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How to get around government curbs on the Internet

Government curbs on websites happen all the time across the globe, but there's a simple workaround for most blocks. (Tweet this story.)

This month Turkish government became the latest to try to limit what its citizens can see online. Turkey temporarily blocked Twitter, Facebook and Youtube (owned by Google) after the sites posted images of a government prosecutor being held at gunpoint by militants. A Turkish court called the images "propaganda."

Turkey's not alone; the practice is common across the world, with countries such as China blocking off large chunks of the Internet as a matter of course.

"These government blocks happen all the time," said Charles Tendell, founder and CEO of Azorian Cyber Security. "Luckily, there are tools that people can download to get around them."


Method 1: VPN

Turkey is easier than China, said Robert Hansen, VP of WhiteHat Labs at WhiteHat Security.

"In (the Turkish) case, the government is not blocking the actual connection, just the name server resolution," he said, "so a regular person with very simple instructions could do it on their computer with existing software."

That software is a VPN program, which can be downloaded easily online or through the Apple or Google store. VPN stands for virtual private network, and it lets people connect to a private network that runs on servers located in another country.

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Some VPN services are free, and some are not. Well-known programs that experts generally consider trustworthy include Disconnect, GoldenFrog and AnchorFree. They can be installed on phones, computers or tablets.

Facebook Inc. users in China, blocked by firewalls in the country, are seeing a growing number of so-called Virtual Private Network services to circumvent censors in the world's biggest Internet market.
Nelson Ching | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Facebook Inc. users in China, blocked by firewalls in the country, are seeing a growing number of so-called Virtual Private Network services to circumvent censors in the world's biggest Internet market.

The following step is important because it's how users can ensure that they're accessing the Internet from an IP address that is actually different than they're own, which is the whole point.

Go to http://whatismyip.com and write down your IP address. When you turn on the VPN software, go back to that website and verify that the address has changed. Once you are accessing the Internet from a different IP address, you're good to go and will be able to get into websites that the government is blocking.

But Hansen added an important caveat: It's possible for authorities to determine that a machine has used a VPN by physically inspecting it.

Method 2: Tor

Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, recommended using a program called Tor, an open network software program that lets users surf the web anonymously. Epstein suggested putting the program on a flash drive or SD card rather than on hardware.

"That way, even if your computer is inspected, there will be no sign of Tor on it," he told CNBC.

Once in the program, double-click on "Start Tor Browser" to open a special version of Firefox that gives secure access to any website. Tor works by relaying users' request to visit a site through multiple computers around the world. To speed up that process, click on the tools tab in the upper-left corner of the browser and "change your identity" to reroute and thus get faster access.

"No matter what country you are in, if you want to preserve your privacy online, you should probably never go directly to Google.com through a conventional browser," he said. A proxy from Google known as http://startpage.com is, along with Tor, "for almost anyone, anywhere, the safest ways to access the Internet at the moment."

Reuters contributed to this report.