Whenever you connect to the internet, your physical location makes a big difference to your experience. For example when you use a search engine like Bing or Google have you ever noticed how it brings you in answers that are relevant to your location. So if you typed in local plumbers you won’t get a list from the other side of the world or a completely different continent. Search engines tailor your results to your physical location and lots of other sites do exactly the same.
The reason is that the search engine has looked up your location when you connected, then provided results based on that location. Mostly this is a positive experience because it brings you useful results that are based in your area. The locations are not always perfect but generally they do a reasonable job. However increasingly this technique is being used for other purposes which are perhaps not quite as beneficial. For example many sites will redirect users to different prices depending on their location – so you may pay more (or less) depending on your physical location.
So How Does This Happen?
Well basically when you connect to any web site, you make a direct connection from your PC to the web server hosting the site. This allows the web server to access your IP address, which is tied individually to your computer uniquely. This address can be looked up using a big database to see where it is located. Now at this stage the IP address won’t give your exact location and address (although it can be used for this), just your specific location based on your ISP.
So for a search engine this is generally fine, after all it’s unlikely you want results based on Japan if you live in London. Where it gets annoying is when you get blocked or rerouted simply because of your location by other websites. For example if you’ve ever had that message on Youtube – ‘not available in your country’, or been blocked from watching something on Hulu or BBC iPlayer because you’re in the wrong country.
How Anyone Can Change Your Virtual Location
This is when it’s best to take control of your digital location and make it work for your. Here’s an example of how someone is hiding their real IP address so they can watch BBC Iplayer abroad by switching to a UK IP Address such as this.
What they are doing is actually hiding their real location from the website they are visiting and instead relaying the connection through another server (proxies). This means that the website only sees the location of the proxy server rather than yours, when you additionally use software with the ability to switch proxies it means you can change your location at will. Not only does it keep your own location and identity private, it also gives you the possibility of choosing a new one. If you connect to a proxy in a specific country then you’ll appear to be located in the same place. It’s great for all sorts of online activities, many millions for example use this technique to watch all the free UK TV that’s available online if you’re located in the UK.
It’s also much more secure to relay your connection through another trusted server, as well as allowing you hide your location it also means you can encrypt your connection too. Using the right tools, you can bounce your connection through something like a secure Russian server like this, without affecting performance and ensuring nobody can access any of your data. The encryption means that no-one can intercept your data when it traverses across the internet (using all the shared hardware that’s needed). It’s vitally important to use some sort of encryption if you’re connecting using someone else’s internet access point. Your data is especially vulnerable in these situations and cyber criminals often target places like coffee shops, hotels and airports to steal credentials of people using their free but often insecure wifi.
Not real money of course, but a version of the digital currencies that seem to be always in the news at the moment. A student who has not been named in Imperial College London, one of the UK’s top Universities has been sneakily setting up all the computers to mine dogecoins for his account. This is one of the very newest digital currencies, and ironically one which was initially setup as a joke. That seems to be changing now though, in December 2020 Elon Musk even tweeted in support of Dogecoin. He actually suggested that it might one day become the major currency of the planet. It was largely believed to be a joke but the value of the crypto currency soared anyway.
The cryptocurrency is one tipped to one day replace bitcoins and become the ipso facto standard for digital currency, although it should be added there are quite a few of those! Mining refers to the act of solving computer algorithms which earn the user dogecoin credits. It’s normally not worth mining many of these currencies as normally the costs of the cpus and electricity used are more than the value of the currency mined. However obviously if someone else is paying all the bills, then the economics of it change drastically. Basically the costs in mining most crypto currency are energy and resource based, so if you can use these for free you can’t really lose (unless you get caught of course).
As the value and potential of these currencies rise then incidents like these are likely to increase too. It’s the second report in a week we’ve seen of these sort of events although I’m sure there are many more. For example some years ago, in Harvard somebody tied up the college’s supercomputer – Odyssey to do exactly the same thing. Obviously there is a huge problem for college’s with the events as the computers are effectively not available to other students for more legitimate uses. As many have found college computer resources are often not entirely used for their specified purpose.
The simple fact that many overlook in committing these crimes, is the perception that the coins are anonymous. Although that’s only partly true – gaining and using computers themselves is rarely anonymous – access can normally be tracked very easily. Even if you don’t use physical access like entering the buildings and using the computers directly – you’re still not safe. Remote access is usually fairly easy to trace unless you use privacy tools like next gen proxies or VPNs with military grade encryption. This can hide your connection details if you do it right, most people involved in stuff like this rarely cover their track with any sort of proxy however.
