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You tend to see these sort of comments all over the internet now. Someone will find that their crappy VPN service which costs them $2 every year has suddenly started to be blocked by the BBC – ergo the BBC has developed deep packet inspection systems which can sniff out all virtual private network connections and block them automatically. The reality is somewhat different and can be easily verified by using a decent, secure VPN which works perfectly well with BBC and all the other UK stations.
Detecting VPN traffic is not easy, the Chinese government have systems which can – already implemented as part of the Great Firewall of China. Yet even these are not perfect and many people and visitors use VPNs in China all the time to access blocked and filtered sites which are normally inaccessible. It’s been some years since the Chinese implemented their active probing system which can detect and block Tor nodes and connections. Their technology has almost certainly developed since then to pick up lots more circumvention systems, but this comes at a huge cost both monetary and resources. Indeed the battle develops on both sides and there are now many defenses against Chinese active probing too.
Despite what many think of them the BBC are not an authoritarian state seeking to control billions of people’s actions. Indeed until a few years ago the BBC were very relaxed about the whole geo-restricting situation. Sure they’ve always made the BBC iPlayer inaccessible from outside the UK, but only a few years ago you could use any sort of free proxy based in the UK to bypass these blocks. They made virtually no attempt to block or filter any of these connections despite quite obviously having millions of active inbound connections watching from all over the world. People were watching from all over from France, across the border in Ireland, thousands in Spain and from as far away as Australia. There was little evidence that the BBC actually were that concerned about these foreign visitors at all.
Can the BBC Recognize VPN Services?
A few years ago thought this changed, for whatever reason the BBC started to take measures to enforce their UK only restrictions. First the proxies were finally blocked, the BBC followed the example of most online media sites which were able to detect and block incoming proxy connections automatically. This was not difficult as a standard proxy connection is not encrypted and easy to detect so it had little administrative cost too. There were some issues with legitimate UK users having some problems, as they were using proxy servers in educational and corporate networks within the UK but these issues have mostly been eradicated now.
However by this time, VPNs have become increasingly common and mainstream. Many of use routinely use VPNs when we travel because of the security aspects, but also to connect to the myriad of domestic websites which we lose access to when travelling. It’s perfectly common now for people to have little VPN apps on their tablets, phones and laptops which can be activated with a click. For anyone who travels or lives abroad, using VPNs is perfectly common whereas previously it was only the real technical geeks who had an interest in these sorts of systems.
Perhaps it was this increasing prevalence or the fact that the BBC was facing huge pressures on it’s budgets but about two years ago they started on the VPNs too. With little warning, suddenly thousands of people found their access to the BBC restricted even when using a UK based VPN service. Suddenly people had real difficulties in watching the BBC News or enjoying Eastenders while sunning themselves on the Cost Del Sol. Many very popular VPN services used primarily to access UK television where suddenly blocked and became useless.
Now despite the hysterics that you could see online, the BBC have not developed some super advanced deep packet inspection systems that block all the VPNs. There is no way they have the resources or expertise to implement such a system. So which method did BBC iPlayer detecting VPN services use? There are actually some very simple and practical alternatives which can be used to detect and block VPNs almost as effectively.
- Many VPN services make themselves very easy to detect by offering ‘TV watching Services’, lots even used the copyright protected BBC logos on their sales pages! These are extremely easy to deal with through normal legal channels. The most reliable method is to threaten legal action to the hosting providers, who would almost always simply cut off their connections rather than risk a legal battle. Remember these servers have to be based in the UK in order to defeat the country IP detection. Many VPN services were ‘taken out’ using this method and you’ll notice that most survivors make no direct mention of the BBC or UK TV watching on their sites.
- Concurrent connections – it doesn’t take any advanced detection systems to notice when there are ten thousand users all watching from the same IP address. Many VPN services to cut down costs and lower their prices have overloaded servers and IP addresses with users. Not only does this make using such a VPN very slow it also makes it very simple to detect. A quick update to the Beeb’s firewall will block all those connections instantly.
- A very effective and simple method to block these companies is to simply buy an account and make a note of all their IP addresses. Anyone can subscribe and copy down all the service’s UK IP addresses and hand them over to the BBC’s internet security section who could block them in minutes. These IP addresses can be changed of course, but don’t underestimate the costs and effort needed to constantly swap out IP address ranges.
Now none of these methods are perfect and all have some drawbacks, blocking loads of UK IP address ranges can only really be done in the sort term. Yet they are very easy to implement and require little investment and effort in order to block loads of spoofed connections. It’s certainly nowhere near the effort it would require to instigate any sort of automatic VPN detection system to deny access to the BBC iplayer app.
It was actually a combination of these methods which ended up blocking many of the BBC iPlayer VPN workaround methods. These are what the BBC did and although they took out thousands of VPN services, the clever and discrete ones were actually barely impacted at all. For example none of the genuine long term security VPN services were really affected at all – i.e. those who didn’t advertise BBC circumvention techniques for instance. Indeed it’s a useful tip to check that there’s no obvious TV watching advertising on a VPN site before you subscribe.
It’s also become more and more evident that a lot of this ‘crackdown’ effort was actually short lived. Although the BBC did take action and closed lots of VPN services, they don’t seem to have maintained this aggressive stance. Just type in ‘ watch BBC iPlayer abroad’ or something similar into Google and you’ll now see lots of companies starting to place advertisements again. A year or so ago there were no adverts of this type as the advertisers would have made themselves instant targets. I’d still steer well clear of companies who do this though as it’s so easy to block access to their VPN services. I even noticed Nord VPN advertising on the other TV channels a couple of weeks ago, not a smart tactic!
Basically if you pick a sensible company who keeps a relatively low profile there’s no reason why you still can access watch BBC iplayer abroad free from restrictions anywhere in the world using a VPN or Smart DNS system. If you thought these services were dead, don’t worry there’s still loads that work. It does take some investment to stay hidden so you’ll not find a free vpn for BBC iplayer anymore. However be assured that there are still millions of people watching the BBC online from all over the world today.
Below we have a couple of our favorites which we can recommend, either of which will work perfectly with BBC iPlayer from anywhere.
Try these Out, one’s a DNS based system the other a BBC iplayer VPN – but both work perfectly for accessing all major UK TV Channels from abroad in 2018.