How Netflix blocks VPN

How Netflix blocks VPN and how to avoid it

Nicolas Cuts is in touch and I want to discuss with you the topic of regional restrictions from Netflix on access to content. And I’ll tell you how to get around them.

For the first time, users encountered this back in 2016. When they tried to log in to their account and watch the next episode of their favorite TV series or the long-awaited release of a TV show, they received the error «S7111-1331-5059». The reason is the use of a VPN to bypass those very regional restrictions. What does Netflix use these locks for? And indeed! After all, the more viewers — the higher the income! But this is not the case…

The same error that occurs when using a VPN to access the site Netflix
The same error that occurs when using a VPN to access the site Netflix

Why use a VPN to watch Netflix

Netflix — a popular streaming service with an extensive database of movies, TV series, entertainment and educational shows. It can be accessed by users from more than 190 countries.

And on the Netflix site, most of the content is only available to residents of certain countries. For example, «House of Cards» (by the way, the copyright for which is owned by Netflix itself) can not be viewed in India. There, the exclusive rights to show the series were acquired by Zee TV. And in Russia, you can watch only 2 seasons of «Hannibal» out of three.

And it is to bypass the blocking that a VPN is used! With its help, the real IP address is substituted, by which Netflix and all other sites can determine the location of the user.

Read our review “How to view Netflix via VPN“.

Why does Netflix block VPN

The problem is copyright. Netflix is not the full owner of all the content that can be viewed through it. It belongs to the creators of the works. Netflix, from a legal point of view, is a distributor and vendor. And he is obliged to prevent piracy, to use access blocking. Yes, circumventing the restriction with a VPN is considered piracy and copyright infringement.

If Netflix does not prevent VPN users, then the content owner will have the opportunity to sue the streaming service. And win it! And the amount of compensation deductions for only 1 series can reach 20-30 million dollars.

But copyright is not the only reason for blocking access to exclusive content. I will highlight 3 more that «tie» the hands of all streaming services.

Netflix has turned to blocking VPNs entirely
Netflix has turned to blocking VPNs entirely

Licensing

To broadcast content on the territory of any country, the streaming service must obtain a license. Netflix now operates in 190 countries. For others, it should remain inaccessible. And it is Netflix that is responsible for complying with the licensing terms. For their violation, the legal representative of the country can also file a claim with the International Court of Justice.

And each of the states has the right to cancel the license granted to the service, if they consider it necessary. Netflix is immediately obliged to introduce an access block for residents of this country.

State censorship

In every modern state, as part of the administrative apparatus, there is a department called the «institute of censorship». Its main task is to prevent the spread of fine art, books, content, TV broadcasts that «impose» ideas, information that is recognized by society as undesirable, immoral. And in each state, the principle of censorship is individual. In one country, they may allow the rental of the film «Nymphomaniac», in another — to ban it. But if the restrictions of censorship are imposed, then it is impossible to challenge them.

And if Netflix receives a letter from the «institute of censorship» of a state that a series that can be viewed using their service violates the rules of censorship, then it can not be disputed. You just need to comply, because otherwise, Netflix will be blocked by the state.

Restricting access in schools, companies

There are schools, commercial companies, where it is forbidden to use the Internet to access «entertainment» sites. This allegedly violates internal discipline, acts as a distraction for students and employees. A VPN allows them to bypass the lock and access the entertainment portal while studying or working. Netflix does not support such an initiative and encourages users to watch content in their free time.

How exactly does Netflix block VPN

Now let’s look at how exactly Netflix determines that a VPN is used to access the streaming service. For this purpose, 5 basic techniques are used. And I can assure you that Netflix’s VPN detection system and subsequent access blocking is one of the most advanced among streaming services. Amazon Prime or Hulu are losing out to their competitor in this regard.

Blocking by IP

Each device that connects to the Internet is assigned a unique IP address by the provider. It is used to determine the approximate location where the user is located (country, region, city). When a VPN is used, the IP address is spoofed, and Netflix sees the IP address of the VPN server.

