How to use a US IP Proxy Server

There used to be a time when configuring and using a US IP proxy server was only for the technologically advanced. However times have changed and now millions of people with limited technical knowledge use IP proxies every day for many mundane situations.

One of the most common uses for an IP proxy is to access content that is restricted by region locking. For instance if you try and access any of the mainstream US media sites like ABC, NBC or Hulu from outside the USA then you’ll find that the majority of the site is inaccessible. The sames goes for lots of other media sites across the world – all inaccessible outside their domestic market.

It kind of makes a mockery of the global communication medium that we call the internet. It certainly wasn’t designed to restrict and block access based on your physical location however that is how it has turned out. Which is why for a US citizen travelling or living abroad a US IP proxy server is so useful.

Using a US IP Proxy Server

The fact is that most of these websites determine your location by looking at your IP address and where it’s registered to. This will of course determine your physical location, however if you connect through a proxy server then the IP address of the server will be revealed and not your own. Therefore someone on holiday in Europe who connected to the internet through a US IP proxy server would appear to be in the US. Here’s a quick video which demonstrates this in action:

As you can see in the demonstration, the software is used to connect to a network of different proxies. In this particular example a US proxy is selected in order to access the film and movie site Hulu. Without using the proxy then the site won’t be accessible as the content is only licensed for US based users. However you can see that there are many different countries available in the software which can be used to watch or access web sites in other countries.

Connecting through a Canadian proxy would give you access to all the Canadian websites, using a French proxy would give you a French IP address and the ability to watch sites like M6 Replay.

As you can see from the video there is no real technical knowledge required as it’s all taken care of by the software. There are a whole host of these programs available now which you can install easily and then change your IP address to whichever you need. It is worth remembering though that when your connection is routed through a specific country then your browsing will be tailored to that country.

Someone connected through a US IP proxy will for example get the US version of Google complete with US related search results. It is obviously not a major issue but it can be confusing if you forget!

How to Switch IP Address Quickly

Many of us now use VPNs and proxy servers routinely to hide our real IP addresses. The reasons are many however for most us it’s either to bypass the thousands of region locks which exist online or simply to hide our real location and identity. Investing in a VPN solution is usually a wise move, providing protection for when you’re online either at home or using an insecure wifi connection in a cafe or hotel for example. When you connect through a VPN or proxy your real ip address is hidden and the website you visit has no way of logging your location.

How to Change IP Address Quickly

The problem is that for region locking uses, having a single additional IP address is rarely enough. The problem is that all these regional filters are based on different locations, so you often require addresses based in a variety of countries and being able to change address quickly is essential. Here’s a quick demonstration of some software called Identity Cloaker which facilitates this:

You can see that the software that controls the connection sits in the task bar and you can enable the VPN or switch it to use another server whenever you like. So for example if you where trying to watch the BBC you’d need a UK IP proxy but to watch ABC or CNN live streams you’d need a US proxy and IP address. All you need to do is open the control panel and switch to the appropriate country.

A few of the biggest VPN providers now provide multiple servers across different countries so you can switch like this. It makes sense to use one of these rather than the companies who charge additional for each country you sign up for. Using these companies you’ll find information on how to change IP address quickly as the subscription covers all their servers. Most of the sites cover countries like USA, Canada, UK, France and Germany whereas for other countries you might need to search around.

One of the difficult countries to get a proxy or VPN in is Australia, simply because the internet costs tend to be much higher there and it’s expensive to include Australian servers in their infrastructure. There are a few around though and you can find a few around, but remember to watch BBC iPlayer in Australia you need a UK proxy not an Australian one. Although any one based in Australia would be advised to use a local proxy when they’re not trying to bypass region locks simply because of the speed.

There is another reason why you should regularly rotate and change your IP address and that’s to keep the fact that you’re using a secure connection private. If you don’t switch addresses and just use a static video proxy, any ISP logs will show the use of a proxy as all requests will be routed through the one specific IP address. Switching this address periodically makes it much more difficult to detect.

Detecting the Proxies

There’s no doubt that your online experience can be extremely limited from certain countries. More and more countries are seeking to take control over things like access to social media, political and religious websites and worryingly even many of the independent news sources available online. The practice of filtering and censorship grows everyday and there’s little sign of this trend reversing.

