Choosing Web Proxy Server or VPN for Streaming UK TV from abroad
Well, I’m planning to go to the US at some point, and I want to be able to watch a bit of live UK TV while I’m there. For this, I usually use TV Catchup (and used to use Zattoo, and also iPlayer).
Of course, the BBC will block non-licence fee payers, such as foreign viewers, from watching much of the BBC – and other channels may do the same under their licensing conditions. So the question is how to fool those services into thinking that I’m in the UK, when I’m not.
Well – the obvious answer is a Web Proxy. Since they identify your country by the public IP address of your laptop or computer while abroad, the trick is to channel your web browsing via a proxy which is in the UK, and so they will think you’re in the UK yourself. You can use public service proxies – which are usually either terribly slow, or charge a per-use or monthly fee. Since I’m only going to do this occasionally, not watch Eastenders every week, that’s not for me. The other option is to leave my computer on at home, and run a proxy service on that over my own UK home broadband. Since I have a computer on anyway, then that IS for me, and that’s how I’ll do it. I’ll connect my US-based laptop to my UK-based home network, and then from there out to the BBC, TVcatchup, etc websites.
So – I have set up a good free proxy – ccproxy – which seems to do the trick. It’s free for 3 or fewer simultaneous users (just me!), and is feature-rich – so I can do things such as change the listening HTTP ports to an obscure port (eg. 34893), which most hackers with network scanners will not test. If you left it on the defaults, such as 80, 8080, 808, 443, etc., they most certainly would find it, and then it’s just a question of password-guessing or using any known vulnerabilities for the software to hack in – and then you could be in trouble.
HOWEVER – I have found a second option. Since I’ve modified my router to use the feature-rich DD-WRT firmware, this includes a VPN server inside the router itself. This would be another way of getting a ‘virtual presence’ in my home network, from where I can connect out to UK sites as a seemingly UK user.
So – which to use? Well… I’ve been trying them out, and there are pros and cons to each:
CCProxy has some Pros in….
- allowing me to use obscure ports for improved security (not that obscurity by itself is enough for security, but it helps!)
- allowing me to use username/password security for access to the proxy – which Firefox and iPhone Safari both support
- letting me log and monitor access on the proxy, which I can log to disc on the server, and analyse later
It also has some cons:
- My home server must be on constantly to serve it. If the PC is switched off, or crashes, and I can’t remotely start it, then that’s that
- For Firefox/IE, you have to reconfigure your connection settings to use the proxy specifically – which means going into Options/Preferences, and changing them, each time you switch
- For iPhone, it requires the Proxy to be configured manually for that specific WiFi connection – again, re-typing everything each time you want to use it
- If using hotel/corporate WiFi, or if they also have a proxy themselves, then they may block the nonstandard port which you set for your own proxy for obscurity
Meanwhile, the VPN has some Pros:
- It is in the router, rather than any PC – so only the router needs to be on – it doesn’t matter if the PC is unavailable
- It’s PPTP, which is very easy to set up on both Windows and iPhone. On both, you simply turn the VPN on, or turn it off – you can store credentials in there too
- It automatically uses the home router for DNS services, DHCP IP assignment, etc. etc., which are set up locally – so no need to change any proxy settings elsewhere
- It works through both WiFi and Cellular (2G/3G), although I wouldn’t stream TV at roaming data rates!
- It’s more likely to be supported by hotel/corp networks that may block nonstandard ports, like the one I deliberately set for the proxy
- It adds another layer of security on web-browsing for my device, when in use over public WiFi networks
And some cons:
- It will only run on a standard, well-known port – and I suspect many hackers will discover it, and try to exploit it through password guessing or any open vulnerabilities on this well-known platform
- PPTP is considered relatively insecure. The alternative VPNs they propose, again, need a PC to be switched on. But, for my home network, with a strong password, it’s likely secure enough to prevent script kiddies and worms – rather than the resources of a major government, which I suspect is the level of attack that this author may be considering.
- If the router IS compromised, then the hacker basically has the keys to my home network. Malware, here we come.
Anyway… VPN it is! I’ll see how it works over the coming weeks.