.
When using Tor, your internet traffic gets routed through at least three randomly-selected servers on its way to the website you’re visiting. It also gets wrapped in multiple layers of encryption.
At the final server — or ‘exit node’ — the last layer of encryption is decrypted and the traffic is sent onto the target website.
How your data passes through the Tor network.
Tor differs from proxy servers and VPNs because it is decentralized. There is not a single, remote server through which all traffic is channeled.
Instead, the task of keeping your online identity hidden is shared across multiple servers which get randomly reassigned every ten minutes. When configured correctly, Tor conceals your true location from the sites you visit.
Instead of seeing your IP address, websites see the IP address of the exit node.
Tor also hides your online activity from your government, ISP, and anyone else on your network. The layers of encryption applied to your data ensure that anyone trying to spy on your browsing habits will face a series of illegible letters and numbers.
It’s possible to bypass geographical website blocks using Tor.
However, Tor is far from simple or reliable. Although possible, it is difficult to choose exactly which server locations you’d like your data to pass through.
What’s more, Tor’s layers of encryption and multiple nodes mean it is extremely slow. This makes Tor far from ideal for high bandwidth activities, like video streaming and file sharing.
As such, Tor is not the most consistent method of circumventing geo-blocks — especially when it comes to high bandwidth services like Netflix. For reliability and flexibility, try a proxy or a VPN.
It’s worth noting that your ISP, school, or workplace can still see that you are using Tor even if they don’t know what you’re doing on it. For this reason, it’s sensible to stay away from Tor if you’re at work or school.
In short, you should use Tor if:
Anonymity is your primary objective
Do not use Tor if:
You are trying to access geo-restricted content.
Your browsing requires high connection speeds, like for Netflix or YouTube.
You are unblocking websites at school or work.
Tor: Pros & Cons
Strongly encrypts your data.
Provides maximal anonymity online.
Free to use.
Hides your IP address from the websites you visit.
Can unblock geo-restricted content (though this is unreliable).
Difficult to control the location of the exit node.
Not currently available on iOS devices.
Commonly associated with criminality.
How to Use Tor
Installing and using the Tor browser is reasonably simple. You can download Tor onto any Windows, Linux or MacOS computer, or Android smartphone.
Select your operating system and download the corresponding .exe file.
Open the file and select your language using the drop-down menu.
If you’re happy with the recommended settings, press connect. Tor will set-up and you’ll be able to browse anonymously.
It’s important to remember that using Tor comes with risks. If you don’t configure your browser properly and modify your behaviour, it’s incredibly simple to reveal your identity.
For more detailed information on how to install the Tor Browser and stay safe while using Tor, you can read our Tor vs. VPN guide.
4Use an IP Address Rather Than a URL
Sometimes it’s possible to unblock a website by ignoring its URL and accessing it through its IP address instead.
Everyone knows that web pages have an associated IP address. If you input this IP address into the address bar of your browser, you will be taken straight to the website you’re looking for.
For example, Google’s homepage has the IP address 18.104.22.168. Typing this into your browser has the same effect as typing https://google.com.
Under certain conditions, this trick can be used to unblock a blocked website.
Occasionally, schools and workplaces may block a website based on its URL rather than its IP address. In these cases, all you have to do to circumvent the block is to source the website’s IP address and then input it into your browser’s address bar.
This method works for blocks that are URL-based. However, it should be noted that some websites prohibit direct IP access.
In other cases, a website might be built on an IP which directs you somewhere other than their website. YouTube, for example, has the IP 22.214.171.124. If you input that into your address bar, it will take you to the Google homepage. Using an IP address would therefore not enable you to unblock these websites.
You should use the IP address if you suspect that the website block is solely URL-based. This is most likely to occur with local networks, such as at school or work.
Using the IP address won’t help you unblock websites that are geographically restricted. This means that you won’t be able to access Netflix or BBC iPlayer from overseas using this method.
Using an IP Address: Pros & Cons
Advantages of using an IP Address
Disadvantages of using an IP Address
Quick and easy way to circumvent simple website blocks.
Useful at school and work.
Only works when the block is URL-based.
Cannot unblock websites that prevent direct IP access or are built on misdirecting IPs.
How to find an IP Address
Fortunately, finding a site’s IP address is very straightforward:
Enter in the domain of the blocked website and click Check.