Most of the time, censorship of the internet is justified by a fight on crime, child abuse or other illegal practice. Generally those aims are flexible and can be extended to suit whatever the State decides, often the associated legislation is particularly vague to allow whatever interpretation is needed. Most countries who heavily police the internet have ‘catch all’ phrases which can cover pretty much anything they decide at the time. All over the world innocent journalists, bloggers and web users have been imprisoned for little more than expressing the ‘wrong opinion’ online, sometimes all it takes is a ‘like’ on a Facebook post to land people in trouble.

For people unfortunate enough to live in such places, using the internet safely involves protecting both their internet connection and maintaining anonymity. There are simple things like using pseudonyms and never putting any real information in social media profiles for instance. Yet ultimately it is the technical details which are most important, hiding your real ip address is vital.

This is because it doesn’t matter what information you leave online, your IP address can be linked to your physical location. Obviously in a public access point like a cafe or library this isn’t as important but if you’re using a home internet connection you have to be even more careful. This is why proxies and VPN are so important as they sit between you and the website you’re visiting in order to hide your location. Instead of your own IP being left, instead it’s that of the VPN/proxy that you are using.

Here’s an example of such a service being used, not for security but instead to fool the region locking of a big media site – it’s called a proxy for Netflix you can see it here.

In this scenario, Netflix is not able to see the true location of the viewer only that of the proxy server which allows full access. However using proxies to hide your location is fraught with dangers simply because they are relatively insecure. Firstly they do nothing to hide or secure any information you transmit and secondly proxies are by default set up to transmit a X-Forwarded-For HTTP header when they contact any server. This can be used to both detect the presence of the proxy and worse the originators IP address.

Any decent anonymous proxy server would be configured to not send this header but remember it is default behaviour and any upgrade or misconfiguration could easily override these changes. The danger is that as soon as any misconfiguration happens, the proxy will be identified and picked up by services such as IP2Location which maintain extensive databases of proxies, VPNs and TOR nodes.

In the case of media sites this simply means that attempts to bypass the region locks won’t work but for a political activist in somewhere like Thailand, China or Turkey then the repercussions can be much more serious.
Additional Reading

Escaping Region Locking from Media Sites

In the early years of the internet there were very few restrictions on what you could see and download. If you started a web browser in the US you’d get pretty much the same experience as someone who started in Cairo. Obviously there might be some variation in speed of course, but what you could see and do was almost identical.

That’s changed a lot now with the growing popularity of region locking and control. It started off fairly helpfully – your search engines would switch you to the appropriate location based on your IP address. This meant that if you were searching from London for electricians you wouldn’t get directed to results in Sydney which would obviously be useful. We’ve got used to this and it generally makes everyone’s life much easier.

However the use of region locking has extended greatly in the last few years, in fact any major web site will usually operate some level of control. Often it’s again beneficial, Amazon will make sure you go to the UK site, Costco will direct you to your local store and so on. However for many of the world’s biggest media sites it’s a much different story – region locking usually means region blocking.

Ever tried to access Pandora from outside the US? Well it doesn’t work, the wonderful music site is only accessible for those located in the US. Want to watch the BBC News, sorry if you’re outside the UK it’s not going to happen. Those are just two but the list is extensive, in fact it’s unlikely you’ll now find a large media site which doesn’t lock down access based on the location of your IP address.

It’s crazy when you think about it, a global communication medium deliberately trying to segregate and restrict our world. Worse too that in a time when many of us travel extensively, we are blocked and filtered at every turn when we’re online.

So What’s the Solution?
Well to take back control and stop being blocked you need to be able to control your IP address. Unfortunately for most of us that’s not possible, the IP address is assigned when you connect to the internet and there is no way of modifying it. You can of course modify your local address but that’s not important, region locking uses your external internet facing IP address.

However although you cannot modify your address, you can hide it by using VPN servers to protect your connection. If you connect to a UK VPN server for example, it will look as though your have a UK IP address and watching the BBC works without problems. You can use a US VPN to gain a US IP address for Netflix irrespective of where you actually are. Many firms have developed services to support this demand and the top VPN providers will allow access to a network of servers in different countries.

