How To Open Blocked Websites and Why Having a VPN is a Must

In this post, I’m gonna talk about how to open blocked websites using modern tools, such as VPN. And then explain why everyone should get accustomed to using them.

In the age of the internet, it’s easy to fall for an impression there’s free access to information as long as we’re connected to WiFi.

The reality is that this notion is only illusory because any government can arbitrarily pull the cord and decide WHAT informations people within its territory can access and WHAT not. At any. Given. Moment.

A Problem With Blocked Internet Access…

Folks in China Just Don’t ‘google’

Problem With Blocked Internet Access is not new or unique, really.

The one-party’s People’s Republic of China is well known for complete control and censorship to internet access.

Forget browsing Google or scrolling Facebook there.

Limited Rights of Expression in Malaysia

Najib Razak on Netflix show Dirty Money
Najib Razak and 1MDB case caught even Netflix’s attention | Image courtesy of Netflix

Malaysia, which was my home for over 7 years, has restricted internet access to numerous sites that the Islamic government deems immoral (like for example porn sites). But also sites, where someone’s free speech, could question practices of ruling government.

Which is what happened in 2016 when Malaysia blocked access to blogging platform, because of the article shining a light on misappropriation of funds by then Prime Minister Najib Razak. (Note: The access to was later unblocked in 2018)

And for example in Indonesia – and yes, that includes Bali island too – besides above mentioned immoral websites, the government also blocks internet access to sites like video streaming platform Vimeo or forum site Reddit.

But we don’t have to go all the way to Asia.

Ordered Internet Disruption in Belarus

Photo of protests in Belarus against Alexander Lukashenko, who blocked internet access
Protests in Belarus against corrupt president Lukashenko | Photo by Jana Shnipelson

Most recently, August 2020, the scale of internet censorship was shown in all it’s bleak glory during the events of Belarus, where controlling government, spearheaded by a deceptive dictator Alexander Lukashenko, by a snap of a finger caused internet disruption in the whole country.

Which is certainly one way to silence disgruntled citizens voicing out their disagreement with a clearly rigged election.

So How To Access a Restricted Website?

How To Open Blocked Websites?
Don’t be a puppy and use right tools to access blocked websites | Photo by Ayla Verschueren

Yes, you guess it right. By using VPN service.

You might have heard the word, but still not entirely sure what does it mean because it sounds like a term from a hacker movie.

And in a way it is.

But the good news is you don’t have to be a hacker or programmer to use one.

In fact, the most VPN providers, such as NordVPN I personally use, are designed with a non-tech user in mind.

Which means they are as easy to use as your Spotify.

But first, let’s answer one key question.

What is a VPN and How It Works?

VPN stands for “virtual private network” and it’s just a fancy way of saying that your data pass through an encrypted middle-man. Or rather an encrypted tunnel.

You see, every time you want to access a website from your laptop or using an app that stores any data about you, what your device does is it sends a request to a distant server.

In an explain-like-I’m-five terms

It’s like your phone is saying “Hey, I’m this device, located here and I want you, Mr.Distant Server, to send me back information about this & that so I can display it to my owner.”

And these kinds of requests are happening all the time, without you being even aware.

It can be anything from accessing your personal banking to browsing the internet to storing the history of your location when you are out for a jog while using your favourite fitness tracker (you went for a jog this week, right?).

VPN creates an “encrypted tunnel”

Image of encryption tunnel that can open blocked websites
VPN creates so-called “encrypted tunnel” between you and outer world

What happens when you’re using VPN service is that every single such request from your device goes through a so-called “encrypted tunnel” first.

In other words, your device, while trying to connect to any distant server, doesn’t call on the server directly, but instead calls the VPN server first. The VPN server then proceeds with handling the request on your behalf, while not revealing that it’s YOU who’s actually calling.

Think of VPN as a postman sending your postcard without a return address. Your message will be delivered. But the person you are sending the postcard to won’t know where did it exactly come from. Except, let’s suppose that the postman is your friend. So when receiving the response back, only he knows to deliver it to you.

Photo of USPS worker
Think of VPN as your neighborhood postman |Photo by Mick Haupt

3 Bullet-Proof Reasons Why Even You Need a VPN

Mainly for these three reasons:

  • Freedom of access
  • Privacy
  • Security

1. VPN for Freedom of access

As mentioned earlier, it’s not as uncommon practise for governments around the world to arbitrarily restrict access to any website that they for whatever reason deem as uncomfortable.

If you are like me and don’t want to be dictated which pages you can view and which not, it’s good enough reason to get yourself a VPN.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Many restrictive governments, such as China or Russia, are well aware of the existence of VPN services and their ability to bypass imposed restrictions. And so they often restrict access to the download page of most VPN providers. That’s why it’s crucial to subscribe and download VPN of your choice BEFORE travelling into any of these countries.

2. VPN for Privacy Protection. For real, people.

Photo of Derrick Ingram during BLM protests
Derrick Ingram, NYPD and Facial Recognition | Photo by Ira L. Black – Corbis/Getty Images

NYPD & Derrick Ingram Case

During recent Black Lives Matter protests in New York City, NYPD tracked and surrounded apartment of BLM activist Derrick Ingram for allegedly shouting into police officer’s ear using a bullhorn.

