Using Proxies for Virtual Locations

For many people, travel is becoming much easier and as a species our geographical horizons are perhaps wider than ever.  Inexpensive air travel and soft borders like the European Union means that instead of just looking to work in another city or town, another country is just as viable.  The internet of course enables this somewhat, many corporations have installed infrastructure to allow remote or home working which means many people can work from wherever they wish.   Instead of sitting in cubicles in vast expensive office space, the reality is that people can work together just as easily using high speed internet connections from home.

Unfortunately there are some issues from this digital utopia, of which most are self inflicted.  Instead of being a vast unfettered global communications medium, the internet in some senses has begun to shrink somewhat.  Not so much in size but rather an increasing number of restrictions, filters and blocks being applied to web servers across the planet.  For instance the company I work for has two main bases one in the UK and the other in Poland, which means there is quite a bit of travel between the two countries.  Not surprisingly employees who are working away from home for some time, use the internet to keep in touch with their homelife, yet this can be frustrating.

A common issue is the fact that many websites are not really accessible globally, they are locked to specific regions.  Take for example the main Polish TV channel – TVN, it has a fantastic website and a media player by which you can watch all their shows.  However a Polish citizen who tries to watch the local News from Warsaw from a hotel in the UK will find themselves blocked, the content is only available to those physically located in Poland.  It’s no one off either, this behaviour is shared by pretty much every large media company on the web who block access depending on your location.

There is a solution and for our employees it’s actually quite simple, all they need to do is fire up their VPN client and remotely connect back to their home server in Poland.  The instant they do this, their connection looks like it’s based in Poland and all the Polish TV channels will work perfectly.  There’s a post about something similar here – using a Polish proxy to watch TVN and some other channels although this one is through a commercial service designed to hide your location.  It’s a practice that is becoming increasingly necessary, the more we travel the more we find our online access is determined by our physical location.

The use of proxies and more recently VPNs allows you to break out of these artificial intranets which companies are creating by blocking access from other countries.  The idea is that if you have the ability to switch to various VPNs across the world you can effectively take back control and access whatever website you need. Your physical location becomes unimportant again, by taking control of your virtual location you have an huge advantage over other internet users by choosing the location you wish to appear from.  There are even some other options now take a look at this UK DNS proxy which does something fairly similar and can be used to watch the BBC and Netflix from outside the UK.

John Hammond

Author of – Does BBC Iplayer Work in Ireland 

VPN (Virtual Private Network)

The technology sector is at the moment somewhat confused about what a VPN actually is.   However the confusion is understandable as the VPN has continually evolved over the last few years into a somewhat different networking technology.   In the passed, the VPN could be described as a private network which is able to carry voice and data usually built into existing carrier services.

This is not how a VPN is defined commonly today, it’s probably best to split into the following different definitions.

  • Voice VPN – a single carrier which handle all the voice call switching.  The ‘virtual’ in VPN here implies that a virtual voice switching network has been created within the switching equipment.  This is probably the most dated definition under the concept of traditional carrier based voice vpns.
  • Carrier Based Data VPN – Traditional packet, cell switching and frame networks normally carry data in discrete bundles which are then routed through a complex mesh of networks and switches to their destination. These networks would be shared between many owners and users.   A VPN would be a web of individual virtual circuits which form a virtual private network over another carriers packet-switched network.
  • Internet VPN – this is probably the definition which is most relevant today, similar to the previous carrier based data network.   Here an IP network is the underlying transport and the common medium the shared hardware of the internet.

The internet VPN like this is the most common today probably because it is by far the easiest and cheapest one to set up.   There might not be the same bandwidth and data quality guarantees than a traditional virtual circuit, however the popularity of simple VPN client and server accessible from anywhere in the world is a powerful tool for many reasons.

What’s more the internet VPN can be created and used by almost anyone without exception.  Companies for instance will often install generic VPN client software on their laptops so any employee can dial in to the corporate servers using any internet connection safely and securely.   This means that employees can work remotely from almost any location all they need is a simple internet connection and an account on the VPN server.

A decade ago these were used over simple dial up modems but now most countries have a fairly large internet access infrastructure allowing high speed access from most public places and from home internet connection.   The other advantage is that an internet VPN requires no real investment in hardware apart from the central server.  Users can leverage the internet connection of their ISP or even a hotel wifi access point, a fairly insecure setup but if you connect through a virtual private network then all your data is securely encrypted and protected from prying eyes.

John Hammond

http://www.proxyusa.com/