The site’s IP address will appear in the box below.
Screenshot from Geotek’s IP Checker tool.
Copy and paste the IP address into your browser. If the block is URL-based, the website should load unblocked.
5Use Google Cache
Search engines store back-up copies of web pages in order to improve loading speeds. This means that sites like Google and Bing retain older versions of websites which can be used to bypass certain restrictions.
If the website you’re seeking to unblock is simple, mostly text-based, and doesn’t require any login credentials, then using Google’s cache might be the answer.
If the page is regularly updated or performs real-time data processing, a cached version might not be very useful.
Caches also only store text — so if images or video are crucial to the website content, you will have to use a different method.
Google Cache: Pros & Cons
Google Cache Advantages
Google Cache Disadvantages
Great for simple, text-based pages that aren’t regularly updated.
Can be used at school and work.
Can bypass geo-blocks on websites.
Does not store multimedia items so cannot be used to unblock video streaming services.
Unlikely to be the most up-to-date version of the page.
Cannot unblock websites that are complicated or require login details.
Not every page has a cached version.
How to Use Google Cache
To access a cached web page, follow these simple instructions:
Find the blocked web page on Google search results.
Select the drop-down icon next to the site’s URL.
Screenshot from Google of the ‘Cached’ option.
Click the ‘Cached’ option and you should be taken to a stored version of the site, even if you’re blocked from viewing its current iteration.
Alternatively, you can type the command cache:example.com into your browser.
6Use the Wayback Machine
Similar to Google Cache, the Wayback Machine is a service that stores old versions of almost every website in the world. Users can then choose between a range of previous iterations to access.
The service — provided by archive.org — is another way of accessing restricted websites by viewing old copies.
The Wayback Machine won’t help you unblock websites that require login details and it is unlikely to house the website’s latest version. However, it does support image, video and audio — something Google Cache does not do.
Wayback Machine: Pros & Cons
Wayback Machine Advantages
Wayback Machine Disadvantages
Easy to use.
Huge selection of old website archives.
Can unblock sites at school and work.
Stores multimedia content.
Unlikely to be the website in its current form.
Does not work for websites that require login credentials.
Does not store every web page.
How to Use the Wayback Machine
To unblock a website with the Wayback Machine, follow these simple steps:
Mobile data is what your smartphone uses to connect to the internet when you’re away from WiFi.
You can switch to using mobile data in two ways:
If you’re on a smartphone, turn off WiFi and browse with 3G or 4G instead.
If you’re on another device, use the settings on your smartphone to turn it into a personal hotspot. You can then connect your device to your smartphone and browse using the smartphone’s mobile data.
This will allow you to bypass firewalls in WiFi networks – the sort of block often in place at school or work – because you are no longer using the WiFi to connect to the Internet.
You will also be using a different IP address when you switch from WiFi to mobile data. This means that website restrictions targeted at your WiFi router’s specific IP address can be avoided.
That said, the new IP address will still identify you as being in roughly the same physical location. You therefore won’t be able to access geo-blocked content with this method.
It’s also worth noting that mobile data costs money. Depending on your phone contract, you might only have a set amount to use a month. Switching to mobile data to unblock websites will quickly eat into your data allowance.
How to Switch to Mobile Data
To switch to mobile data when using your smartphone:
Toggle the tab to switch WiFi off.
A 3G or 4G symbol should appear at the top of your screen, signaling mobile data use.
To switch to mobile data when using a desktop or other device:
Open settings on your smartphone.
On iPhone, select Mobile Data and then Personal Hotspot. On Android, select Network & Internet and then Hotspot and Tethering.
Turn on Personal Hotspot and, if asked, change the password to whatever you want.
On your desktop (or other device), search for available WiFi networks.
Your smartphone should appear as one of the options.
Once you connect to it, you’ll start using mobile data for your internet session.
8Use the Website’s RSS Feed
RSS feeds are an old-school way of keeping up-to-date with new updates to a website.
Via an RSS reader, users receive simplified versions of any new content that is added to a website. This comes straight to the user’s phone or desktop computer automatically.
RSS feeds allow you to view snippets of information on a website without actually visiting the website. They can technically be used to view restricted content from blocked websites, because the updates come to you rather than the other way round.
RSS feeds have become much less common as the internet has evolved. It won’t always be the case that your blocked website has an RSS feed you can access.
