ISP Blocking Websites? Here’s What to Do

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What’s going on?

Mobile and broadband Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have created filters to stop under 18s from seeing harmful content online. Unfortunately, filters block many harmless websites by mistake – even sites that are aimed at children! Often website owners don’t know that this is happening.

Around 3.5 million households have filters switched on, through choice, or by default. In addition, many mobile phone users have filters enabled as they are on by default.

We need people to use this tool to check and report sites that shouldn’t be filtered. Not only will you be helping website owners, you will also increase transparency about filters by helping us to get a clearer picture about overblocking.

ISP Blocking Websites? Here’s What to Do

isp blocking websites

Got a feeling you’re dealing with an ISP blocking websites? Don’t doubt your gut instinct. It happens pretty often – both in places with oppressive regimes and in democratic countries.

We’ll tell you everything you need to know about ISPs blocking websites in this guide – how they do it, how to tell if they’re doing it, and how to remove ISP blocking.

Table of contents

  1. Can ISPs Block Websites?
  2. How ISPs Block Websites
  3. How to Check If ISP Is Blocking Websites
  4. Why Is My ISP Blocking a Website?
  5. How to Remove ISP Blocking
  6. Can ISPs Ban Unblocking Tools?

Can ISPs Block Websites?

Yes, they actually can. If anyone tells you they can’t, they don’t know how Internet connections work.

Here’s the thing – when you visit a website, your connection goes through your ISP. It has to, otherwise you wouldn’t have web access.

So instead of this:

Your Device → Website

Your connection looks like this:

Your Device → ISP Network → Website

Because of that, they can easily decide which websites you’re allowed to communicate with and which ones you can’t visit.

ISP Blocking Websites vs. Geo-Blocks

Don’t get the two confused. If you visit a website, and you get a message telling you the content isn’t available in your area, that’s geo-blocking, not ISP blocking websites.

Here’s an example of how such a message looks like:

To learn how to bypass geo-blocks, go to our complete guide detailing what they are, how they work, and how to get around them.

How ISPs Block Websites

As far as we can tell, ISPs can use three methods:

1. Firewalls

Firewalls allow ISPs (and other network admins) to control how traffic flows over their network. Basically, your ISP establishes inbound and outbound traffic rules, and the firewall enforces them.

If such a rule says nobody on their network can connect to Facebook, all outbound/inbound connections to/from that site are automatically blocked by the firewall.

And like we showed you at the start, all your connections go through your ISP’s network. So you have to play by their rules.

Plus, firewalls work on an IP basis too. And your ISP is the one who assigns you your IP address. So when you use it to visit the web, the firewall traffic rules automatically apply to you.

2. DNS Filtering

When you type a website’s name in your browser’s URL bar and hit enter, this is what happens in the background:

  • The browser asks your ISP for the site’s IP address.
  • The ISP uses their DNS server (which acts like an Internet “phonebook) to find the IP address corresponding to the website’s name.
  • The ISP returns the site’s IP address, and your browser connects to it.

If there were no ISP DNS server, you’d have to type in the website’s IP address in the URL bar. Which is just extremely inconvenient, let’s be honest.

But, unfortunately, that also gives your ISP control over your DNS queries. If they want to block a site, they just configure their DNS server to return an invalid IP address.

For example, let’s say they want to block Facebook. Instead of returning Facebook’s IP address (185.60.218.35), your ISP’s DNS server would return an IP address that doesn’t work or leads to a blank page or landing page that tells you why you can’t access the site.

Alternatively, they could just tell the DNS server to ignore all requests that ask for Facebook’s IP address.

3. DPI (Deep Packet Inspection)

DPI is a network analysis method that allows ISPs to analyze your data packets. They could use software like Wireshark which means they’d see something like this when looking at your traffic:

We’re not saying they’re 100% using Wireshark. We’re just using it as an example to show you how DPI might work and how your network traffic might look like on your ISP’s end.

With DPI, your ISP would be able to see:

  • Your unencrypted DNS queries (what websites you want to connect to).
  • The HTTPS SNI (Server Name Indication), which shows them the name of the site you want to access. So even if you’re using HTTPS sites which encrypt your traffic, your ISP can still see what sites and web pages you visit.

With that information, they can then use DNS filtering and firewalls to block the sites you’re trying to access.

