Need to usurp your position? A VPN can help
While the classic VPN use case is to hide your IP address and prevent your ISP and other snoopers from monitoring your online activities, that’s not the only reason. Every now and then, you may need to make it seem like you are in another country without leaving the comfort of your own home. You may be looking to escape some form of censorship or gain access to a localized version of a website. Maybe you just want to watch a foreign version of Netflix. Whatever your needs, a VPN is a great choice for location spoofing.
Recently I got a message from a Patagonian based reader with such a problem. It seems their web traffic has been blocked due to their location. From our Southern Reader, edited for brevity and confidentiality:
“When I log in, the websites identify me as being from Argentina, but some services are not responding due to my location. Now I also have a website which is hosted by a Swiss provider. If I have control of my domain in Switzerland, can I connect my PC to the site in some way and have all my movements seen as coming from Switzerland? “
The answer to the reader’s specific question is a bit complicated, but the solution to the overall problem is very simple: get a VPN.
What is a VPN?
Small reminder: when you activate a VPN, it creates an encrypted connection between your computer and a server controlled by the VPN company. Your data travels to the server, protected from prying eyes along the way, and then leaves the Internet as normal. Anyone watching you will have a hard time following your movements on the web, and your IP address will also be hidden. This is important because one of the easiest ways to find out a person’s physical location is to check their IP address.
Most people will want to connect to a VPN server that is physically close to their real location. This generally results in better speed, which is of concern to most users. But if you connect to a more remote VPN server, you are browsing the web as if you were sitting on that server. This is the trick that allows you to access streaming content in other countries. Streaming services see your traffic coming from the VPN server, and they put you in the same basket with all other viewers coming from the same region.
Online hide and seek
Our reader needs to get a VPN with servers in the region they want their web traffic to come from. Then they just need to turn on the VPN. That’s it! For slightly with more detailed instructions to get started, our story on setting up and using a VPN is a great resource.
However, finding a VPN that will suit your particular situation can be a bit trickier. You will first need to find a VPN with servers in the country of your choice. Most VPN services list their servers somewhere on their websites. In practice, however, just having support for a country may not be enough. You may find that you cannot access the website or service you want due to obscure network reasons. You may also need a more specific region than just a country. For example, accessing the web from a random location in a country as large as Canada could take you away from your desired location.
Some VPNs allow you to specify the servers and sometimes even the cities with which you want to connect. Below are all the VPN services we have tested that allow you to choose from specific servers in a given country.
Express VPN, 94 countries
CyberGhost, 90 countries
VPNZone, 65 countries
Windscribe VPN, 61 countries
NordVPN, 59 countries
Unlimited KeepSolid VPN, 57 countries
Surfshark VPN, 55 countries
ProtonVPN, 54 countries
IPVanish, 52 countries
Mullvad VPN, 36 countries
IVPN, 31 countries
Note that you do not need the VPN with the more available countries — only one that covers the countries you need. I’ll also mention HMA VPN, as it covers 190 countries, by far the most services I’ve tested. HMA VPN, however, does not allow you to choose specific servers. It also makes heavy use of virtual servers, which are configured to appear as if they are in one country but are actually in another. Most of the time this is not a problem, but it is important to know it.
There are some potential drawbacks to using a VPN in this way. Some sites and services may also filter your location as part of their security measures. Many banks, for example, may ask you to present additional authentication if they see you logging in from a new or unusual location. Some sites may even block you completely if they detect what appears to be VPN data, because the bad guys also know how useful a VPN can be.
Ideally, you can use a free VPN to test locations to make sure the experience works the way you want it to. Unfortunately, most free VPNs limit your choice of servers, making it difficult to test for this specific issue. Plus, pretty much all VPN services require you to enter a credit card number or create an account, even though they offer a free trial period.
Recommended by our editors
Note that some VPNs sell access to dedicated IP addresses. Depending on the service, these can be in a variety of countries. A dedicated IP address will only pass your traffic through, which will hopefully make it less unusual than a VPN server and therefore less likely to be blocked.
A few quick benchmarks to consider when buying a VPN: The average cost of a monthly VPN subscription is $ 10.11, and the average cost of an annual subscription is $ 68.69. If a VPN charges more than average, make sure you get something useful in return. Plus, you’ll still save money with an annual subscription; but again, I recommend starting with a short term (or free!) subscription to test a service before making a longer commitment.
Your host may beg to defer
The second part of our reader’s question is about using their website host to redirect their traffic. It is partly possible; you can, in fact, host your own VPN. However, it is likely that any web host has specific expectations when it comes to using their service. They probably won’t, or at least appreciate, that you use a server intended for a website to redirect your web traffic. They probably have specific safeguards in place to prevent this.
If your goal is to deploy your own VPN, I recommend using a service like DigitalOcean to rent a server. Once your server is started, you can deploy your VPN. There are several DIY VPNs available, but I will mention Alphabet’s Outline VPN, as I know it best. I had no trouble setting up and using my own VPN this way, but I didn’t keep it for long. Even though it was easy, I was never sure I was using it correctly or in the safest way. I prefer to pay a little for professionals to run my VPN.
Better browsing via VPNs
Most of the time, people think of VPNs as a tool for hiding online activity. Our reader, however, has the unique problem of being excluded from the services they need simply because of where their IP resides. It’s a reminder that technology is just a tool and that it can often do a lot more than what its marketing implies.
Do you like what you read ?
Sign up for Security watch newsletter for our best privacy and security stories delivered straight to your inbox.