We like to think of the internet as a place for the free exchange of information. Users can log in, view the sites they want, create the content that interests them, and find a community of like minded individuals from around the world. The unfortunate reality of this situation is marred by the prevalence of censorship and blocked content. Businesses and universities stop people from visiting certain sites, and entire governments do the same for hundreds of thousands of citizens each day.
Because the internet is such a vast place, however, there are workarounds. Nearly every type of site block and censorship wall can be bypassed using free or inexpensive software designed to protect user privacy. If you can’t log into Facebook, for example, all you have to do is fire up a VPN, and moments later you’re in.
How Do Website Blocks Work?
Websites can be blocked for a number of political, religious, corporate, or even personal reasons. For example, certain countries have region-wide bans on sites like Facebook, including China, Syria, Iran, Vietnam, and North Korea. Schools and businesses frequently block websites for students and employees, as well. The methods they use can vary, but the end effect is the same.
Site blocks can happen on a per-device basis or on the level of the network. Both of them work in a similar manner and can be bypassed using the same tools. One of the core concepts used by many blocking methods is scanning traffic for addresses or keywords, then allowing or denying access based on a filter. Even if you use a search engine and type in “facebook.com”, the filter monitoring your traffic will catch it and keep the block enabled.
The basic process of website blocking happens something like this:
- You connect to a service provider or local network through your PC or phone.
- Your device requests a website address such as Facebook.com
- The service provider identifies your device, IP address, and the site you’re trying to access.
- If the site is blacklisted for your device or IP, access is denied.
How VPNs Unblock Websites
Normally, when you type in a website that information is paired with your IP address and sent to a local service provider. The ISP sends this request out, receives the data, then returns it to your computer and displays the website. The process is fast and surprisingly efficient, but it carries one major drawback: all of the transmitted data is sent in a raw format. It’s the digital equivalent of walking into a crowd and yelling out your grocery shopping list. Everyone knows what you’re looking for, and they can use that data against you.
With a VPN active, none of the above is a problem. A VPN acts like a tunnel between your device and the internet. When you type in a website, the VPN software on your computer encrypts the information and pairs it with an IP address that isn’t associated with your local service provider. That encrypted data is then sent through your ISP, to the VPN’s servers where it’s decrypted, to the destination, back to the VPN’s servers where it’s encrypted again, and finally back through your ISP to your local device where it’s decrypted and displayed. It sounds like a lot of steps just for a simple website, but the encryption plus location variability makes for some extraordinarily private transactions.
The key factor in a VPN allowing access to blocked or censored content is encryption. Nothing leaves your computer without the VPN software wrapping it in a layer of scrambled code. If the website filter scans traffic for certain keywords, looks for URLs and checks them against a blacklist, or even matches IP addresses to deny access based on location, those methods will fail, as all the ISP can see is randomized data. With a VPN active your traffic is unreadable by human or by computer, and your location is never associated with your online activity, making it easy to access censored content or unblock websites such as Facebook.
Evaluating the Best VPNs to Unblock Facebook
When you’re looking for a VPN to unblock websites, privacy is the number one concern. It’s easy to get tangled up in details about encryption levels, server distribution, privacy policies, and so on. We’ve streamlined the process to focus on a few key factors in choosing a good, security oriented VPN service that meets all of your needs without sacrificing usability.
Logging policy – Whether or not a VPN keeps logs is an absolute deal breaker. Logs contain records of user activity and are often stored on the server level. In extreme situations they can be seized by local governments or even sold by the VPN provider. To make sure none of this happens, the best VPNs have a strict zero-logging policy. If no logs are kept, no data can be leaked.
Server distribution – Accessing blocked and censored content requires a certain level of flexibility. VPNs deploy servers in dozens of countries around the world, giving you plenty of options for fast, nearby connections or even reliable virtual locations across the world. The bigger the network the better your unblocking needs can be met.
Kill switch and DNS leak protection – VPNs work wonders for privacy and anonymity, but only if you’re connected to the service. Using software to route traffic carries the risk of forgetting to load the app or having a leak during reconnect. The best VPN providers have features such as kill switches and DNS leak protection to make sure you never access the internet unless it’s through your VPN.
Jurisdiction – Where a VPN company is legally located makes a huge difference. Local laws determine many of the company’s policies, including what kind of logs must be kept and what needs to happen if a government agency requests information. The VPNs featured below are based in countries with more relaxed laws on data retention, allowing the VPN provider to deliver higher quality privacy.