How to Check If ISP Is Blocking Websites

For starters, if you see messages like these ones when connecting to a site:

There’s a chance you’re dealing with ISP censorship. It’s not a guarantee, though, so here’s what else you can do to check if your ISP is blocking sites:

  • Use mobile data instead of your network. If your mobile plan is from a different provider, and you’re able to access the sites you want, your ISP is blocking sites.
  • Try using this online tool – Down for Everyone or Just Me. Alternatively, try googling “[site name] + status.”
  • If you have friends or family who are abroad or use a different ISP, ask them to verify if the site you’re trying to connect to works.
  • If none of those tips are valid options for you, you’ll have to leave your home, go to the nearest place that offers public WiFi (which doesn’t belong to your ISP), connect to their network, and see if the site works or not. If it does, your ISP is definitely blocking websites.

Why Is My ISP Blocking a Website?

It’s hard to say. There could be any number of reasons. In our opinion, this is why ISPs might block websites:

  • They use security systems that consider the websites malicious. Or they themselves think certain domains are bad news.
  • The government forces them to do that. This is usually the case in countries with oppressive regimes like China and Turkmenistan.
  • The country’s laws contribute to ISPs blocking sites. For example, pornographic, gambling, or torrenting sites might be illegal.
  • They have a problem with the site you and other users are browsing. We haven’t found any instances of this actually happening, though. In those situations, they’d throttle your bandwidth instead.

If none of that applies to your situations, you could always call and ask them.

How to Remove ISP Blocking

Okay, so now you know that your ISP blocking websites is a possibility. And you know how they might do it.

But what can you do to bypass their blocking methods?

Here’s what our research and tests show:

Basic Fixes

We’ll start with these tips because they’re pretty simple, and you don’t need to do much to try them out. And unlike the other things we’ll discuss, these tips don’t include third-party services you need to buy and/or install.

So, let’s get started:

  • First, try accessing the site with its IP address instead of its URL. If your ISP uses DNS filtering or only blocked the URL, you should be able to unblock the site. To find a site’s IP address, just use the ping command (“ping [site name]”) in the Command Prompt (Windows) or Terminal (macOS).
  • If you have unlimited mobile data and you’re okay with browsing blocked sites on your phone, use that if it works. If your smartphone is good enough, you might even be able to create a hotspot and connect your devices to it. Don’t expect very fast speeds, though.
  • Change your DNS address to avoid DNS filtering. Try these ones:
    • OpenDNS: 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220.
    • Google Public DNS: 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4.
    • Cloudflare DNS: 1.1.1.1.

    If those tips don’t work, move on to our other recommendations.

    Use a VPN

    VPNs are online tools that hide your IP address and encrypt your traffic. The “hide your IP address” will be of interest to you in this case. That’s the feature that lets you circumvent ISPs blocking websites.

    1. First, you subscribe to a VPN service, then download and install its app.
    2. Then, you connect to a VPN server. Any server would do in this case.
    3. Next, the server and app will negotiate and establish an encrypted connection between them.
    4. From then on, when you visit a site, all your requests will go to it through the VPN server. Similarly, all the site’s content will come to your device through the server. It’s basically a middleman between you and the web.
    5. Because of that, your ISP’s firewall will no longer be able to regulate your web access. All your web surfing is done through the server’s IP address. And that address doesn’t have any firewall restrictions linked to it.

    What’s more, VPNs will normally have their own DNS servers too. So besides bypassing firewalls, you can also get around DNS filtering.

    Oh, and DPI and bandwidth throttling won’t be a problem anymore since VPNs encrypt your traffic end-to-end. So your ISP can’t see what sites and web pages you browse.

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    Use a Proxy

    A proxy server works just like a VPN – it intercepts and forwards your requests to websites, hiding your IP address in the process.

    However, proxies don’t offer strong encryption like VPNs. So you’re susceptible to DPI. Also, they usually don’t include DNS servers, so DNS filtering will be a problem too.

    On the plus side, weak encryption means you’ll get better speeds than with a VPN – as long as you don’t use a free online proxy, that is. Those services get overcrowded fast and use bandwidth caps, so slow speeds are the norm.

    Instead of paying for a standalone proxy, consider just getting a CactusVPN subscription. For that price, you don’t just get a VPN, but also servers that double as proxies (at no extra cost).

    Use Tor

    Tor (The Onion Router) is an online tool that also hides your IP address and encrypts your traffic. But it does it a bit differently than a VPN or proxy.

    Basically, with Tor, your traffic bounces around different servers (usually three) before reaching the site you want to visit. Tor hides your IP address that way, helping you circumvent ISP blocking websites.

