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VPN Blocked? Why This Happens and What to Do About It

VPN Blocked? Why This Happens and What to Do About It
VPN Blocked? Why This Happens and What to Do About It


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Key Takeaways

  • Streaming services block VPNs due to licensing restrictions, leading to access issues for non-local content.
  • Websites detect VPNs using IP blacklists, in-house fraud detection, port blocking, government blocks, and DNS leaks.
  • Bypass VPN blocks by trying different IP addresses, informing sites of VPN use, or paying for a private IP address.

Using a VPN is a great way to protect your privacy while surfing the web, but it’s not without its pitfalls. You may have noticed that some sites treat you differently because you’re using a VPN.

While using a VPN shouldn’t cause any issues, some websites will actively block your connection, which is frustrating. So, why do some websites block VPN users?

Why Do Websites Block VPNs?

Streaming services often block VPNs due to contract and licensing issues. For example, on a streaming site, along with original shows and movies, most services host content they did not make. Because streaming services do not own the non-original content they host, they’re often restricted by distribution licenses.

For instance, if Netflix is streaming Show A, but Netflix doesn’t own the show, it may only be legally allowed to stream the show within the US. So, if you live outside the US and try to access Show A via Netflix’s US site, your access could be blocked if a VPN is active. Netflix may not block all VPN users, but it can pick up on VPN server IP addresses and block them if the IP address has been flagged as one belonging to a VPN server.

Non-streaming websites can block VPNs for an array of reasons. Maybe the service the website offers is illegal in your country of residence, and the website has flagged the VPN IP address you’re using as blacklisted. Additionally, if you’re using a VPN to try and bypass a paywall, websites will often do what they can to stop this, monitoring your IP to see if a VPN server owns it.

How Websites Detect and Block Your VPN

Wondering how websites detect whether you’re using a VPN? There are several methods used to detect if you’re using a VPN.

1. IP Blacklists

Anti-VPN mechanisms primarily work by checking visitors’ IP addresses against blacklists of known VPN addresses. Since VPNs generally use known data centers to host their servers, it’s not very hard to determine the IP ranges they own.

screenshot of iphub bad IP result

Services like IPHub and collect this information and make it available to customers for a price. If you’re connected to a VPN, IPHub will pick up on that and conclude that you’re connected via hosting, proxy, or simply a bad IP.

When you connect without a VPN active using your raw IP, IPHub will likely conclude that you have a “Good IP.”

screenshot of iphub result

A good IP is unlikely to get blocked, whereas a hosted or “bad” IP may get blocked by certain sites if it’s been blacklisted.

VPN IP address issues are typically confronted with a CAPTCHA screen, which checks if you’re a real person or a robot. However, at times, even if you enter the correct CAPTCHA information, the VPN block may remain.

CAPTCHA triggered by Google Search

2. In-House Fraud Detection

Large companies with a lot of resources, like Google and Netflix, are uniquely positioned to detect proxies due to the amount of traffic they handle. Even if a VPN service provides dozens of IP addresses, chances are they will still show up many times among their millions of users, allowing the companies to flag suspicious IPs easily.

These businesses have significant engineering talent, so their solutions may also use advanced technologies like machine learning to analyze and classify traffic patterns.

3. Port Blocking

Port blocking occurs when the virtual network port your VPN uses is blocked using a firewall. When this happens, your VPN’s tunneling method to surf the web is cut off, meaning you cannot access the sites you want to.

4. Government Blocks

Sometimes, the website you want to reach has been blocked by your place of residence’s government, or the government has outlawed the VPN you’re using. Some countries are fairly liberal with their VPN laws, but more extreme cases exist, such as Iraq, China, and North Korea. If you live in a country where certain, or all VPNs, are illegal, you may run into frequent blocks.

5. DNS Leaks

Sometimes, your connection may suffer a DNS leak, which involves your web requests still being sent directly to your internet service provider despite having an active VPN. This often happens if the VPN you’re using isn’t functioning correctly and can lead to you being instantly blocked by certain sites.

Many VPNs offer DNS leak tests to ensure your data is being leaked to your ISP. So, if you’re concerned about this, check if your VPN provider offers a leak test.

