Getting Around Firewalls

Some governments and organizations employ proxy servers to filter web content, permitting access to some websites while blocking others. One short-term option to getting access to blocked sites is to use circumvention technology, which creates an alternate path to your web destination.

Disclaimer: If your government filters the web it is likely that they also may dole out harsh punishment for dissent. Consider the risks carefully before engaging with filtered sites.

There are a few different methods for circumvention: (can we just refer them to a website?)

Step 1. View cached pages, which are copies of original web pages that a search engine has indexed. If a website is blocked, click on the “cached” link that usually appears beneath each search result. You’ll access the page through the search engine’s servers, not from the restricted website itself. (Note: Caching services are blocked in some countries.)

Step 2. Connect to a public proxy. Another way to get around restrictive policies is to connect to an open, public proxy server, which acts as a middleman between you and the content you request. Find one by searching for “open public proxy” online. Then type its IP address into your browser’s network settings. When you request web content, you do so through this other server.

Although they may not ask for personal information, open proxies are risky because they can record the location of the computer you are using and the websites you visit. In fact, sometimes an advertised open, public proxy is really a trap to catch people trying to get around content filters. If anonymous browsing is essential, this method may not be for you.

Step 3. Try a web-based circumvention service. Another “middleman” option is a web-based circumvention service, which is a third-party website that retrieves the page you’re trying to access and returns the content to you, bypassing the proxy. To anyone trying to view your internet traffic, it will appear that you’re only accessing the third-party website. Find one by typing “web proxy” into a search engine. Once you’re on the circumventor site, enter the web address you want to access.

Some web-based circumvention services are free, while others charge a fee.

Available bandwidth is a major constraint to the usability of the free tools, while the ones that charge a fee put this money toward defraying bandwidth costs. Try using the free services first.

Some popular free services include: Tor, Psiphon, DynaWeb, UltraReach, Freegate and Anonymizer

A couple of services that will charge a fee are Witopia and Relakks

Tip!

Keep in mind that internet-filtering applications often have these services on their block lists already. Also, information transmitted through these services is often not encrypted, web-based e-mail may not work with them, and they may record your browsing history.

Tip!

Check out the Firefox plugin Access Flickr, which was developed by Hamed Saber to circumvent Iran's blocking of the photosharing website.

Step 4. Use either tunneling or anonymizing software. Both types carry a lower risk of being blocked or identified but also tend to be more difficult to use without technical expertise. You will also likely need your own computer to download software, though some can run off a USB flash drive.

Tunneling software encapsulates information through a secure connection and hides your internet history.

Anonymizing software generally routes traffic through a complex network that is extremely difficult to trace. By disguising traffic, both methods will help you reach an otherwise blocked site. Search online for “tunneling software” or “anonymizing software” for options.

Step 5. Change it up. New circumvention techniques pop up all of the time, and it can take a while before internet-filtering proxies discover and block them. You may need to alternate between different methods for the best results.

Remember, the use of any circumvention technology carries some risk. No method guarantees complete anonymity, and evidence of downloaded software could land you in trouble in certain countries. However, recent advances have made tracing internet traffic more complex. One example is the Tor browser bundle, which leaves virtually no trace on a computer and anonymizes your internet use. When using Tor, be sure to log on to sensitive sites using https: rather than http:. Learn more about HTTPS here.