This posting will present a number of free options that can provide access and/or allow surfing of sites that are blocked by a corporate firewall or by your Internet Service Provider. Options presented are (1) using a proxy service site, (2) Web2mail (3) getting internet from your home machine via VPN, (4) using an internet anonymizer, and (5) using Google.
Have you ever been in a situation where you where prevented access to certain sites on the internet because you were behind a company firewall or because of a restriction imposed by your Internet Service Provider? If so, you might be able to use the solutions provided below as a workaround.
Although I’ve been asked variants of the question “how do I surf blocked sites from my job” often enough to decide to investigate some potential solutions, let me begin by saying that I present these without experience in a restricted internet situation myself and therefore can not attest to the efficacy of the solutions below.
1- Use a Proxy service site: such as hidemyass.com, can’t bust me, or anonr.com. Many of these sites in fact all belong to the same network and work in the same way: they will act as a go-between between you and the sites you want to access.
The easiest way to find these is to search Google for “proxy service sites” or a similar keyword. Once you are able to access one of these sites you will find an address box where you can enter the URL for the site you want and the proxy site will grab the content for you and present it within the proxy site URL, allowing you to surf your desired content while its actual URL is being masked by the proxy site. Note that some of these sites will also provide anonymous internet surfing by disguising your IP address and location info.
Click on the image to the right for a list of some proxy service sites. Bear in mind that your corporate firewall or ISP may have already blacklisted some proxy sites, preventing you from accessing them. In this case you might simply search for some new ones that may have not been blacklisted or considering another solution.
2- Web2Mail: this is a free service that works as follows: send a blank email to send[at]web2mail.co.cc with your desired site URL as the subject. After less than a minute the Web2Mail service will send you an email that contains the web page you requested in HTML format, which you can read in your email client.
As you might imagine, “browsing” your desired site using this service involves receiving the initial email, clicking on a link on that page that most likely be blocked in your browser but that you would use as the subject line in another email to Web2Mail, and repeating. Not the highest quality surfing experience, but will work in a pinch.
One thing I might add: the Web2mail servers are at times unresponsive and there was a point when I was testing it a few days ago and having my emails sent back to me. Since then the issue seems to have been fixed and it is working just fine.
3- Get internet from your home machine via VPN: this stands for Virtual Private Networking. If you are behind a restrictive company firewall you can in most cases set up a connection to your home PC and get unrestricted internet through your home connection. You might want to signal to your network admin that you are doing this; it should not be much of an issue in most settings (you will not need any technical intervention from your network guy to set a VPN up necessarily).
There are many free VPN software options: OpenVPN (and GUI version, pictured above), UltraVNC, TightVNC, LogMeIn Free, and Windows’ own built in VPN. This post is not intended to be a tutorial on how to set this up, but if you search the internet you will find a lot of further information on this. If you know of a good tutorial or tutorials on this please post them in the comments.
4- Use an internet anonymizer: for example, using the TOR onion router. This is a network of interconnected servers that essentially arrives at your intended URL through a surreptitious route of multiple servers, masking your IP address along the way. A good freeware that I previously reviewed that can access the TOR network is Vidalia; other options: FoxTor for Firefox and Operator.
Aside for TOR, another option is JAP, which I which operates more or less under the same principle.
5- Use Google: a very imperfect but quick way to take a peek at blocked sites, as follows:
- View a cached version of your site. Search for the site and/or webpage you seek in Google and, once you have found it in the search results, click on the “Cached” link which will display a cached version that Google has indexed previously. The drawback: in most cases this will be an earlier version of the site that may not up-to-date, depending on how frequently the site content is updated.
- Use Google reader: if your target site has an RSS feed you can sign up for a Google account and use Google reader to grab the RSS feeds from the site. Google reader presents a couple of advantages (1) you can add a subscription to the site using only the site’s URL, and Google will find the appropriate feed URL for you, and (2) in many cases it will display more than the 10 or so posts that are contained in the feed itself (Google probably caches earlier feeds). A potential drawback is if your site publishes partial feeds rather than the post of page in its entirety, inwhich case an RSS reader will be of limited value.
Do you know of other solutions to this problem? Let us know in the comments.