    What’s more, Tor also encrypts your traffic multiple times. So you get more layers of security.

    However, Tor does have some drawbacks that don’t exactly make it the most secure privacy tool out there.

    Besides shady backing and some IP leaks, there’s also the speed issue: they’re too slow, to be exact. There are only around 6,000 servers, and a little over two million users. So yeah, not looking good.

    Can ISPs Ban Unblocking Tools?

    You might have seen articles and heard people saying they can’t.

    Well, we hate to be the bearers of bad news, but they definitely can do that. They need to actively check for their usage, of course, but it’s a possibility.

    Normally, they’d use DPI to detect VPN traffic (particularly OpenVPN), and just block the IP address you’re connecting to. We’re not 100% sure if DPI works for Tor traffic, but there are other services that can single it out (like Plixer or CapLoader).

    They can also use DPI to see if you’re using third-party DNS servers, and then just drop your connections to them.

    As for proxies, most of them have weak or no encryption. So your ISP can easily analyze your data packets to see what sites you’re visiting.

    And besides all that, ISPs could just work with companies that provide information about IP addresses (like MaxMind and IP2Location). They have databases full of VPN and proxy IP addresses (maybe Tor too, but those are public anyway), and can also offer access to scripts that automatically block them.

    What Can You Do?

    If your ISP blocks proxy, VPN, and Tor IP addresses, the easiest way around that is to connect to a different server. You’ll get a new IP address that way.

    Of course, if they keep blocking all the IPs you connect to until there are no servers left, you’re unfortunately out of luck.

    If they drop your DNS queries, try switching to a different third-party DNS provider. Though, it won’t be hard for them to realize what you did, and drop those queries too. The best thing you can do is enable DoH to encrypt your DNS queries. Here’s how to do it on most browsers. And if you’re a CactusVPN user, check out our DoH step-by-step tutorials.

    Also, only use VPNs that offer obfuscation. That way, you can hide your OpenVPN traffic from DPI detection. With CactusVPN, you can use obfsproxy on multiple platforms to do that. You can also use other protocols, but they use dedicated ports which give them away. So your ISP will know you’re using a VPN.

    Did You Ever Have to Deal with an ISP Blocking Websites?

    If yes, what did you do to circumvent the block? Also, did you find out why they were blocking those sites to begin with?

    Go ahead and tell us your story in the comments. And if you really liked this article, don’t forget to share it with your friends or on social media.

    Why Do ISP’s Block Websites? How to Bypass It?

    Internet service providers (ISPs) block websites for a variety of reasons. Most of the reasons boil down to a new regulation or passed laws to protect copyrights. Of course, not all website blocking is problematic. Some websites, especially on the dark web, enable illegal activity to take place without any checks. Similar websites on the clear web (normal internet) get blocked as quickly as ISPs are able to act. However, in almost all cases, ISPs overstep the mark. Because of the increasing number of rules of what is considered bad content, ISPs end up restricting user access to websites that are actually useful. This is where government censorship programs step in and take content monitoring to the next level.

    Apart from the obvious reasons why ISPs block websites, different ISPs make use of different methods to block websites. While most ISPs use sophisticated firewalls to block access to websites, there are other ways as well. Many of the newer methods will be discussed in the coming sections. Fortunately for online users, there are multiple ways to unblock websites that ISPs block. Among the top methods to unblock blocked websites include the use of a VPN, SmartDNS, and proxy services. VPNs probably offer the most straightforward way to unblock websites.

    Why is My ISP Blocking Websites?

    Table of Contents

    Why Do ISP’s Block Websites?

    Internet service providers are blocking websites all over the world. To understand why, readers should first understand that ISPs are businesses, and as businesses, ISPs have to comply with the laws of the country in which the service is incorporated. Using rules and regulations, governments can sometimes force internet service providers to block specific websites. Another reason why ISPs have started to block more websites is IPTV, or more specifically, the popularity of IPTV. IPTV services aren’t illegal. But many IPTV providers broadcast content from channels without licenses. ISPs block such IPTV websites and services. The same goes for websites that offer copyrighted material without prior permission from the creators of the content. Such websites include the majority of torrent websites, links websites like Megaupload, and third-party streaming websites like 9anime, fmovies, and 123movies.

