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How do streaming sites block VPNs?

How do streaming sites block VPNs?
(Image credit: Sky)

Using the best VPN is a great way to get around regional restrictions on streaming sites such as Netflix, Hulu, or BBC iPlayer. But these service providers have long been savvy to this and employ a variety of tactics to prevent people taking advantage.

A VPN allows you to watch content from other countries or keep up with your favorite shows from home while traveling abroad. Using a VPN is also a good way to protect your online privacy, especially if you’re streaming on public or untrusted Wi-Fi networks. If you plan on using one to stream content from a different country, we recommend taking a look at our pick of the top streaming VPN services.

In this article, we discuss the most common methods streaming sites use to block VPNs, so you can learn more about how to safeguard access to your favorite movies and shows— wherever you are in the world.

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Deep packet inspection (DPI)

DPI is an advanced method used by streaming services like Netflix to look out for incoming network activity from a VPN. If the DPI reveals that traffic is coming from a VPN and not a regular internet connection, it will block your access to the website.

This is similar to the tech employed by China to restrict Internet access (check out our guide to the best China VPN for more), and the best way to get around being blocked by DPI is to make VPN activity look like regular traffic.

Many VPN services are well aware that streaming sites are using DPI and already take steps to further encrypt and disguise their activity. If you’re struggling to access blocked streaming services, you may need to switch to a higher quality VPN that’s specialized in streaming.

Blocking VPN IPs

Blocking the IP addresses used by VPNs is another common way for streaming websites to prevent access to their services. A streaming service provider can simply find out what IP addresses a VPN server is using and prevent them from accessing the site.

The best way to get around IP blocking is to choose a quality VPN that frequently updates the IP addresses that it uses. By regularly changing these details, VPNs make it much harder for streaming sites to keep up with—and block—new address information.

Some VPN providers also offer their customers the option to use a dedicated IP address with their VPN, often at an extra cost. This can help you get around a block on streaming services because steady traffic from one IP address is less likely to be flagged as suspicious—but it does sacrifice some of the anonymity provided by shared IP addresses.

How do streaming sites block VPNs?

(Image credit: Future)

GPS detection

While DPI and IP blocking are the most common ways for websites to prevent access to their services, it’s also possible for some sites to view and compare your GPS data with your IP address. If your GPS places you in a different spot than the VPN server you’ve chosen, you’ll be flagged as a VPN user and potentially blocked.

Some VPN services allow you to spoof—or fake—your GPS location, in addition to rerouting your internet activity. By spoofing your location with a fake GPS VPN, you’ll appear to be in the same place as your VPN server, and will be able to get around the few VPN blockers that use this tactic.

Bottom line

If you’re using a VPN, the best defense against being blocked from accessing streaming websites is to invest in a high-quality option. If you currently use a free VPN, a safe bet for gaining access to all the streaming content you want is to upgrade to a paid service, like ExpressVPN, NordVPN, or Surfshark.

When shopping for a paid VPN, you’ll want to look for one which constantly acquires new IP addresses to get around IP blocking, and one that uses a high level of encryption such as the option to use obfuscated VPN servers to overcome DPI.

Streaming service providers are incentivized to find new ways of blocking access to their content, meaning Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and the rest are constantly adapting their methods of spotting VPN traffic. For that reason, it’s also important to choose a VPN provider with robust customer service. That way, you should be able to gain access again if you find yourself blocked by a streaming website.

What do we recommend?

ExpressVPN stands out from the competition in terms of price, features, and value. With over 3,000 servers in nearly 100 countries, all the security features necessary, blazing connection speeds, and reliable access to multiple streaming services, ExpressVPN is an excellent choice for those after security with no compromises.

While some users may prefer certain features of other top VPNs, it’s the best overall option for most users – and now Tom’s Guide readers can claim three months absolutely free.View Deal