How to bypass BT family filter and why it is wrong in the first instance

On December 13th 2013 the UK internet provider BT switched on its network filtering system for all new customers. The purpose of the filter is to protect children from unsuitable content when online. The process is simple and when the internet is accessed for the first time the account holder needs to decide if they wish to filter their internet at a network level and at what severity from none at all to strict.

For existing customers this process will be rolled out in 2014 and again those users will need to decide if they are to filter unsuitable content or allow it.

Now in theory the system sounds a good idea and it allows every responsible adult to decide, based upon their personal or family circumstances, if the filter is required. In reality the system is heavily flawed and intrusive. Firstly we are now entering a phase in which teenagers of today are the first generation to never have experienced a world before the internet, or at least the commercial internet that is used by “ordinary” people. This means that although many of them still do not understand the workings behind what they use, they are in general more tech savvy than their internet illiterate parents. The situation will arise that when a teenager finds a block to something they will automatically look for a way around this block.

Take for example drinking or smoking, although there are laws in place to stop under age children from doing either of these, in many countries around the world there are teenagers drinking and smoking regardless. A law against shops serving under age customers is in place for these types of products but teenagers will always find a way around such systems such as asking another (ir)responsible adult to purchase the products they require on their behalf, fake identity cards, older siblings or friends older siblings, stealing from their parents supplies etc, etc. The list is endless and shows although there is a good system in place that when someone wishes to avoid said system then it is entirely possible.

What is being introduced will lead to a mass of people seeking ways to side step either the blocks in place or acceptance of the system at all and in the second instance, rightly so. By default, accepting no filter automatically puts you in a band of people under suspicion of wanting to access adult content when this may not be the case. The second and most dangerous failure of such a system is we are introducing a technological baby-sitter for the British child population. The solution for a safe internet experience has and always will be good parenting, this includes only allowing access to the internet in rooms which can be supervised by an adult, keeping tabs on and checking up on what your children are doing online by regularly watching their activities and mainly by supervision and good education of the dangers. With this “technological baby-sitter” it is creating a system of complacency amongst non technical minded parents that just because a filter is in place that they are now free to allow little Charlie or Tarquin free access to the internet because a sense of safety has been installed that could be misguided.

Technical solutions have been in place since the late 90’s when countries such as the USA lead the way in home internet access, countless programs are able to filter unsuitable content already and products such as Kasperksy Internet Security and others are already able to do such a job. There was a system in development at the same time that could analyse the amount of “skin” of a certain image file and flag it as inappropriate. Although all these systems are available non are fool proof and with the introduction of a network filter should come great concern that we are allowing a technical solution to become the norm over good parenting skills. Rather than the government force a system upon people which will give a false sense of security to win votes from middle England surely a better solution would be to better educate adults regarding the dangers and solutions to policing their child’s internet activity?

Now while parents sit back gleeful in the knowledge that they can take their foot off the gas and let the BT baby sitter safeguard their children, there are many ways around such a system and these are not hidden, nor are they considered underground solutions. A simple way to avoid such a filter is called a Virtual Private Network aka a VPN. The basic premise of such a system is it opens up an encrypted connection to a third party computer located elsewhere which then allows you to access the internet via their connection. So it a nutshell you’re sending your requests directly to another computer which because it is encrypted is basically invisible to your internet provider, this means that an ISP like BT will not know what you’re doing and the third party computer located elsewhere will be the one who is serving you the content. In the context of this article that content could be adult material and because the computer you connect to can be located anywhere it can fall outside of the UK jurisdiction meaning any requirement by your ISP or government won’t be valid.

Take our video example below, this is a mock set-up of how easy it is to bypass any such restrictions put in place in the first instance or blocked by any such filter afterwards. In this example we connect to a company called LiquidVPN on their server in The Netherlands and as such put ourselves outside the scope of the BT family filter even though we could be a BT customer.

Certain people may feel it irresponsible to show such an easy system to bypass such restrictions but these solutions as said earlier are not underground and it would be unwise for a non-technical minded parent to assume that because they have enabled such a family filter that the internet is then somehow locked down completely. As can be see from the mock video above I hope that it goes some way to explain to those such parents that a simple bypass is entirely possible. Other possible bypass solutions will be available.

  • Mr_Stelio_Kontos

    ‘Certain people may feel it irresponsible to show such an easy system to bypass such restrictions’ Don’t worry, there are far more people who feel it is irresponsible for parents to expect someone else to take responsibility for what their children get up to on the internet.

    • VPNCompare

      Good point, appreciated 🙂

  • SJ

    I couldn’t agree more that the BT parental controls are a bad idea. I was born in 1992 and internet came to my household as dial-up when I was about eleven and there were filters at place at school (to much frustration) but not on the home network. I have had to learn all my lessons of the internet by personal experience or articles. I do not see this as a bad thing. I know far more about the internet than the rest of my family put together – and am far more aware of its risks too, by knowing what and where they are and not just the blind fear of it my parents display.

