TECH TUESDAY: The VPN Wars Are Upon Us

Simferopol, Russia - June 22, 2014: Netflix American company, a provider of films and TV series based on streaming media. The company was founded in 1997.

netflix-house-of-cards-752x501.jpgWe have a problem. A big problem. Content providers are attempting to sequester me from the President of the United States.

Yes. Netflix is attempting to limit my access to President Francis Underwood, and I am quite distraught over this.

Aren’t you watching Netflix’s House of Cards? Well, depending on where you are in the world, keeping up with the Underwoods and their sinister ways in the White House is about to get a lot harder when traveling.

The problem concerns VPNs or virtual private networks and regional licenses on entertainment properties. In the entertainment industry, licenses are purchased by various countries in order for movies, music, and the like in order to grant permission for you to watch them. This is why some movies are available in the UK but maybe not in the United States. Licensing agreements are arranged by country so licenses are negotiated for the US, for Europe, for Asia—you get the idea. The content creators who own the content, depending on their budget, will only license for a particular region in the world. That’s a pretty basic description of how licensing entertainment works.

Now, here is the way Netflix works.

Netflix gives you the ability to access entertainment from anywhere. At least, that may be what you think. Actually, you’ve been licensed to watch your entertainment from anywhere in the US. What happens, though, if you try to log in and watch Netflix from India? Well, you wouldn’t be able to. That would be a violation of the licensing agreement between content creators, content providers, and the country where you are presently. In order to adhere to these agreements, Netflix began geotargeting where people were logging in from as an IP address reveals where you are in the world. Therefore, if you log on to the Internet in India, you’re using a local internet provider with an IP address unique to India. Netflix looks at the IP address, recognizes India, and blocks access to content.

networkNow with the pieces set—entertainment licenses, Netflix—let’s talk about VPNs. Your computer uses encrypted data streams with other servers, and these servers work on your behalf. This is why they are referred to as proxy servers. These proxy servers, on your behalf, requests Netflix for content, and Netflix grants you access to content through your encrypted data stream. This is how VPNs are playing havoc with licensing agreements. You set up a VPN service from India, and connect to a proxy server based out of New York City. Running this VPN, Netflix actually thinks that you are in New York City and, based on licensing agreements, grants you access to content. This is how international audiences are gaining access to popular Netflix content like Marvel’s Daredevil, Orange Is the New Black, Stranger Things, and the earlier mentioned House of Cards. And this has been going on for quite some time.

This circumventing of licenses is not just limited to movies and television. Overseas audiences are doing this with Pandora radio, Spotify, and many other content providers that offer streaming content.

But proxy servers are hardly immune to detection. Netflix has developed a protocol to detect if users are taking advantage of VPNs so Netflix has started blocking proxy servers. How is Netflix figuring this all out? If they happen to notice a large amount of logins from proxy servers all sharing the same IP address, Netflix can identify where these particular proxy servers are located and block them.

To test this, I fired up ExpressVPN and attempted to log in to Netflix. I was in the US, mind you, but I logged in using a Los Angeles proxy and Netflix was—as expected—blocked. Turns out they were blocking everything going through ExpressVPN. So I emailed ExpressVPN Support with the problem, they informed me they were familiar with this particular problem, and therefore have modified four servers to get around this block.


Yes. The VPN providers really don’t care about these licenses. They want to make sure connectivity is there. That is their priority.

So I went to those four servers, logged onto those as a proxy, and enjoyed full access to Netflix. Once Netflix discovers these four servers, they’ll most assuredly block them as well. No need to worry as ExpressVPN will just go on and make four more. What we have going on now is a cat and mouse between content providers and VPN services. It’s going to get complicated. It will probably get frustrating.

And if you have ever seen Frank Underwood frustrated, you know that this is going to get ugly.  



shurtz.jpgA research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratfdord University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.


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