Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Overcoming The Ban


I am a member of the Pirate Party UK, and there are a number of very good reasons to support them. This blog post isn't about that, this blog post is about censorship on the web.

The Pirate Bay has been blocked by major ISPs in the UK since about February of this year, and recently, the power to block sites was abused, shutting off access to the Promo Bay.

This article is about how to keep your connection to the network free and unhindered during these troubling times.

Why Bother?

This is absolutely necessary, as giving the government or corporations the power to silence people at will is a really bad idea, for numerous reasons. 

First and foremost is that freedom of association and speech is vital for a civilized society. The correct response to speech that you don't like is more speech, not an attempt to silence them.

Secondly, giving these powers to people is poor civil hygiene. Why give someone a power that can be abused? You don't know the kind of people that will be in power in the future. 

Let's have a thought experiment. Assume the BNP get into power. They decree that all immigrants are bad, and sites associated with foreigners should be banned. The result of this is that perfectly legitimate sites will be banned, for example, many sites about Islam would be illegal, as would many sites critical of Christianity (there's a lot of atheist videos on YouTube!). This brings sites like Reddit, YouTube, Wikipedia, etc. into the firing line.

Thirdly, a broken business model is not an excuse to infringe on a person's rights. Times have moved on, and as yet, the publishing industry is failing to do so. The copyright lobby represents a government-backed monopoly that morally should not exist, so why are we doing all that is in our power to strengthen their monopoly?

Beat The Ban

There are three broad methods for beating the ban. The first is to rely on web proxies, like the Pirate Party's, secondly, you can use a VPN service in a more free country, and finally, you can use The Onion Router (TOR) for the ultimate power

Web Proxies

These are the simplest, easiest-to-use methods of overcoming the ban. Instead of navigating to a web page which displays the contents of The Pirate Bay to you. 

You can find a list of such proxies on Pirate Reverse, but Google will serve you well too.


If your ISP is very much against all of this, you can bet that they'll be adding proxies to the list of banned sites very soon. 

Not to mention the BPI, MPAA & RIAA going after the proxy hosters directly and taking them offline. They're far too centralised.

Your ISP can also see that you are visiting a known proxy, and potentially take actions based on that fact. Not good.

Virtual Private Networks

By using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) provider in a more free country, you can easily get around the ban. 

Using a VPN means that you basically make an encrypted connection to the VPN provider, and then you appear to be using their network. This can also be achieved by using a virtual private hosting service, and forwarding all of your traffic through that (usually using SSH).

These are traditionally used for pushing large amounts of "illegal" data through a connection, but can be used specifically to circumvent the ban. 

There is one which is advertised by TorrentFreak, it is Private Internet Access. I've never used it, so I can't vouch for it. Have a look around for one that suits you if you choose this route.


Usually, VPN services cost money, or are severely limited, not to mention the single point of failure that is the VPN provider, which, if you're using it to only access the front page of the Pirate Bay, it's a little bit overkill.

The Onion Router

The Onion Router (Tor) is a fantastic bit of technology. By wrapping up your data in multiple layers of encryption and sending it into the network to be bounced around, you can be sure that any one node cannot determine the source and destination of the data. Most of the exit nodes (The places that your data leaves the network to enter the rest of the internet, effectively) exist in relatively free countries, so accessing The Pirate Bay via this method is extremely effective.

It also means that your ISP can't see what you're browsing. All they can see is "Tor user". You could be looking at literally anything, from kittens, to the pirate bay, from medical information to bomb making instructions.

Tor is the ultimate in censorship-free browsing, but it does not guarantee anonymity. Your movements online can be tracked by things like tracking cookies and other techniques, so be sure to use the full Tor Browser Bundle, which is pre-configured to get around these issues.


Tor can be a pain to set up, but it should be very easy when using the Tor Browser Bundle. 

It can also be quite slow to use, but if all you're doing is loading up your favorite torrent sites to view some magnet links, you're basically sorted.

Do not push BitTorrent traffic through Tor. It was not designed for this, and it is unfair to the operators of the relay and exit nodes who make their bandwidth available for those who really need it; for example, Syrian dissidents and the like.


The ban is bad, but more than that, it has the potential to spiral out of control and seriously damage the ecosystem of the internet. We should reject censorship unconditionally, and take up our tools to assert our rights.

Information is always going to make it's way in and out of countries, through blockades and around damage. The only question is if it arrives in a timely and convenient manner.