Getting through a barrier.
Olivier Le Moal/Shutterstock.com

Not everybody has the luxury of accessing any website they want to. It could be that your job’s network admin doesn’t want you to go to YouTube or even that your government doesn’t want you to watch news it doesn’t approve of. Whatever the case may be, there are ways to access blocked sites.

Below we’ll go over some of the best ways in which you can bypass blocked sites. There’s no one way that will work for everybody all the time as all have their pros and cons. However, each has their uses. Let’s get started.

Proxies

The first method is to use a proxy, a lightweight tool, usually operated in a browser window, that reroutes your internet connection and gives you a fake IP address—called “spoofing.” By rerouting your connection, you’re fooling the block into letting you through, an effective method that’s at the basis of all the methods we’ll go over.

However, proxies are pretty limited tools. They’re perfect for unblocking YouTube while at school or work, but other than that there’s a good chance they won’t work. Use them from a country like China that restricts internet activity and you may even get in trouble for using one. Still, if you want to give them a whirl, we like the ones offered by HideMyAss and Hide.me.

Virtual Private Networks

A much better option are virtual private networks. To quickly explain how VPNs work, they’re much like proxies in that they reroute your connection and spoof your IP, but they’re better because they also encrypt your connection, making it much harder to see what you’re doing.

VPNs are great for unblocking sites, it doesn’t matter if you’re trying to get past Chinese internet censorship or simply to watch what another region’s streaming services have to offer. Besides cracking blocks, they also offer a decent measure of protection against anybody trying to spy on you, too, so they’re a privacy tool, to boot.

However, they come with a big caveat: they cost money, and the best ones like our favorite ExpressVPN will cost a lot. Most free VPNs aren’t very good and probably should be avoided, though even the good ones like PrivadoVPN will limit your usage in several ways. As such, if you don’t have the money or just don’t want to spend it, VPNs are a poor option.

The Best VPN Services of 2022

Best Overall VPN
ExpressVPN
Best Budget VPN
SurfShark
Best Free VPN
Windscribe
Best VPN for iPhone
ProtonVPN
Best VPN for Android
Hide.me
Best VPN for Streaming
ExpressVPN
Best VPN for Gaming
Private Internet Access
Best VPN for Torrenting
NordVPN
Best VPN for Windows
CyberGhost
Best VPN for China
VyprVPN
Best VPN for Privacy
Mullvad VPN

Shadowsocks

A third option is to use Shadowsocks, a protocol designed to tunnel under the Great Firewall of China but that can also be used as a proxy of sorts. Unlike proxies, Shadowsocks encrypts the connection, but not to the same standard as a VPN. It’s meant to unblock and hide traffic, not secure it against attack; you shouldn’t use it for torrenting, for example.

If that sounds like what you need, you’ll be happy to know that setting up Shadowsocks is easy with an open-source program called Outline. It handles everything for you, including setting up a server and you should be able to crack any block with just 20 minutes of setup. The only thing that costs money is the server, but it’s only $5 per month through DigitalOcean.

Tor

Our penultimate option may be interesting for anybody that doesn’t have money, namely using The Onion Router, or Tor, to get past blocks. Tor rose to prominence as a way to access the dark web and the illicit goods on offer there, but it’s actually a very useful way to access blocked sites as it does a fine job of spoofing your IP, on par with VPNs.

When you use Tor, you’re bouncing your connection between different so-called nodes, usually run by volunteers, which each have their own IP address. This makes it extremely hard to track you and, because the nodes aren’t commercially owned, make your IP seem more “real.”

We really like Tor as a way to get past blocks, but the downside is that it’s slow, and we mean slow. As such, it’s not the best choice for downloading large files or streaming Netflix shows.It’s also a little trickier to use and you need to have a bit of know-how to operate it effectively.

Decentralized VPNs

Our final pick may be the best of both worlds, a fusion of the ideas behind VPNs and Tor. Called decentralized VPNs, they offer the protocols and security of VPNs with the decentralized nodes of Tor. This should make them the perfect way to break through blocks while staying secure.

However, using a decentralized VPN right now, at least as of 2022, is still a bit iffy. To use one—like Orchid or Mysterium—you need to sign on to a service, buy cryptocurrency and contend with a lot of obscure technical terms before you can get it to work. Accessibility doesn’t seem to be too high on anybody’s list right now.

That said, once it does work, it’s pretty cool. While there are still some issues, as with any new tech, it could very well be that in a few years dVPNs will be the method of choice for circumventing site blocks.

Profile Photo for Fergus O'Sullivan Fergus O'Sullivan
Fergus is a freelance writer for How-To Geek. He has seven years of tech reporting and reviewing under his belt for a number of publications, including GameCrate and Cloudwards. He's written more articles and reviews about cybersecurity and cloud-based software than he can keep track of---and knows his way around Linux and hardware, too.
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