This means that although you cannot change your real IP address, you can hide it behind a VPN server. It gives you back control and neatly sidesteps the pervasive region locking and filtering which seems likely to keep expanding.

Further Reading – British VPN

DNS Lookups on Web Proxies

Proxy servers will commonly be required to perform two kinds of DNS lookups those to resolve IP addresses from the hostnames and reverse lookups to find the hostname given the IP address. The DNS lookups will normally require contacting the DNS service and therefore there will be an impact on speed and some latency. It is therefore important to optimize these lookups in order to minimize the impact on the proxy performance.

The main goal in optimizing DNS lookups of all sorts is to actually avoid doing external lookups whenever possible. The more DNS lookups that are performed the bigger the impact on the performance of the proxy server. DNS lookups are of course pretty much essential in running any sort of proxy, without a method to determine IP addresses and hostnames they will be unable to retrieve the information and URLs requested. Unfortunately there’s no way to completely replace these requests however one method can reduce the number that is required – DNS caching.

Reverse DNS lookups will be utilised when the IP address is available but we need the DNS Hostname. This is usually the situation when the connection is inbound and the receiver wants to find out which host the connection is coming from. In this situation the socket can actually be queried to obtain the IP address (that the connection is from) however the DNS Hostname would not be available in that information. This is because the TCP/IP protocol works with IP address and not DNS hostnames.

Reverse DNS requests are commonly needed to apply access rights and controls. This is because these are usually assigned by client hostname or domain name not IP addresses. For example it is typical to assign internet rights based on physical clients or membership of a domain group, the IP address is not typically used to control rights in this way. Also most logs store information on proxies in hostname format as they are much easier to track and follow than simply numerical addresses. This makes it easier to troubleshoot things like people using external Dns servers to watch American version of Netflix from their office!

If there is no requirement for DNS host names to be used for access control, then it is often feasible to turn reverse DNS lookups off – doing so will heavily boost the performance of any internet connected proxy server. Although having hostnames in logs is convenient, it is not alone worth the performance impact. The logs can be updated after with hostnames if required by resolving the IP addresses afterwards if required.

The updating of logs with hostname resolution is actually much more efficient if done in a single batch. This is because it is likely that there are individual IP addresses repeated in the logs and these can be resolved with a single request. Especially on proxy servers this can be a significant reduction because there will likely be a fixed number of IP addresses which are repeatedly requested.

John Halliwell

Take Control of your IP Address

On a computer network, much like in real life, there are different levels of access dependent on a variety of reasons. It may be due rights assigned to username or account, perhaps an access token or often simply your physical location. These rights are assigned in different ways but the most popular method across the internet is based on your IP address.

The IP address is that unique number which is assigned to every single device which is connected to the internet, from computers and laptops to phones and tablets and even your internet enabled fridge. Every single device that is accessible online has a unique IP address and can be tracked by this number. Although you IP address can ultimately be traced back to a specific location and owner, this information is not available to any website that it visits. However even without access to an ISP record the IP address can be used to determine two pieces of information very easily – classification and location.

The first classification refers to the type of connection the IP address is registered to specifically residential or commercial. This piece of information is not always used as there can be some overlaps with this classification. The physical location however is used extensively by the vast majority of major web sites. Some may use it to help serve relevant content, perhaps supplying specific language versions depending on your location or serving up adverts which are more applicable to you. This is usually helpful although it can be very annoying if you are genuinely trying to access different content.

The most common use though is to block access based on this location, a practice used by virtually every large media site on the web. If you are in the USA for example, you will not be able to watch any of the UK media sites such as the BBC iPlayer or ITV Hub. Similarly every single one of the big American media sites will block non-US addresses. These blocks and controls are growing exponentially every year for instance there are now thousands of YouTube videos only accessible to specific locations.

Fortunately for the enlightened it isn’t such a big problem, because using VPNs and proxies you can actually control your own IP address. A simple method of using a British VPN server can give you access to the BBC iPlayer in the USA like this. It merely hides your physical location and instead the web site sees only the address of the VPN and it works with the vast majority of web sites.

Searching for a VPN with Residential IP ?