However, if the website has no feed, it is possible to create one for yourself using certain online tools.
How to Use an RSS Feed
If you haven’t already, get yourself an RSS reader. Feedly is a popular option.
Find the URL of the RSS feed for the blocked website. If you can’t access the website directly (and are unable to find the RSS URL elsewhere), try adding /feed/ to the end of the website’s URL – e.g. www.top10vpn.com/feed/. This works if the site is powered by WordPress.
Once you’ve found the correct URL, paste it into your RSS reader’s search box.
Click follow and fill in the subsequent details. You will then automatically be sent updates whenever the website is updated.
Some institutions — especially libraries and colleges — use transparent proxies inside their network. These proxies inform the target website that they are a proxy, and pass them the user’s true IP address.
Transparent proxies are used to channel the traffic from every device on a network (e.g. all of the computers in a library) through a single server. This helps the administrator carry out content filtering or activity monitoring. Public WiFi networks often use transparent proxies to stop users accessing high-bandwidth content.
Often these networks will make use of more than one transparent proxy. As such, a website block might exist on one of the proxies and not the other(s).
It is therefore possible to unblock a website by just switching between the network proxies — a process known as proxy surfing.
The problem with proxy surfing is you need to know the IP address and Port Number of the alternative proxy server in order to switch to it.
Proxy surfing also won’t allow you to bypass geographic restrictions because your IP address remains in the same physical location.
How to Change the Network Proxy
You can change your Network Proxy through your browser.
The below steps apply to Google Chrome on MacOS specifically, but can easily be adapted for users of other web browsers.
Select Preferences (sometimes labeled Settings) from the Chrome drop-down menu.
Click Advanced on the left-hand panel of the page.
Go into the System tab and then open your computer’s proxy settings.
Click System and then Open Your Computer’s Proxy Settings
Check the Web Proxy box and input the alternative proxy server’s IP address into the box on the right. Type the port number into the box after the colon.
Tick Web Proxy and input the relevant details
All of your traffic will now be routed through that proxy instead.
10Use Google Translate
Surprisingly, Google Translate can sometimes help you access a blocked website.
You can use the service to translate a URL into your preferred language. Google then provides you with a link to a ‘translated’ version of the web page.
The translation works as a makeshift proxy server and on occasion will allow you to unblock a website.
Using Google Translate is a novel but unreliable way to access a blocked website.
How to Use Google Translate
Follow these simple steps to unblock a website with Google Translate:
Copy and paste the domain name of the blocked website into the left-hand box.
Screenshot of Google Translate.
Change the source language (left box) to anything other than English (or your desired language).
Change the destination language (right box) to your desired language.
Follow the link provided in the translation. The page should load unrestricted.
How to Unblock Netflix
The most popular and most reliable way to unblock Netflix is with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN will redirect all of your internet traffic through a private server in a country of your choice.
It is the location of your VPN server that determines your browsing IP address, and not your actual location.
Netflix offers a different library of content depending on your geographic location. Whether you’re on holiday or have moved abroad, discovering your favorite Netflix shows are “not available in your area” can be frustrating.
Fortunately, it’s possible to bypass these geographical restrictions and unlock the ‘hidden’ content with a VPN.
Technically speaking, Netflix’s terms and conditions specify that you should consume their content “primarily within the country in which you have established your account”.
Select the appropriate server location for the Netflix library you wish to access. The best service providers have dozens, if not hundreds, of locations across the world — allowing you to specify the country or city you want to browse from.
Screenshot of the list of servers offered on ExpressVPN’s Android app
Connect the VPN and open your browser window.
Navigate to Netflix and you will be directed to the library where your chosen VPN server is based.
For this reason, lots of VPN providers simply don’t work when it comes to unblocking Netflix.
It is therefore crucial that you do your research before purchasing a VPN if you are looking for a VPN service to bypass Netflix restrictions.
There are a collection of VPN providers that work to generate new IP addresses whenever Netflix blocks their old ones. You’ll need one of these VPNs if you want to reliably unblock Netflix. You can find our recommendations in our best VPNs for Netflix guide.
Copyright laws lead to the geographical restriction of YouTube videos. In Germany, 10% of all videos with over a million views are blocked after a dispute between YouTube and GEMA, a German performance rights organisation.
