Monday, 16 June 2008

Geospoofing: PickAProxy review - how to appear to be from elsewhere when browsing

Do you want a website you're visiting to think you're from a different geographic location than your real one?

It's actually quite easy to achieve this "geospoofing", and pretend that you (or rather your web browser) are from the USA (or the UK, if you prefer) well enough to fool the site you're visiting into thinking that's true.

To do this I like the free service, which lets you use their proxy servers which they've configured to use the open source Tor anonymity network in a clever way. Their service works with all common browsers: IE, Firefox, Opera, Safari and Konqueror. You can use it for 1 hour a day.

The key is the info given in the right hand sidebar of the PickAProxy site, for example:
  • "To get a selection of proxies that are only in the USA, change your "proxy" settings to point to and specify port 8125
  • For the UK, use and port 8126"
Check out their sidebar for more locations you can spoof, e.g. France, Russia, China...

All you need to do is tweak your browser settings according to their information. And yes, you can tweak IE so that when you're browsing on that, sites will think you're from the USA (or whatever), whereas if you browse via Firefox and haven't tweaked it, sites won't think that and will identify your real general location!

Here's a howto for Internet Explorer 7 (6 will be similar, you may just need to get to the options in a different way).

Internet Explorer - how to geospoof using PickAProxy

  1. Go to the menu Tools, Internet Options, the Connections tab.

  2. If you're on broadband, click LAN settings, outlined in red in the pic above.

  3. You get the following box. Under Proxy server, tick "Use a proxy server for your LAN", then click Advanced:

  4. That takes you to the Proxy Settings. Under Servers, for both Proxy address and Port (and for both types HTTP and Secure), before you go any further make a careful note of what is currently filled in under both HTTP and Secure, e.g. localhost and 8118; you'll need this to revert back later. Then, just fill in the details from according to the geographical location you want to pretend your computer is at, e.g. I'd use and 8125 to spoof being from the USA, and then OK it.

  5. Best to tick "Bypass proxy server for local addresses" (it's not shown as ticked below, but tick it!) before you tick OK, then OK again all the way back out:

  6. If you're on dial-up, in the Tools, Internet Options, Connections tab just click on the name of your dialup connection in the "Dial-up and Virtual Private Network Settings" section, then click Settings (outlined in yellow in the screenshot in step 1), and then follow steps 4 and 5, and OK everything.

  7. You should change it all back after 1 hour. PickAProxy ask that you limit your use of the service to 1 hour a day - it's free, so I think that's fair enough, but also their service may stop working for you after an hour and you may not be able to browse after that, so you'd better change it back! (I imagine at some point maybe they'll offer a paid-for service that lets subscribers use it for as long as they like?) Anyway, in order to revert to normal, just repeat the above steps, but when you get to step 4, fill in the original settings you'd noted earlier and OK all the way back (my settings were localhost for the address and 8118 for the port, but yours may be different).

How to geospoof using Firefox

With Firefox, you get to the settings differently, but the principles are the same:
  1. Go to menu Tools, Options, Advanced then the Network tab, and choose Settings:

  2. Click "Manual proxy configuration" and fill in the proxy address and port details from the PickAProxy site, depending on where you want to spoof, and again make sure "No proxy for" includes localhost.

  3. To revert after an hour, repeat step 1, but in step 2 the easiest is just to select "Direct connection" at the top instead, and OK everything.

How to geospoof using Opera

I won't include any more screenshots, you get the drift.

I'll just say that in Opera you'd use the menu Tools, Preferences, Advanced, Network, Proxy servers - then tick HTTP and HTTPS, fill in the proxy server and port details and OK everything. And revert back in an hour, etc.

Warning: geospoofing doesn't secure total privacy

Geospoofing is also, in a way, a method of "anonymous" web browsing, an "anonymiser". But only to the extent that it hides your ultimate point of origin from the sites you visit with the browser that you've tweaked.

PickAProxy only hides where you originally came from, not who you are, not the content of your surfing. If you go to a site and then login or fill in a form, or say anything there which indicates your identity or any of your personal details, you won't of course be anonymous to the site!

(Triggered by a recent tweet on Twitter by Broadstuff lamenting his loss of access to the Pandora music service, which now only allows access to people in the USA. Geospoofing may well also work for people in the USA wanting to use the BBC iPlayer. But I should warn you that services like those probably ban geospoofing, implicitly if not explicitly, so you may get into trouble or get blocked or banned etc if you try it for those purposes!)

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