So why would anyone be trying to find a VPN with a residential IP? Well, for the sake of clarity, there are certain distinct classifications of IP addresses which are becoming more and more important.  It refers to the actual categorisation of their use rather than any complicated technical property.  The fact is that there are only two of these categories –

  • Commercial IP Addresses – allocated to private companies and datacentres
  • Residential IP Addresses  – allocated to individuals usually through Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

There’s no technical distinction, no difference in structure or allocation – you can’t tell simply by looking at an IP address which is commercial and which is residential address.   In fact it’s entirely possible for addresses to switch between the two categories if they are reallocated.  However the classification is being used increasingly by web sites and services to distinguish between customers.

Is VPN Safe

Take for example a standard residential IP address assigned from a small ISP, any website can determine that this is likely to be a private individual likely to be surfing from their home computer.   The origin of a commercial IP address is much more difficult to determine –  it could be from a commercial organisation, from a wireless access point, directly from a server or bot or perhaps a standard user who is using a VPN or proxy server.   If you’re a website owner looking for customers for example, it’s the residential traffic that is going to interest you most not the commercial stuff.

It’s a classification which is now being used by many websites to block traffic from specific sources.  You can see in this post about VPNs being blocked by Netflix that the media giant is using this classification to stop people bypassing the region blocks by using proxy type servers to hide their locations.  Netflix has simply decided that if you are originating from a commercial based IP address then you can’t access their service irrespective of whether you have a subscription or not.   Which is why people are becoming increasingly desperate to find a VPN with a residential IP address.

It’s not just the media companies who are starting this, other sites are increasingly looking to block all non-residential based addresses too.  There are advertising sites like Craigslist and Gumtree who want to isolate their services to specific local home markets and people using VPNs or commercial servers to access them globally aren’t in that category.   There are casualties of course, VPNs are important ways to maintain the security of your internet connection and privacy yet using one is likely to get you blocked from certain sites.  Additionally there are many countries where it’s not safe to post openly and a VPN is essential to use the internet securely.

There are a few VPN services which now offer residential IP addresses included, like this one at Identity Cloaker which routes Netflix traffic through residential address to avoid being blocked.  However they are quite rare simply because the addresses are very difficult to obtain and cost much more than standard commercial IP addresses available from a datacenter.

Introduction to DNS Recursion

The Internet’s DNS structure is often (accurately) described as hierarchical with authoritative servers sitting at the top of the structure.  However because of this setup it is essential that all DNS servers are able to communicate with each other in order to supply response to the name queries which are submitted by clients.

This is because although we would expect our companies internal DNS server to know all the addresses of internal clients and servers, we wouldn’t expect it’s database to contain every external server on the the internet.     Although in the early days of the internet, most DNS servers did contain an entire list of connected server addresses, nowadays that would simply not be feasible or in fact very sensible.

When a DNS server needs to find an address which is not in it’s database, it will query another DNS server on behalf of the requesting client in order to find the answer.    The server in this instance is actually acting in the same way as a client by making a request to another DNS server for the information, this process is known as recursion.

It’s actually quite difficult to detect whether a query is answered by recursion or by directly when troubleshooting DNS queries.    You need to be able to listen to all a DNS servers traffic in order to identify a recursive query.   The additional query (recursive one) is generated after the DNS serverc has checked it’s local database in order to resolve the query.  If this isn’t successful the DNS server will generate the additional request before replying to the client.   This is also dependent on the recursion bit being set in the initial query from the client too, as this allows the server to ask another server if the answer is not in it’s own database.

The recursive query is merely a copy of the initial DNS request and it has the effect of turning the server into a client. You can notice if you analyse the traffic that the transaction ID numbers will change in order to differentiate the initial query from the recursive query sent by the DNS server.   It’s important to keep a note of these transaction IDs when troubleshooting DNS traffic as it’s easy to get confused as many of the packets will look very similar.  If you are trying to analyze something more complicated like the modern, intelligent Smart DNS servers like these – then it’s even more important to keep track of these transactions.  This is because these DNS servers actually make decisions on how to route the traffic in addition to resolving queries.


Domain Name System Packet Structure

The Domain Name System (DNS) is one of the most vital protocols used on the internet, it basically holds everything together. DNS links all the web friendly names to IP addresses without DNS you’d need to memorize the IP address of every server or resource you wanted to visit online.