    An image featuring blocked websites concept

    Internet service providers also have to block websites that may offer content going against the traditions and cultural values of the country the service is based in. Such websites include the ones that offer explicit content for free, malicious websites and phishing websites. Depending on cultural values, ISPs may also block streaming sites like YouTube and Twitch for potentially harmful content. Another reason why ISPs may block websites is to thwart competition. More specifically, there is nothing stopping ISPs from making access to a competitor ISP’s website slower, more difficult and outright impossible. If an ISP recognizes that a website is the source of illegal activities then that website may be blocked. Then there are sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. Such services are legal and offer legitimate content. But because of distribution rights, ISPs may be asked to block access to such websites.

    How Do ISP’s Block Websites?

    The main method ISPs use to block websites is via a firewall. Network administrators and internet service providers use firewall applications to control the flow of traffic passing through a given network. Using a firewall to block websites is as simple as setting outbound and inbound traffic rules. Once properly configured, the firewall implements the rules and blocks websites. For example, an ISP may decide that because of the misinformation on platforms such as Facebook, all access should be denied. A firewall will automatically block all inbound and outbound connections from and to Facebook for any user on the ISP’s network. Since ISPs own the network the user is accessing to consume content on the internet, there is little to be done to get around such problems. Another example is that of the Great Firewall of China which has blocked websites in China effectively for more than a decade.

    An image featuring a secure firewall on PC concept

    Another method ISPs use to block websites is DNS filtering. To understand DNS filtering, users should know that every time there is a request to access a website, the browser has to talk to the ISP. The ISP can then use services such as DNS servers to look up the IP address of the website requested by the user. After a name is matched with an IP address, the ISP’s DNS server responds with the correct IP address. The user’s browser connects to the IP address. This is how ISPs control responses to DNS queries. To block a website, all ISPs have to do is to respond with an invalid IP address to a DNS request. Perhaps the most advanced technique is DPI or Deep Packet Inspection. ISPs can now analyze individual data packets.

    ISPs can monitor the user’s traffic down to the minute of details such as DNS queries, and HTTP SNI.

    How to Unblock Websites That My ISP Blocks? (Bypass ISP Restrictions)

    No matter the technique an ISP uses to block a website, there are methods to bypass ISP restrictions easily. The top three ways to unblock websites that any ISP blocks are given below:

    VPN

    For the modern online user, VPNs are just privacy apps that hide the user’s IP address and encrypt traffic. VPNs also change the IP address of the user depending on the server connected to. By changing the IP address and hiding internet traffic, users can block ISPs from knowing anything about the user’s browsing habits. The steps to follow to use a VPN to unblock websites that an ISP blocks are given below:

    1. Pick a VPN service and then subscribe for a package by visiting the official website of the desired VPN service.

    An image featuring how to unblock a website using NordVPN step1

    1. Download the VPN app for the desired device and/or platform from the official website.

    An image featuring how to unblock a website using NordVPN step2

    1. Install the VPN app.

    An image featuring how to unblock a website using NordVPN step3

    1. Launch the VPN app and input login credentials. The login credentials are mostly created during the registration process. If not, then check the welcome email the VPN sends to the registered email address.

    An image featuring how to unblock a website using NordVPN step4

    An image featuring how to unblock a website using NordVPN step4a

    1. Connect to an appropriate VPN server. Normally, a VPN server in a country with the least restrictions is suitable. The ideal server will depend on the website that needs to be unblocked. Generally, servers in the UK, the US, and Canada unblock most websites.

    An image featuring how to unblock a website using NordVPN step5

    1. Once a successful connection has been made with a server, the VPN app will encrypt the connection and inform the user. Then launch a web browser of choice.

    An image featuring opening Google Chrome on Windows 10 screenshot

    1. Try to visit the previously blocked website by typing the address in the web browser’s URL bar. The contents of the website should load normally.

    Since all of the user’s web browser activity will be linked to the server connected to, there is no way for the ISP to use firewall rules on a remote server’s IP address. Most elite VPNs also come with customized DNS servers. That means the user doesn’t even have to use the ISP DNS server to resolve DNS queries. In this way, techniques such as DNS filtering become ineffective at blocking websites. Because of VPN encryption, advanced techniques such as Deep Packet Inspection also fail because the ISP cannot decipher the contents of the user’s data packets.