Screenshot of a YouTube video being geographically blocked.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to bypass these blocks.
The quickest and easiest way to unblock a YouTube video is to use a web proxy.
Input the blocked YouTube video’s URL into the proxy search bar.
Make sure you select a proxy location where the content is not blocked.
If you’re unblocking a video at work or school, choose a proxy as close to your true location as possible. This will help with your connection speed.
Press ‘connect’ and you should be able to watch the video unrestricted.
Using a web proxy is the best option for unblocking a YouTube video as a one-off. It is quick, easy and free. However, if you want to unblock YouTube videos on a more frequent basis, using a VPN is safer and more efficient.
Why Are Websites Blocked?
Screenshot of an Australian website block.
Websites are usually blocked by authorities like your Internet Service Provider (ISP), government, school, or work. In other situations, websites themselves may block certain users from accessing their content.
It is important to note that an inability to access a website does not always mean it is blocked. It is also possible that the website is down for maintenance or because of technical issues.
To check, simply input the URL you’re trying to access into a free monitoring service and it will tell you whether the website is working or not.
If the website is working and your internet connection is functioning well, it is likely that the website is being blocked by a third party.
In this section we’ll cover the four most common reasons why a website might be blocked. If you’d rather learn about how website blocks work, you can skip straight to the next chapter.
1Geographical Restrictions (or Geo-Blocks)
A geo-block is an internet restriction based on your physical location. Businesses and websites will use geo-blocks to prevent users in specific countries from accessing their services.
Similarly, a government or ISP might use geo-blocks to prevent users from accessing foreign content that they have deemed inappropriate.
Websites are able to find your physical location by checking your device’s IP address.
If you’ve ever been traveling and tried to stream your favorite Netflix show or access a website that you use at home, only to find the website is ‘unavailable in your location’, then you’ve experienced a ‘geo-block’.
While online censorship exists in every country to some degree, there are some governments that aggressively block thousands of foreign websites, generally for political reasons. Sometimes these blocks are permanent — as is the case in China – or temporary, like when a government blocks social media during civil unrest.
A geo-block might be imposed for a number of reasons:
Government Censorship. Repressive governments often take measures to control the information that citizens can access within their borders.
Geo-blocking can be used to censor content that originates overseas, or limit the reach of users in a certain location.
Copyright and Licensing Laws. Content licensing laws often require geographical restrictions in order to meet their terms and conditions.
Certain streaming services — like Netflix or BBC iPlayer — use your IP address to alter their libraries depending on the country you’re visiting from. This is because certain shows are only licensed for users in specific countries.
Operational Costs. Some companies limit their services to certain countries to save on operational costs. Smaller businesses might be unable to meet the demand of users from other regions, or unable to comply with the legal obligations that come with serving them.
We tested 500 US news websites and found that over half block access from users in Europe because they are unable — or unwilling — to comply with GDPR requirements. This is an example of geo-blocking.
If you are experiencing geographical restrictions, use a VPN to unblock the websites you’re visiting.
2Work and School Filtering
Schools and workplaces often place restrictions on the internet use of their students and employees.
This type of website block is usually intended to reduce distractions and increase productivity, although they might also be used to protect children and prevent malware.
Typically, blocks at work and school apply to gaming and gambling sites, social media platforms, and video streaming services. In theory, they can apply to any website the administrator decides to censor.
If you’re trying to access a blocked website at work or school, use a proxy.
Parents and guardians can use parental controls to protect children from the more unsavory corners of the internet.
With parental controls, caregivers can specify a list of websites they want to prevent their child from accessing.
Parental controls are usually implemented directly onto the child’s device using pre-installed settings or a third-party application like Net Nanny.
You can also apply parental controls to your home WiFi network so that any device that connects to it assumes the same website restrictions.
We’ve explained why a website might be blocked and how to bypass these restrictions. But how does a page get blocked in the first place?
This section will explore the technical side of website blocks and internet censorship. We’ll cover the five most common methods of blocking a website.
In short, websites can be blocked using:
IP-based blocks, which focus on the user’s or the website’s IP address.
URL-based blocks, which target the website’s URL.
DNS-based blocks, which block the pairing of domain names to IP addresses.
DPI-based blocks, which censor sites according to their content.
Platform-based blocks, which restrict large service providers like Google or Facebook.