The student in Imperial has now been banned from using the research computing facilities for the foreseeable future – the college issued a statement that such uses was strictly forbidden. Unfortunately for the student involved his 30,000 Dogecoins that he has produced using this method will hardly be sufficient reward – they are currently worth approximately £20! It should be mentioned that now, the value has risen considerably but probably not enough to justify the crime. The value now would be nearer £200 a slightly more respectable value, although if Bitcoins had been mined they would be worth considerably more.
There are similar ‘crimes’ taking place in other areas too, harnessing other peoples computers and networks can be very lucrative. From creation of huge Bot networks which are rented out online, to running things like ticket proxies for running multiple accounts to buy things like concert tickets and sneakers.
Much has been spoken over what rights we have to access the internet, however it is becoming a very real issue. Whether you can log onto your Facebook account might sound a rather flippant issue with regards human rights but to many people it really is that important.
A couple of years ago I was living in Turkey, a modern, secular country with a fairly relaxed attitudes to most things. But politics change and in Turkey there is a growing power of religious parties, who have a much less relaxed view towards the internet than most of the population. There have been a series of court cases and lots of lobbying for a huge number of websites to be blocked inside the country. For example the atheist author Richard Dawkin’s website was blocked for some time (indeed I think it still is) because he published a review ridiculing a book on creationism that stated the world was a few thousand years old.
Now whatever your politics or religion, the reason so many people are keen on a secular government is that no one religion can define what you can or can’t do based on their own beliefs. The idea that a religious leader has decided that no one in Turkey should be able to access a book review is quite clearly ridiculous. But the issue can become even more complicated when you look at media sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. These sites are incredibly popular because they are pretty much open to everyone, people are allowed to speak their mind and say what they like. That will obviously lead to some people being offended, but can you block an entire site like this?
Facebook has been blocked in Turkey for a few weeks, I believe it was due to someone publishing some of the Muslim cartoons that caused such controversy. Fortunately it’s not blocked now, but the black list of sites blocked in Turkey grows every year – the majority due to pressures from fundamentalists in positions of power. Indeed any country which has a dubious human rights record or a reputation for suppressing free speech will always look to control the internet and social media sites specifically.
You don’t need it at the moment, but you never know when it might change so here’s a Facebook proxy method which costs nothing and works virtually anywhere –
These tools do get blocked and in somewhere like China you’ll find a lot of them don’t work or are detected. Fortunately the technology is improving on both sides, some of the latest hi tech proxies are virtually undetectable and some VPNs even pass through the Great Firewall of China too.
The problem is that the most popular sites on the internet usually are havens for free speech. You might not agree with much of what is said on them, but that’s only natural we don’t always hold the same views. Censorship of these sort of sites, will only lead further down the dark road of filtering and control that countries like China and Iran take part in. Sure there is a solution to accessing these sites and maintaining your anonymity through proxies and VPNs but not everyone will use these.
In the early days of the web, everything was pretty much free and accessible to all. To some extent this is still the case, at least in many sectors but things are starting to change rapidly. There are growing examples that instead of a huge repository of knowledge the internet is rapidly morphing into a huge virtual shopping mall. What’s worse it seems that many of these Malls have strict entrance restrictions – you can only come in if you’re from the US, or using a certain browser etc. There is a huge branch of ’restrictive technology’ being developed simply to block, censor and filter websites.
Education is one of those areas that is bucking this trend, at least for now. Online classrooms and virtual lessons are appearing over the internet, sponsored by educational establishments across the world. At the moment you can even sign on for free at a class run from Harvard, Princetown or Cambridge University in the UK. World class education, for free available to anyone without restriction – well for the moment anyway. It is believed that this model won’t stay in this altruistic mode for long, but at least we can enjoy it while it does.
It is difficult to see who is to blame, but certainly the free market and profit incentive looks at the core of this change. We are increasingly seeing profit maximising models being applied to some of the best sites on the web. One of the easiest to spot is the price discrimination techniques adopted by many of the webs biggest media sites. This is an economic technique designed to maximise profits and involves charging different prices to different markets. In the real world this is fairly easy as you can use geographical boundaries, a company will charge one price for it’s goods in India, then a higher price in Europe where there is more money available.