6. Sites That Completely Block VPN Users

screenshot of vpn block notification on social blade website

Some website owners attempt to block VPNs altogether. For example, Social Blade (shown above) uses Cloudflare to intercept VPN traffic, blocking access to anyone who has a VPN active when they load the website.

How to Bypass VPN Blocks

Most popular streaming sites tend to block VPNs, including:

  • Disney+
  • BBC iPlayer
  • Hulu
  • Netflix
  • Max

These can vary based on your location and your specific VPN. While there’s no foolproof way to always get around these mechanisms, there are a number of steps you can take to improve your chances.

1. Try Different IP Addresses

Many commercial VPN providers give you access to multiple servers spread out over different data centers worldwide. By switching to a different server, you change your internet-facing IP address.

tunnelbear location choice in desktop app

If you get blocked, cycle through the available servers. If you’re lucky, you could find one that isn’t on the site’s blacklist.

2. Inform Sites of Your VPN Use

It may be beneficial to notify certain sites that you use a VPN. For example, if you reach out to your bank’s customer service, they could put a note on your account to help resolve any problems should their fraud protection systems flag your VPN use.

This is a particularly good idea if you’ve previously been connecting to the service without a VPN but plan to start using one in the near future, perhaps due to travel. Remember that sites generally restrict proxied traffic to curtail abuse by bots, not because they are specifically prejudiced against people who use VPNs.

3. Pay for a Private IP Address

The more people that are using a particular IP, the more likely it is to land on a blacklist at some point. Having your own private IP address makes it much easier for your VPN to go undetected.

There are many private IP providers out there today, but before you go signing up for one, make sure your current VPN provider doesn’t already offer this feature. The following popular VPN providers offer private VPNs (often at an inflated price):

  • IPVanish
  • SurfShark
  • PureVPN
  • NordVPN
  • Windscribe
  • Ivacy
  • Private Internet Access
  • CyberGhost

If your current VPN provider doesn’t offer a private IP address, consider switching to another service or a dedicated private IP provider, such as IPv4 Global. Other handy VPN features can help you bypass blocks if you’d like to maximize your chances.

4. Use a Less Common VPN

Another way to avoid crowded servers is to use a less-known VPN provider. Since a few companies tend to dominate the VPN market, you can expect them to appear prominently in blacklists. A more obscure VPN may be less likely to get blocked or trigger a CAPTCHA.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should use the cheapest, shadiest provider you can find. You especially want to avoid free VPN services. Not only are these usually swamped with thousands or millions of users, but they are also magnets for fraud, piracy, and other problematic behaviors. Sites have a strong incentive to target them for blocking.

5. Clear Your Cache and Cookies

In some cases, particular browser features or settings could trigger protection systems, or browser tracking could identify your browser easily.

Clearing your browser cache and cookies can reset how a website or service views you as a user and potentially unblock your VPN in the process. It’s simple to clear your cache and cookies on Google Chrome, and it’s a similar process on most other browsers.

6. Change Your DNS Servers

Another handy way to attempt to unblock your VPN is to change your DNS servers. The Domain Name System (DNS) translates human-readable domain names to IP addresses. Instead of having to remember difficult and long strings of numbers for each website, we can remember names instead, like MakeUseOf. When you get a new internet connection, you’ll use the default ISP DNS settings, but you don’t have to.

You can change your settings to use third-party DNS, which may well unblock your VPN and let you access the site or service. You can change your DNS settings on Windows, change your DNS settings on macOS, and find and change your DNS settings on Linux.

7. Roll Your Own VPN server

A more technical alternative is to install your own VPN server, either on a physical computer you control or on a virtual cloud server. You’ll be the only person using that server’s particular IP address, much reducing the chance that it ends up on a blacklist.

Note that the IP ranges of prominent cloud providers like Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure are also public information, so this may not be a completely airtight solution either. It would be more reliable to install the server on a physical machine that connects to the Internet through your own ISP.

It can be annoying to face CAPTCHAs or other roadblocks while innocently surfing the web. But for the most part, there are simple ways to bypass the mechanisms sites use to discriminate against VPN users. By taking a few steps to make your traffic seem less suspicious, you can use VPNs to protect your online privacy with less hassle.


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