1IP-based website blocks
Your IP (Internet Protocol) address is a unique number assigned to your internet connection by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). This address marks your identity and rough physical location.
Your IP address is best understood as your online passport: it uniquely identifies you whilst you surf the web and all of your online activity is linked back to it.
Websites also have IP addresses which mark the identity and location of the servers that host the site.
Authorities like your ISP, school, work, or government use IP addresses to block or censor websites, users, and content from certain countries.
Websites themselves can also geographically block users based on their IP address. This type of block is known as an IP-based block.
2URL-based website blocks
A URL (or Uniform Resource Locator) is the technical name for what is commonly known as a web address (i.e. www.example.com).
URL-based blocking relies on a URL block list that is held within the network and contains a list of banned URLs. All traffic from your computer is routed through this list on its way to the internet.
If you’re trying to visit a URL that is on the block list, your connection will be stopped, redirected, or denied.
Websites often attempt to circumvent IP-based blocking by spreading their domain across a number of servers or changing the server their site is hosted on.
URL-based blocking works around this issue by targeting the specific web address as opposed to the website’s IP address.
Blocks based on URL or IP address are usually combined to cover these workarounds.
3DNS-based website blocks
When you connect to a website you go through a process known as a DNS Lookup.
Once you type a URL into your browser bar and press enter, you connect to a DNS (Domain Name System) server to look up the IP address associated with that domain name.
Every domain name has an associated IP address. DNS servers map these onto one another so that your machine knows which IP address to connect to for a given domain.
In short, a DNS Lookup is the process of asking the DNS server: “which IP address is linked to this domain name?”
DNS-based blocking intervenes at this stage of the connection process and blocks any domain that is on the block list. It is usually implemented by ISPs and governments to censor harmful or politically inappropriate content.
In the UK, ISPs use DNS requests to comply with the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act. The Act dictates that ISPs must store a record of all the websites a user visits and retain it for a minimum of 12 months. Elsewhere, ISPs might track DNS queries to facilitate a censorship regime or to sell on to advertisers.
4Deep Packet Inspection (DPI)
Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) is a type of data processing that inspects the data being sent over a computer network. The inspecting authority usually takes action by blocking, re-routing, or logging the data after or during inspection.
ISPs apply DPI on the public networks they provide to customers. This is typically used to enable lawful intercept capabilities, targeted advertising, and to help manage the quality of the service.
In short, DPI allows your Internet Service Provider to easily collect and examine all of the information you are sending and receiving online, including email, video and software downloads, and normal browsing.
DPI can be used to ensure that data is in the correct format or to check for malicious code, but it is also often used for eavesdropping, surveillance, and censorship.
Almost every country in the world requires its ISPs to enable DPI for lawful interception of a user’s datastream. They may also make use of DPI to enforce policies surrounding copyright infringement or unfair use of bandwidth.
Service-level policies are often defined that block connections to or from an IP address, protocol, or website based on DPI.
A platform-based block limits the content available to users on specific platforms in particular locations. This is usually implemented in conjunction with or at the request of national authorities.
Major online service providers like Google or Facebook have the ability to impose sweeping blocks on certain types of content. While they’re usually reluctant to do this, sometimes governments will pressure them into blocking or removing certain resources.
Rather than blocking an entire platform, repressive governments will work with the service provider to block specific content on their platform in their region. Most platforms choose to cooperate with these requests rather than face a country-wide ban on their services.
A recent report published by Google shows that in 2018 alone, the search engine received 42,956 requests from international courts and government agencies to censor 430,876 pieces of content.
The effects of this type of block can be insidious, as users aren’t even aware that their content is being censored or their news stream manipulated.
If a government wants to comprehensively censor content across an entire platform, it can also choose to block a platform in its entirety. This often applies to social media during times of civil unrest. This is called an internet shutdown, and they are on the rise.
Platform-based blocks can be subtle and often have deep social consequences far beyond the inability to access a website.
In certain parts of the world, social media platforms are an inextricable part of social and political discourse. Services like Facebook and WhatsApp play a pivotal role in the information economy.
Blocking, manipulating, or otherwise censoring these services prevents regular communication, inhibits open discussion, and ultimately interferes with democracy.
About the Author
Callum is our site editor and a member of the IAPP and the EC-Council's Knowledge Review Committee. He oversees all our VPN testing, reviews, guides and advice. Read full bio