Device compatibility – If you can’t connect to a VPN on your device, there’s no point in having it. Most high quality VPNs have software for major desktop operating systems as well as mobile devices. All of the providers below have a wide range of device support, including Android and iOS phones for unblocking and using the Facebook app.
ExpressVPN is one of the fastest VPN providers on the market. The service delivers top quality speeds to and from a number of major and mid-sized cities, ensuring you never sacrifice speed for privacy or flexibility. ExpressVPN also has a large network of 145 servers in 94 different countries, giving you plenty of options for bypassing censored content and accessing blocked websites at home or on the go.
ExpressVPN keeps prices competitive with a number of plans available at a discount. All are backed by a 30-day money back guarantee (no questions asked), making it a great choice for privacy conscious users looking to unblock websites and censored content.
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PureVPN was designed to deliver fast, reliable, and unrestricted access to the internet for all of its users. The company starts with a massive 750 servers located in 141 different countries, one of the largest networks in the VPN market. All of this comes with unbeatable encryption practices, zero-logging, unlimited bandwidth, a quick kill switch, and DNS leak protection for added security.
PureVPN has a unique feature that isn’t very common among VPN providers. Split tunneling allows you to direct which programs are routed through the VPN and which use your standard connection. This makes it extremely easy to encrypt and send browser traffic through non-local servers, allowing you to access Facebook and other blocked sites while maintaining a standard internet connection for other apps and programs.
PureVPN plans come with a seven day money back guarantee, letting you jump in and try things out without worry. You can save 73% on PureVPN here bringing the monthly price down to just $2.95 on the 2 year plan.
NordVPN‘s most praiseworthy feature is its signature double encryption process. All data that passes through the provider’s servers is wrapped in an unbeatable 2048-bit SSL encryption. NordVPN says not even a supercomputer can break encryption that strong, which means there’s no chance your data will fall into the wrong hands. Combine that with a massive network of nearly 1,000 servers in 57 different countries and you’ve got the perfect beginning of a strong, flexible VPN.
Speed is another one of NordVPN’s strong points. The company configures its network so that different servers are better at handling different types of traffic. If you’re downloading a movie, for example, your connection will take advantage of nodes built for that express purpose. This offers fast speeds on almost the entire network, which can make a huge difference even if you’re just browsing Facebook.
NordVPN backs all of its plans with a 30 day money back guarantee. And they’re also running a special deal for the 2-year plan with a huge 72% discount that will take the price down to only $3.29 per month.
VyprVPN has some unique privacy features that makes it a great choice for bypassing censorship and site blocks. The company behind VyprVPN owns and operates its entire network of servers, over 700 spread across 70 locations. This means encrypted data is never seen by an outside company. It also lets VyprVPN build and customize its hardware and software to deliver better speeds and stronger encryption, all without sacrificing user privacy.
VyprVPN rounds out its feature set with unlimited bandwidth, good device support, no file type restrictions, and a great zero-logging policy. The proprietary Chameleon technology offered with some plans also helps users bypass ISP throttling and network congestion, which can actually speed up your connection!
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Why a VPN is the Best Way to Unblock Facebook
A VPN is an extraordinarily simple and useful way to access blocked or censored content. The two main reasons it’s so successful are encryption and location variability. A VPN turns your traffic into scrambled data that can only be decrypted by the service’s own servers. This, combined with your new foreign IP makes it easy to fool filters so you can access anything you want.
There are other workarounds that can help you get to Facebook without a VPN. Each of them carries certain drawbacks that leaves a breadcrumb trail behind, making it easier for network administrators or government agencies to locate you. If keeping your activity absolutely private is a priority, make sure you go full-on VPN.
1. URL shorteners won’t always work – The most basic form of site blocking involves denying access based on what address the device on the network is requesting. Type “facebook.com” into the URL bar and the server denies access, it’s that simple. URL shorteners like Tiny URL or bit.ly can circumvent that by directing you to Facebook by entering a different address. The drawback is your internet history will still show Facebook activity, and the URL method simply doesn’t work with government level censorship.
2. Googling the URL might not work – Similar to the URL shortener trick above, if you have access to a search engine and can type the address there, some blocking algorithms will let you click on the link or access the website through Google’s cache, which functions like a base-level proxy. Also like the above, your history will show the visit, and you can’t use this to bypass more robust censorship.