With the internet this is more difficult to operate as we are all connected to the ’same internet’ irrespective of our location. But the media companies have implemented special technology called geotargeting which does split the market. The website basically determines your location from your IP address, and then you are offered different products and prices dependent on this. For example the media streaming company Netflix operates globally but has a host of different services tailored to different countries. You can watch Netflix in Canada and have a completely different set of media than in the US. Incidentally you can bypass these blocks and to some extent control your own internet connection – see this website for details – or watch this video if you prefer.
It basically involves hiding your real location and supplying a false one as required. You don’t actually change your location but use an alternative one by routing your connection through a proxy like this. This enables you to maintain some anonymity and also bypass any geo-restrictions being applied to a site. So for example if you want to watch British TV stations online you’d choose a proxy server based in the UK.
Hopefully education will be the exception to this profit maximising model that seems to be determining the future of the net. It is difficult to see how the vast investment required to supply these resources can be raised without the profit motive though. Both the technology involved in producing proxies and trying to block them is largely linked to maximizing revenue. Even usually altruistic companies like the BBC have started blocking VPNs and proxies in order to promote their commercial alternatives such as BritBox.
I am often surprised about the computer games my children play. For one I would have expected them mostly to be playing games with amazing graphics, immersive sounds and digitized soundtracks. Instead many parents are peering over their children’s shoulders and seeing a game that looks like it has a 1980s graphics engine behind it. I’m talking about a game called Minecraft that many of our children are completely obsessed with.
It’s a building game, using blocks and to say it wouldn’t look out of place on a Sinclair Spectrum is not really exaggerating. The game involves creating structures and houses, places to live, places to admire and of course places to defend from zombie attacks. It’s a huge virtual world consisting of lots of different basic materials like sand, wood, metals etc. You can use these raw materials as building blocks or refine them to make other materials for constructing.
Minecraft now is a phenomenon, a game that has risen in popularity almost everywhere on the planet. The numbers playing this quirky construction game are now over 33 million – mainly boys aged 9 -16 (of course not exclusively male but the vast majority are).
But for those of us who have Minecraft obsessed kids there is hope, you see it’s supposedly educational. The game is thought to be an excellent introduction to computer programming as it can be customised using custom code written by users. Even navigating throughout the world involves inputting codes and instructions on a command line using it’s own built in operating system.
Schools everywhere are starting to use Minecraft as an inexpensive teaching resource. In the UK, the Ordnance Survey have just completed a complete map of the United Kingdom using Minecraft again available for educational use. You can download the map for free although you’ll need a computer with about 4Gb worth of disk space and plenty of RAM to run it properly. There was a TV program about this project in the BBC last week – which you should be able to access using BBC iPlayer and a British IP address. Here’s a web page explaining the process if you need help.
Simply put many of the skills children use when playing Minecraft are easily transferable into the world of IT and computers. It’s one game we probably should be encouraging our children to play more often. There’s certainly much more educational value and possibilities than many of the other online games. There’s now even an educational version which you can find here – Homepage | Minecraft: Education Edition which teaches players to code in Python. The other modules are related to other subjects and educational concepts across various disciplines. What’s more the program doesn’t need a high powered PC or games console to run on. The platform even has a version that will work on devices like Chromebooks which make it ideal to use in schools and classrooms all over the world.
There’s no end to the educational possibilities across all sorts of subject areas. There are obvious ones of course which are computer related using modules to teach programming or networking concepts like using proxies and routers. Although one of the biggest successes has been to use Minecraft in subjects like geography creating simulations of different countries and geographical features which can be explored and examined by children.
There’s no doubt that proxies are changing, even during the lifetime of this website there have been significant developments. Over the years the supply of professional proxy and VPN services has escalated due to certain specific requirements that many people have. The biggest driver by far has been the need for privacy and anonymity although surprisingly from very different type of individuals.
The basic premise of a proxy server used across the internet is to act as a buffer between the client computer and the web resource it’s connecting to. By sitting between the two sides of the network connection, the proxy can shield the location and identity of the host computer. There’s all sorts of people who use them, from political activists living in authoritarian states to internet marketers who simply need to run multiple identities online.
The requirements will vary depending on what you’re trying to achieve. For example a basic proxy will rarely be sufficient for most tasks anymore, whereas there would have been no problem ten years ago using these for most tasks. Now there’s a problem with using the basic servers available from the proxy market primarily because most sites will block any type of data scraping session. That simple web scraping solution installed on your site to bring in data from other sources needs more protection in 2021. Some sites even have installed machine learning algorithms to detect when proxies are used to access their web data directly or via web scraping tools. Much of this detection focus is on the IP addresses themselves, which is why so many proxy services are moving away from traditional data center IP addresses.