    An image featuring VPN Virtual Private Network infographic concept

    Proxy

    Proxy services are also helpful when unblocking websites. Even though VPNs offer more advanced options, proxy services are light and usually do not require any installation. Just like VPNs, proxy services take the user’s DNS requests and forwards the information to website servers. All the while, the user’s real IP address is hidden. Proxy services do not encrypt the user’s internet connection. Because of that, some ISPs may still be able to block websites with techniques such as DPI and others. But Proxy services make up for the lack of advanced security features with better speeds and economical packages (if any as most proxy services are free). The steps to take to use a proxy service to unblock a website are given below:

    1. There is no need to purchase a subscription (in most cases) or download an app. Just go to the official website of the desired proxy service via any web browser.
    2. Once there, use the URL bar provided to go to the blocked website with help from a proxy server. Some proxy services require the user to explicitly press the Go button on the official website instead of the keyboard enter key.
    3. Enjoy new content.

    An image featuring proxy server security concept

    As mentioned before, a proxy service is a simple solution to bypass website blocking tools. However, proxy services sometimes don’t work.

    SmartDNS

    SmartDNS services work pretty much the same way as VPNs and proxy services. Essentially, smart DNS services intercept the user’s internet traffic and re-route the data through a proxy server located in a country of choice. The proxy server is mostly owned by the Smart DNS service. If the website in question is not blocked in the country where the proxy server exists, then the user can access the content on that website. If the website is still blocked, then SmartDNs services provide options such as servers in other locations to try and unblock the desired website. The user can continue to change locations from the comfort of the home until the website gets unblocked. Using smart DNS services is easy. The steps to unblock websites via SmartDNS services are given below:

    1. There is no need to install any app or extension to use SmartDNS services. Simply go to the official website of the SmartDNS to start things off.
    2. Sign up for a package.
    3. Note down the DNS settings from the official website.
    4. Go to the device that will be using the SmartDNS service and go to the Settings menu.
    5. From there change DNS settings.
    6. Depending on the location, the SmartDNS configuration information will change.
    7. Unblock the website and enjoy new content. To unblock a site like Netflix, users will first change the DNS settings on the device, use the DNS server address from the official smartDNS website, log in to Netflix and start streaming.

    An image featuring two people configuring private DNS servers concept

    What’s the Best VPN for Unblocking Websites?

    The best VPNs for unblocking websites are the ones with lots of servers, locations, dedicated apps and powerful encryption. Some VPNs offer advanced features like double VPN, dedicated IP address, RAM-only servers, money-back guarantees and zero logs. All these features make a VPN better at unblocking websites. The best VPN for unblocking websites are:

    1. NordVPN:
      • Double VPN
      • Tor Over VPN
      • AES 256-bit encryption
      • Zero logs
      • Live chat support
      • Fast servers
      • RAM-only servers
      • NordLynx protocol support
      • 5000+ servers
      • Over 60 locations
    2. SurfShark:
      • Unlimited simultaneous devices
      • Huge discounts on longer subscription packages
      • AES 256-bit encryption
      • Zero logs with audit reports
      • Fast servers
      • Ability to consistently unblock popular websites
      • Powerful security tools
      • Cryptocurrency support as payment method for more privacy
      • 3200+ servers
      • 100+ locations
    3. ExpressVPN:
      • 3000+ servers
      • 160+ locations
      • Unlimited Switches
      • IP address masking
      • Fast dedicated apps
      • Split Tunneling
      • TrustedServer
      • Network Lock
      • Private DNS
      • Zero logs
      • AES 256-bit encryption

    How to Tell if Your ISP is Blocking Websites

    There are many ways to tell if the internet service provider in question has blocked a given website. The first thing to do is to check the error message that appears when the website is accessed. If the internet is working and the website address is correct, then entering the website multiple times over a short period should fix any connection problems. If not, then that is a strong sign the ISP has blocked the website. Sometimes, ISPs put up a notice in the form of a webpage which is shown to users whenever a blocked website is accessed. The notice informs the user that the given website is prohibited for access in the country. There are times when website owners or a specific government program is blocking the website instead of the ISP in question. Trying to access the same website via mobile data is another way to tell if the ISP is blocking a given website. If the ISP is not blocking the website, then the attempt to access the website via mobile data should be successful.

    Following that, websites such as isitdownorjust.me and isup.me are very good at identifying the problem with the given website. Such websites tell the user if the website is down only for one user (that is, the user accessing the tool) or for everybody. If the website is down for everybody then that is a clear sign the ISP is not blocking the given website. Another simple way to check if the ISP is blocking a given website is to use a proxy server to try and access the website. If the proxy server is able to open the website just fine, then that means the ISP may be blocking the website.

    Matthew is an avid technology, security, and privacy enthusiast while also a fully qualified mechanical engineer. I love to see the crossover between these two fields. When he’s not working or studying he can be found fishing, playing guitar, playing video games, or building something.