| by C. Sugumar
( April 19, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Internet users in many of the less progressive countries of the world frequently encounter problems in accessing political and news websites and sometimes even social networking sites due to the intentional blocking of these sites by their governments. Fortunately, it is possible to overcome these attempts to control the exchange of information by repressive governments by dint of knowing a handful of tricks, or workarounds. Just as love laughs at locksmiths, technology can laugh at censors and make it very difficult for them to prevent the free flow of news and information. So, here are a few techniques or methods that will prove helpful and deliver the goods the next time you are stymied when attempting to download or upload data from and to a blocked site.
There are certain intermediary websites that do not contain any information of their own other than routing instructions. These are known as proxy sites or proxy servers. Their function is to merely act as communication relay nodes between web surfers and other websites that do contain information. There are innumerable such servers and you can easily find them by typing “proxy site” or “proxy server” in the search box of any search engine. If you type “list of proxy sites” or “list of proxy servers” you will be rewarded with an embarrassment of riches! New proxy sites are cropping up all the time and it would be an impractical task to track down each and every one of them and block same!
Once you spot a likely proxy site, just click on the link; its home page (usually the only page) will open and you will be presented with a simple user interface. This will contain an address bar into which you must type in the URL of the blocked website and then click the GO button. You may have to try out a few of these proxy sites until you identify one that is able to reach the target site and works to your satisfaction. Sometimes you may have to enter the full address including the http:// part too. In the case of a secure website enter that as https://. That is all there is to it!
Proxy sites will also hide your computer’s IP address at the other end so that the website you are visiting will not be able to trace you and identify your location easily.
There is an interesting website that calls itself, www.hidemyass.com (sic). This is an efficient proxy website that can in addition to circumventing blocks provide you with a temporary/anonymous email address that could prove very useful when a website insists on your registering and logging in even to perform the simplest of actions like say, download a file or post a comment. Such an email address can protect your online identity and come in handy when you find that you cannot proceed any further on a matter unless you forward your email address to some unknown website but have reservations about disclosing the primary email address that you use for your important and confidential communications, either because you do not fully trust that site or perhaps you are concerned it will start flooding your mailbox with spam. The anonymous email address you obtain can be active for a limited period, ranging anywhere from say, one day, one week, one month, six months or one year according to your choice, and it will be free to use! There are other sites too that offer temporary and anonymous email addresses, which you can find easily by doing a search.
A really neat way to access blocked websites and keep your personal information secret is to use the Tor browser. The Tor Browser Bundle can be downloaded from www.torproject.org. This software is based on the Firefox browser and when you use it you don’t have to bother with proxy sites. The Tor browser can access blocked sites directly while hiding your IP address and location. It uses the Tor network of multiple servers that keep changing the signal route every ten minutes or so, making it very difficult for others to latch onto any data stream and keep tracking it or trace the origin and destination of web based communication. Further, the data that bounces from server to server is encrypted to frustrate eavesdroppers, but on the downside, due to the zigzag route taken by the signal, a distinct lag will be experienced when connecting with any website and even when moving from page to page.
The Tor Browser can be installed on your hard disk or even on a pen drive! You simply have to open the Tor folder and double-click on the application file to run it. It does not make any changes to the registry. If you wish to remove this program there is no need to go into the control panel to uninstall it. You simply delete the folder to remove it from your computer. It is possible to load this program onto a computer’s memory from a pen drive and start browsing right away! This unusual feature could prove very useful if say, a journalist had to upload a file to a blocked website from a roadside Internet café that used a connection from an ISP that interfered with communication due to regulatory pressures. Such use will not copy or install any software or leave any trace of the message or browsing history on the third party computer the journo uses. While this can be accomplished with regular proxy servers too, the Tor browser, if used correctly can provide a significantly higher level of security and anonymity.
As you are most probably reading this on the screen of a computer or a similar device connected to the Internet you need to be aware how to access information readily, without hassle. No one has the divine right to decide what you should read, hear or view. I hope the tips and tricks given here prove helpful. If you are planning to use the Tor browser, you should read the comprehensive information available on their website, as this article provides only a brief overview.
It is very curious indeed that governments rarely block pornographic websites but keep obstructing news websites persistently. One can only conclude that according to them, reading any news that reflects negatively on a government is an act of greater moral turpitude than watching porn!