3. Using a proxy leaves a trail – Proxy servers are a fast an inexpensive (often free) way to mask your IP address to fool websites into thinking you’re in a different location. It’s a feature similar to what VPNs offer, only there’s no data encryption to go along with it. Proxies can let you bypass basic censorship and corporate level blocks that rely on IP matching, but it leaves a distinct trail that can easily be followed.
4. Tor Browser can be recognized – The Tor Browser utilizes the Tor network to encrypt and redirect traffic through a network of computers, providing nearly untraceable anonymity for anyone who uses it. This is a quick and simple way to access blocked websites and works in a wide variety of cases. It’s important to note, however, that Tor traffic is easy to recognize. Even though the content itself is encrypted and unreadable, network administrators or censorship agencies can tell when someone is using Tor and use that knowledge to locate them.
5. Using a live Linux disc might fail – A slightly more complex way of bypassing device level blocks is to insert a Linux live CD or live USB stick and boot into that operating system from there. If Facebook is blocked on a network level, this method won’t be effective, however. It also won’t be possible if you can’t access your computer’s hardware or reboot the device without causing problems.
6. Mobile tethering is unreliable – One quick solutions for unblocking Facebook at work is to use your smartphone’s tethering ability. This method takes cellular data and creates a wireless hotspot other devices can connect to, including tablets and laptops. You may incur data charges using this method, however, and if region-based censorship is in place, you still won’t be able to access Facebook.
What if a VPN Doesn’t Work?
Circumventing website blocks isn’t always 100% effective. For every issue internet users try to overcome, there’s a way to put a stop to it at a higher level. IT departments and government agencies have powerful methods available to trace activity back to the device and the user. The bottom line is bypassing censorship filters won’t always be possible, even with a strong VPN and other measures put into place.
A more unsettling possibility is that you’ll be able to bypass a website block successfully but the government or business blocking the site will be notified. It’s nearly impossible to cover your trail with perfect accuracy, meaning every time you sidestep a block or censorship wall, you’re taking a risk.
Beware Free VPNs and Free Proxy Servers
Companies advertising free VPN and free proxy servers are all over the place. You can’t search an app store or browser extension marketplace without stumbling across dozens of them. For users looking to unblock Facebook, there’s an extremely strong temptation to use a free service. The logic behind it is you just want to make a quick post on Facebook. Why should you pay for a VPN? And besides, what’s the harm in two minutes of free proxy use?
Privacy is a serious concern when it comes to free VPNs and free proxies. It costs money to operate servers and the business that surrounds the services. If the company isn’t making money from customer subscriptions, they need to offset the costs through other means. This usually means selling the valuable data users have trusted the free services with. Even encryption makes no difference when the company that holds your information has the keys to decrypt it.
The short answer to the question of free VPN and proxy services is this: don’t use them. The problems of privacy are compounded when you consider that unblocking Facebook is one of your main reasons for using them. If a trail of your activity is kept, it’s possible to discover your identity and location, which can be a serious issue if you’re circumventing government censorship or workplace site blocks.
Free VPNs have no obligation or incentive to keep user data safe and secure. Free proxy companies have even been shown to inject ads into their user’s browsers. If you value your privacy, skip the no-cost services and invest in something worthwhile.
Other Benefits of Using a VPN
VPNs make it easy to sidestep censorship and website blocks. A quick subscription, a simple download, then you’re good to go. The added encryption makes all of your online activity anonymous, and being able to change your virtual location means you can appear to be sitting in any country you want. It all adds up to a boost in privacy as well as usability, but there are other benefits to using a VPN that are just as important.
Privacy everywhere – If you travel a lot, you’re likely to access public networks and open Wi-Fi hotspots. These are notoriously insecure, especially since you don’t know who the service provider is or what the network owner is doing with traffic. With a VPN on your smartphone, laptop, or tablet, you can lock down your mobile traffic and keep it safe on public networks.
Access region locked content – Bypassing censored content and blocked websites is one thing, but a VPN also makes it possible to watch videos from streaming services that would otherwise be blocked in your location. Sites like Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, HBO Go, YouTube, and others are required to restrict certain movies and TV shows from viewers in certain countries. By firing up your VPN and switching virtual locations, you can fool the site into thinking you’re somewhere else, opening up a world of new content.
Stop ISPs from tracking you – Sending unencrypted data through your local service provider can damage your privacy. ISPs keep detailed logs of internet traffic and IP addresses, making it easy to trace your online activity. ISPs can even sell this data to third parties without your consent, which is an unsettling thought. By using a VPN you can lock down your information through encryption, making it impossible for an ISP to figure out what you’re doing on the web.