If you’re worried about people eavesdropping on your connection and discovering your identity then certainly you’d also be wise to consider a level of encryption too. A proxy with a layer of encryption is effectively a VPN service (Virtual Private Network). For other people what’s much more important is the IP address assigned to the proxy server rather than hiding the exact connection information itself. This is because a primary driver for most commercial and data science tasks is not complete anonymity but to mimic multiple, ordinary home users.
Don’t Be Yourself Use Multiple Identities and Residential Proxies
People and businesses who operate online often need the ability to create and operate multiple digital identities. This could be for a variety of reasons including things like research, multiple scaping sessions or e-commerce. Unfortunately this isn’t really possible if you try and do this through a single network location like your office or home PC. The issue is that without using something like a proxy you’ll be locked into a single IP address which is located in a specific location. So a marketing company operating from Paris would find it very difficult to place an advert on a USA located site like the regionally split Craigslist.
This is where proxies come in and importantly the ability to switch or rotate the IP addresses that are assigned to your connection automatically. The correctly configured proxy can allow you to have multiple identities all over the world without ever leaving your PC. Without them you’d have to rack up the air miles travelling all over the world.
It opens up a myriad of options for all sorts of people. Millions of people for instance use a proxy/VPN server to watch TV that is normally blocked. As we speak there are thousands of people watching the BBC from Spain online something that is technically not supposed to be possible. All they do is hide their Spanish IP address by using a proxy server based in the UK which unlocks all the UK TV channels without a problem.
Many online entrepreneurs use proxies to operate digital identities across the world. By switching their IP addresses to match the target countries, they don’t need remote offices or to keep travelling for their data gathering. Investing in a rotating proxy servers allow firms to target global markets from anywhere in the world. They use them to run things like multiple social media accounts, data extraction tools – being able to collect data without the risk of detection and being blocked. There are lots of people running huge businesses on eBay and Craigslist simply by virtue of multiple accounts through these next gen residential proxies. With the right account, decent proxy management you can mimic a huge network presence from a single desktop at home.
Only the Next Generation Residential Proxies Keep You Hidden
There are issues though, with the traditional, standard proxies based in datacenters that we’ve all been using for years. This is due to the detection systems that many websites use in order to block the use of proxies. This is done for a variety of reasons, but especially to restrict access to international or duplicate connections. For example many internet marketers operate hundreds of social media accounts – a practice not popular with some of the platforms. A popular platform for marketers – Instagram restrict access or disable people’s accounts if they try and run even a couple of accounts from the same connection. They are even able to detect some proxies primarily based on their IP address ranges. Combined with sophisticated AI powered dynamic fingerprinting, it’s become much more difficult to hide and manage duplicate accounts. It’s very simple for a web site to instigate IP blocking against any suspected account of address originating from a commercially registered address.
With today’s machine learning technology, websites are able to identify a non-home user by the type of IP address they are using. Most addresses are classified as commercial or residential ranges, depending on where they are registered. Instagram will flag too many connections from commercial IP addresses, whereas those assigned by ISPs are normally treated much more favourably. Which is why you’ll find most people have switched to using residential proxies especially for commercial online activities. Initially it was difficult to find a proxy service provider who offered a residential proxy platform, fortunately this situation is changing.
The latest generation of next gen residential proxies actually use different IP address ranges. They specialize in routing their proxies through residential IP addresses, which are the same addresses assigned by ISPs to home users through their internet connections. These residential proxies look like human users and are much less likely to be identified as originating from proxies. E commerce sites typically will restrict access to any non-residential addresses in order to combat fraud.
Standard residential proxies though are hard to set up because of the difficulty in obtaining genuine residential IP addresses. They are not available as widely as datacenter IP addresses although there are numerous innovative methods to obtain access to them. For example Luminati have established a huge global network of residential addresses through individual home connections. In exchange for using tools, games and software the company can route traffic securely through these home connections. Many of the next gen residential proxies have been created like this using shared or borrowed home connections.
Other developments include gaining access to other sources of addresses which are difficult to identify as commercial connections. One example is to route traffic through mobile gateways and use the addresses normally assigned to our mobile devices. These are called mobile proxies which use address ranges which are used to allow network connectivity to our mobile phones and other devices. These are extremely difficult to detect and also it’s not really feasible to block access as they are so dynamic switching between users as they move around.
Obviously these IP addresses are very much in demand, however there also difficult to obtain so only a few providers offer them. One of the biggest providers is a company called Luminati who have the largest network of residential IP addresses and also a substantial network of mobile IPs too.