DNS servers hold databases of resource records which contain the mappings that allow devices to resolve IP addresses to DNS names and vice versa. These databases are generally made accessible to any device that requests them or other DNS servers. If you’ve ever had anything to do with DNS you’ll know that although the basic principles of DNS are quite straight forward the overall architecture can be very complicated particularly with regards to the internet.

In this initial article we’re going to cover some of the basics of the DNS packet structure, which is in many ways very different to other protocols used to communicate online.

DNS Packet Structure

  • DNS ID – Associates DNS responses with corresponding queries.
  • (QR) Query/Response – Simply identifies whether packet is a query or response packet.
  • (AA) Authoritative Answers – When this value is set it indicates that the Name server is the ultimate authority for that domain.
  • (RD) Recursion Desired – DNS client requires a recursive query if answer not available.
  • (RA) Recursion Available – DNS Server supports recursive queries.
  • (RC) Response Code – Used to identify any errors
  • Questions Section – Variable section which contains all the queries to be resolved
  • Answers Section – Variable section which contains responses to queries.
  • Authority Section – Variable section which contains records pointing to authoritative name servers if required.

There are more components of the DNS packet but these are the important ones which contain the bulk of the information i.e. the query and answer. This is how a simple DNS query will be performed – a client wishes to know an IP address (or DNS Name) will send the query to a DNS server, the server will send the answer in it’s response.

The simplest DNS transaction will take place in just two packets i.e the query and the response. You can see it quite easily by using a packet capture program like wireshark and in fact DNS exchanges are a very good way to start packet analysis because the majority are relatively straight forward. There are exceptions of course, indeed we are increasingly seeing modified DNS services used to access US media sites like Netflix like this article – describes.

There are a few things to remember when studying and troubleshooting DNS traffic and one of the most important is that DNS relies on UDP as it’s transport mechanism. This is useful to know because if you do use something like Wireshark to analyse you’ll notice lots of UDP traffic and that it condenses the beginnings of the packet into a single flags section which can be difficult to follow initially.

Remember though the vast majority of DNS traffic is very simple, consisting of a query and a response. There is more information in the packet but essentially it’s a question and an answer – if you need to see all the data and resource record types they are here – DNS Resource Parameters.

Residential IP Gateways

For anyone with a significant interest in working online, your IP address is important, it’s a vital part of your online presence.     Most people don’t really care about their address, as long as you have a valid IP address you can get online.   However there are distinctions about these addresses which can make a huge difference to your online experience.

Often the first indication people have that their IP address is of any relevance is when they find themselves getting blocked somewhere.   You might click on a video or website and get redirected to a message ‘sorry not available in  your country’ or you might try and view a website and get redirected somewhere else.   What’s generally to blame is where your IP address is registered and this behaviour is called ‘region locking’.  It’s extremely common and annoying especially if you’re settling down to watch the BBC News live while on holiday outside the UK for example.

This is all factored around the geographical location where you’re IP address is assigned to.  Which is why it usually becomes evident when people travel or go on their holidays, suddenly they find they can’t access the websites that they used to.  Watching domestic TV, streaming videos or accessing their online banking and things like that suddenly become very difficult when you’re outside your usual location.

People have found ways around this, normally you can hide your location by using a proxy or VPN service.  However this only works on a basic level, because there are other restrictions which stop these working mainly centered around the IP classification.   You see many websites now also look one step further than simply location – they look at the classification of the address and whether it originates from a commercial or residential origin.

Anyone who makes their living online is likely to need a little more control.  After all operating in a global market like the internet, getting blocked all the time because of location and what sort of IP address you have is going to be extremely inconvenient.   Sure you can use traditional proxies which are mostly run from datacentres but they too have significant problems.  The issue is that websites increasingly block access to all but residential IP addresses, they just want ordinary home users which means none of these proxy solutions actually work.  The alternative is to use VPNs that have residential IP addresses and gateways built in (read more here)

However it’s much, much harder to set up a residential IP gateway than it is a commercial one.  For instance you can’t just roll up to Comcast or BT and ask it to assign you a few hundred IP addresses, they use those for domestic customers only.   They are appearing but at the moment they are fairly hard to find and extremely expensive.  You have to be careful though as some of these ‘solutions’ actually piggy back domestic customers computers like the not recommended Hola which is a huge security risk to use.