Now, let’s put aside for a moment the actual allegations and whether they are true or justified and instead let’s focus on something much more important – HOW did NYPD manage to track down and precisely locate Derrick Ingram later in his apartment?

Hint: There was no whistleblower involved.

‘Stingrays’ a.k.a Fake Cell Towers

The answer, as it turned out, is that NYPD, just like many other enforcement agencies (not only) around the US quietly started to employ various face-recognition systems. Many of them using a database from the controversial firm Clearview AI, that amasses billions of ordinary people’s photos scraped from social media accounts.

So that’s your face. What about your location?

Well, it turns out the police – again, pretty much secretly – started using so-called “stingray” cell towers.

What these do is that they fool your smartphone into “thinking” that they are just regular cell towers. That leads your phone into connecting to them and thus giving away your location without your consent. (more about ‘stingrays’ in this article by The Intercept).

Google & Facebook Knows You Well Too

Facebook collects user data
Mark knows you better than your grandma | Photo by Annie Spratt

Then, of course, there’s the ongoing discussion between the US government and tech giants such as Google and Facebook. And we all know that these guys are particularly effective in hoarding users’ data by just being installed on their smartphones.

Having your face in the database combined with your geolocation data gathered either from ‘stingray’ cell tower or from Google Maps and Facebook installed and enabled in your smartphone can be a perfect recipe for a real-life plot of Minority Report. (Note: Spielberg’s dystopian classic, where the police are able to track people before even committing a crime).

To cut it short. No matter if you are comfortable with the possibility of your whereabouts to be tracked or not – you should be aware it’s happening.

And yes, you guessed it right. Having a VPN installed and activated on your phone cloaks your exact location as well.

Note: For any apps where your location is essential, such as navigation using Google Maps, deactivating of VPN might be necessary.

3. VPN for Your Secure Banking and Browsing

VPN for your secure banking and browsing
Using unsecured public WiFi may equal to leaving your wallet on the table while going to bathroom | Photo by Bagir Bahana

Ok, so you might feel that the previous two points don’t relate to You because you live “too ordinary life” for anyone to be bothered and track your location. Well, You can bet that this one relates even to you.

Unless you don’t use a smartphone.

Full Trust In Our Smartphones

Take a second and think about how many sensitive data are you handling through your smartphone on daily basis?

Whether it is log in into your banking app. Adding your credit card to the Uber app. Online shopping on Amazon. Log in into your email and Facebook with your password. The list goes on.

And how many times had you done so using WiFi at the airport or that lovely coffee shop in Hanoi? Or the shopping mall while waiting for your girlfriend to wrap up her bi-weekly shopping spree in H&M. (Side note: Don’t shop in H&M if you care about the environment).

Yeah, one too many times.

What’s WiFi Spoofing?

WiFi spoofing is very common in public places
Only because they have comfy chairs doesn’t mean your browsing is safe | Photo by Sebastian Schuppik

You see, unsecured public WiFi spots, like those at the airport, malls and coffee shops, are sweet sweet fertile ground for cyber-criminals. And also the most direct way to obtain anything you are typing into your phone.

How does it work?

Don’t worry, I won’t go into deep technicalities. I have a hunch I already lost half of the readers’ by only saying unsecured WiFi. But the key terms here to remember are “WiFi spoofing” and “WiFi proxy”.

Let’s Talk a Simple Scenario

A bad guy, typically sitting somewhere nearby, creates a fake WiFi network (so-called proxy). It’s basically just an add-on on top of the existing “real” WiFi. The difference is that it saves every digital information that flows through it into hacker’s computer.

Then you come with your pumpkin latte and decide to do some browsing while saving your cellular data. In the list of available networks, you see multiple options. And naturally, you gravitate towards the one that says ‘FREE WIFI’. You connect, it works and the world is beautiful.

But little do you know that the WiFi you just connected to is the one hacker created. All that to lure all those careless millennials with a goal to harvest as many sensitive data as possible.

How to Go About Public Wifi Then?

This is happening on daily basis and specifically in large public areas with unsecured WiFi, such as airports or malls.

So next time you’re about to use public WiFi and do anything beyond just regular browsing – do yourself a favour: either switch to your cellular data.

Or get yourself a VPN as a safety precaution. That way any data passing through your device stay encrypted and potential hacker’s attempts will be doomed.

So What’s The Best VPN provider?

I personally use NordVPN.

It’s currently the largest and fastest VPN service out there. That’s because of NordVPN has their servers in dozens of countries around the globe.

Their apps are sleep, very user-friendly and work smoothly both on Desktop and Mobile.

And the price? Cheaper than your Spotify account!

I got mine for $99/2 Years.

But they regularly have a lot of deals and seasonal discounts. So just check the special link below to see what’s the current NordVPN promo deal.

I hope you find this post helpful. Let me know in the comments below what was the dodgiest place with WiFi you ever connected to! 😀

And remember, stay safe, guys – it’s a digital wild west out there!