But there is a problem with the VPN. The number of servers they have is limited. And the IP addresses of all free VPN servers have long been known to everyone, they are in the public domain. And if the request to the Netflix site comes from an IP address from this list, then the user is blocked from accessing it.

Blocking by port number

Each server has a set of ports that distribute incoming and outgoing traffic.

For example:

  • for HTTP, the web server uses port 80;
  • for HTTPS — port

VPN – servers perform tunneling and encryption of traffic, for which they pass it through a certain range of ports. Netflix can determine which port the user uses when a request enters the site. And if it is connected to a VPN, it will be blocked.

The company has publicly stated many different reasons for the ban
The company has publicly stated many different reasons for the ban

Blocking with the use of DPI (Deep Packet Inspection)

DPI — this is a set of algorithms and technologies for deep traffic analysis and filtering. It involves checking not only the packet headers, but also their contents. The technology is actively used by government agencies to restrict access to certain sites on the territory of the country.

VPN – services all transmitted data is encrypted in approximately the same way. Such traffic has certain indirect signs that determine that the request was generated by the VPN server. This can be a similar hash sum of the header, the residual service traffic.

It is not possible to perform a deep analysis of all incoming data on the Netflix site. The check is performed selectively. Naturally, first of all, it concerns those who have previously been suspected of using VPN.

Blocking by DNS address

This method is based on determining whether there is a conflict between the actual IP address and the DNS address of your ISP’s server. And it works when you use their app for mobile devices (Android, iOS). In all cases, the program will detect that a DNS substitution has been performed in the system (this is done by a VPN), get the real DNS address and use it to determine which provider the user is connected to.

And then the user’s location is checked by the IP address. For example, it will be the USA, but according to DNS it turns out that the provider’s server is located in Australia. This means that the user hides their real location through a VPN or proxy server. This is followed by blocking access.

Blocking based on GPS coordinates

This variant of the VPN definition applies primarily to users of the Netflix mobile app. It requests GPS coordinates, determining the exact location of the user. And then it is compared with the IP address data. Is there a discrepancy? Then a VPN is used and access is blocked.

But the GPS coordinates sent by the phone can be substituted. For Android devices, there are a lot of applications that can do this. It turns out that it is enough to send GPS data with the coordinates of the country where the VPN server is located, and Netflix will be deceived! But the user does not take into account that the phone also stores the history of its GPS coordinates for the last days, week. And Netflix can access this information. After all, it will look suspicious that the user managed to go to the United States twice in 1 day, and then return to his homeland. Netflix regards this as using a VPN, followed by blocking access.

Blocking access
Blocking access

By the way, disabling the GPS module in the phone does not solve the problem. The gadget also determines the coordinates:

  • according to the data received from cell towers (the technology is called A-GPS);
  • according to the data obtained from the IP address provided by the mobile operator;
  • according to the service WiFi traffic (routers have a mechanism for determining the geographical zone by the IP address and DNS of the Internet provider).

That is, it is impossible to completely hide your location on a mobile phone.

How to bypass Netflix VPN blocking

On the thematic forums, there are a lot of options for bypassing the VPN locks from Netflix. Some of them are effective, but they turn out to be impractical. I’ll tell you about the ones that are recommended most often. And I will tell you which of them can be used in practice.

TOR-browser

When using a TOR network, traffic is redirected through a chain of proxy servers located in different countries. This allows you to securely hide your IP address, as well as the address of the provider’s server.

In the TOR browser, you can change the geolocation data. And the blocking can be bypassed in this way, but there are nuances:

  • the download speed when using the TOR browser is low, rarely exceeds 1 – 1,5 Mbit/s;
  • ping (the time it takes for a signal from the user to reach the target server and receive a response from it) — high (600 to 30000 ms);
  • the TOR browser cannot be started on TV.

If the user wants to comfortably watch Netflix at least in SD-quality, that he needs the Internet at a speed of 3 Mbit/s. You can’t get this with a TOR browser.

