Internet censorship is something which almost all of us, no matter where we live, encounter in one form or the other. Social networking or video sharing sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are usually blocked in offices. Some sites, like Pandora, are country specific. And if you are in a place like China, well, you’ve heard the censorship stories, haven’t you?
Even if you can visit the sites mentioned above using certain workarounds or tools, your school/company or ISP may record your recent activities, something you might not want.
There are online web proxies too, but many of them are of unknown origin and hence you cannot ensure complete privacy. So how do we hide IP and securely surf the web anonymously? I’d say VPN is probably the best and ultimate solution to bypassing internet censorship in a secure way.
(Image Courtesy – Cisco Systems )
According to Wikipedia,
A virtual private network (VPN) is a network that uses a public telecommunication infrastructure, such as the Internet, to provide remote offices or individual users with secure access to their organization’s network. It aims to avoid an expensive system of owned or leased lines that can only be used by one organization. The goal of a VPN is to provide the organization with the same, secure capabilities, but at a much lower cost.
While Wikipedia’s definition highlights VPN’s commercial benefit, for users like us, it means that if we use a VPN service (like one we are going to discuss) whose servers are in a specific country, we will be assigned an IP of that location and would be able to browse sites limited to that country privately and securely.
Thus, if you’re using a VPN service provided by US servers, you can visit sites like Hulu and Pandora even if you are outside US. Same is the case when you are in a limited or censored network and using a VPN to connect to that network.
Now, lets talk about some popular and free VPN services that can help you surf the web as freely as possible without worrying about privacy and censorship issues.
Probably, the most popular one among all free VPN providers. Hotspot Shield is an OpenVPN based privacy and security tool, used to encrypt your web browsing when at public hotspots and to circumvent web filters.
Here are the steps to use it.
Download Hotspot Shield and then install the package. The newer version will first launch a download manager for the installation.
After downloading is finished, the installer will launch.
The only thing I need to mention is that you may not need the Hotspot Shield IE toolbar, so just uncheck it while installing.
Neither do you want to enable these options, I guess.
Once you are done selecting the options, you can click install to begin. If there are any dialog boxes prompting new driver installation, just click “Install”.
Now you can double click Hotspot Shield shortcut, and wait for the connection. Right click the program icon in system tray to switch the VPN connection on or off. There is no need to register or pay for the service, but you will receive advertisements and forced URL redirect sometimes.
Note: Although HotSpot Shield is pretty effective, you cannot watch Hulu videos using it. It’s just that Hulu is smarter. Most of the other US based sites work fine though.
Another well known VPN provider, Free VPN is also free and doesn’t require registration. It has a forced URL redirect and changes the homepage to display ads, but you can buy a paid account to get rid of them (and also enable torrents downloading).
Download Free VPN and install it. If there are any dialog boxes prompting new driver installation, just click “Install”.
After installation, launch Free VPN and you can choose a “FREE” server to establish VPN connections.
If you have a paid account, please switch to “Account” tab first, type your account information in the box, and then you can choose any “PAID” server to connect in the previous tab.
One More – proXPN
Apart from the popular free VPN services introduced above, here is a new one for our readers: proXPN – secure your internet connection instantly (that’s the tagline). All you need do is to register for a free account, then download, install and launch the client.
Oh, and proXPN is ad-free too!
So that was about free VPN services that let you hide your IP address and browse the web anonymously through an encrypted connection. These services can also be used, in fact should be used, when you are using a public Wi-Fi so that your internet usage remains secure and private.
Do you know of other such tools and methods to bypass internet censorship effectively? What VPN tools have you tried? Tell us in the comments.