Requirements for Internet speed for comfortable viewing of streaming video on the Netflix site
Requirements for Internet speed for comfortable viewing of streaming video on the Netflix site

TOR is conditionally suitable for viewing Netflix in low quality. And at the same time, content playback will often stop due to data caching, or even be interrupted altogether. In general, the way to bypass the lock is impractical, inconvenient.

Proxy-server

Proxy — this is an intermediary server between the user and the site to which access is requested. The user can set up a dedicated proxy server and redirect all their own traffic to it. I will highlight the main disadvantages of this method:

  1. Not everyone will be able to configure traffic redirection through a rented proxy server.
  2. Renting a high-quality private proxy is expensive.
  3. When using the Netflix mobile app, it is quite possible to determine the IP address of the user’s real Internet service provider. That is, the streaming service will still be able to block access, referring to the use of a proxy or VPN.
  4. There is no guarantee that the proxy server used does not collect sensitive user data. This, unfortunately, is found everywhere.
  5. The connection speed may not be sufficient to view streaming content in Full HD or 4K resolution.
Provider's prices for renting dedicated servers in Europe
Provider’s prices for renting dedicated servers in Europe

It doesn’t make sense to use a virtual proxy at all. After all, it can be used simultaneously by dozens, hundreds, and even thousands of users, sites. Netflix is easy to spot and blocking is guaranteed.

VPN

This is the most effective way to bypass the lock. But not every VPN service can handle this. Netflix owns a huge database of IP addresses that use VPN servers. And it is updated daily. And the next VPN you use can and will work. But it still won’t protect you from possible blocking.

Market leaders that provide paid VPN services do a good job of circumventing the restrictions. But it is expensive (prices for a monthly subscription):

  • Nord VPN — 12$;
  • Surfshark — 13$;
  • Hotspot Shield — 20$;
  • Tunneal Bear — от 10$;
  • Norton Secure VPN — 40$;
  • Express VPN — 13$ in a month.

Note that these prices are the cost of an unlimited VPN for one device. If you plan to watch Netflix also in the browser, on a smartphone, and on a TV set-top box, then you will have to pay 2-3 times more.

How are things going with free VPN? They are actively blocked. And those that work (but this is temporary) are dangerous to use.

Recently, a group of researchers led by Muhammad Akram from Data 61 CSIRO conducted a study of free VPN applications for mobile phones. Summary of the investigation results:

  • traces of malware were found in 40% of applications;
  • 80% of applications have IPv6 leak vulnerabilities.
Fragment of the report on the mass verification of VPN services for smartphones
Fragment of the report on the mass verification of VPN services for smartphones

We can also mention the case that occurred in 2015 with the Hola VPN service, which was caught selling an unused data channel for the needs of a botnet.

Is it even possible to bypass the Netflix block with a free VPN

Forums everywhere point out that now free VPNs are not an up-to-date way to bypass the Netflix block. But I responsibly declare to you: the Switcherry VPN team managed to do this. And most importantly — it’s a really reliable way.

Don’t you believe it? Try it, because it’s free. Residents of any country can use the service to bypass the Netflix block.

And Switcherry VPN is available for both PC (Windows, macOS) and mobile devices (Android, iOS), TV set-top boxes (Android).

What you will need for this:

  • download and install the Switcherry VPN app for a compatible platform;
  • launch the app;
  • select the server location (more than 80 countries to choose from);
  • click «Connect».

Now you can watch Netflix without blocking or regional restrictions. And you can use Switcherry VPN both at home and when traveling.

Conclusion

In total, blocking access to Netflix for those who use a VPN is reasonable, correct and legal on the part of the streaming service. But it turns out that a user who is willing to pay honestly for viewing content still can’t watch a long-awaited movie or TV series. And he simply has no choice. Either it supports the rules imposed by Netflix, or it finds a way to bypass the block. And VPN in this regard— the best choice.

Author: Nicolas Cuts

Product Managers at SwitcherryVPN. Have 5 years background in management and marketing. I never stop learning!

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