    My laptop doesn’t get viruses on it, on my unrestricted internet in my flat. My mum’s computer is slowed down by conflicting anti-virus software and malware which got around the filters and controls (conflicting anti-virus software was also not kept up to date). Malicious software is meant to bypass the protection systems these anti virus and telco companies make. Mum doesn’t know this, neither does she want to learn. Uninformed parents are letting fear predominate their technological decisions. Their ignorance leads to their children being unprepared for the adult internet world which has not been wrapped in cotton-wool blocker-pages.

    I understand the need to filter pages for the very young children who did not grow up in the world before net-connected electronics, as I did. Children these days increasingly are denied the physical freedom of playing on their streets, so turn to the internet as a means of being occupied. However, at some point they need to learn how to use the internet properly and responsibly. How can they do so, being so controlled by their parents?

    • VPNCompare

      Excellent comment, thank you very much for taking the time to write, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and it goes to show that filters are not the answer to a problem.

      As someone who grew up with computers and the internet albeit a decade before you, I went through a similar situation when the internet came in to force in the early 90’s, no filter was in place, nor was that to the detriment of my upbringing. I think I have a better more well rounded view of the internet and its dangers because of this.

      • Alex

        I Very much agree with what was said. Putting my tin hat on here… But I do wonder whether certain “parties” involved have helped in putting this through are seeing a way to allow easy censorship. A much better idea would be to provide a set of black/white lists (which must have already been provided to set this system up in the first place) so that vendors could implement them alongside the already offered ones. That and education…

        Just because technology illiterates want an easy way to provide a safer experience for their kids (which I’m totally okay with) doesn’t mean that I should be forced to use the same system and forego my right to choose how I use the internet. From what I understand ISPs are effectively hijacking a DNS request and returning a result masquerading as that server, despite obtaining their result from their own servers. As a professional in the field I like using my own DNS servers that are better and faster than BT’s offering and being able to query different servers for debugging. I have no untoward intentions, but I feel like I’m being treated like a child, despite knowing more about this than the politicians who passed this!

        • VPNCompare

          I completely agree with you Alex. You raise some good and valid points. I also question who was consulted and how like you say are politicians qualified to pass judgement on this. Obviously they listen to a qualified body but why are they any more qualified than any of the rest of us and why we didn’t really get much say in this is quite worrisome.

          It does appear they we’re slowing being penned in to censorship at a pace to not make it too obvious, see the latest developments (http://www.vpncompare.co.uk/uk-pm-wants-to-read-all-communication/)

  • Jolly Right

    A Responsible Parent.

    Get real! Are you a parent yourself? If so, do you do the child-minding yourself, or blissfully leave it to your wife? You try monitoring and controlling your children’s activities every minute of the day! You have to leave gainful employmnet and even interrupt your household tasks every two minutes (yes, two minutes). I know, because I have a special-needs child who needs checking up on every two minutes or evenmore frequently.

    Stop blaming parents, especially if you do not do the household child-minding yourself. Talk to some real parents and some real families out there. Many parents have to leave their children at homework, their TV / internet / radio / games while living out life themselves – and that may be preparing meals, helping another child with homework, taking another to footy / swimming, or other family activities, or even earning a living.

    Protection for children happens to be gratefuly accepted by many parents. Just look at the positive user comments on add-ons for FIrefox, such as AntiPorn. We are grateful for every layer of protection and help that makes our job easier.

    • VPNCompare

      You make huge assumptions. “or blissfully leave it to your wife” and “if you do not do the household child-minding yourself”.

      Yes, I have experience raising a child and yes it is difficult. Of course you can’t monitor their activity 24 hours per day but their internet use is your responsibility. Why should internet access be allowed unfiltered whenever. Why not limit its use to set times, have computers and other devices in rooms that you can see what is going on.

      Your statement “Protection for children happens to be gratefuly accepted by many parents.” is exactly the point. It’s a false sense of security while you go about your business. Whatever you think you know, most children know more. There are ways to bypass such security and any determined child will manage that. Coupled with the fact many parents are inept at setting these things up such as leaving default passwords in place.

      I was lucky enough to grow up from a pre-teenager with the internet before it became mainstream and have seen both sides of the scale as a child and as a parent.

      The internet is a virtual wide world with real wide world dangers. Would you let your child venture off into the real wide world without supervision. Stop relying on technology to do the parenting.

  • Jim D

    You used the internet well over 20 years ago when you must hav been 10 years old or maybe even younger? The internet was almost unknown to most people then. That was back when I was using Compuserve and their cix forums or maybe just when demon or pipex started to become available throughout the country.
    Compuserve wasn’t much of a step up from using the earlier text based bbses via an acoustic coupler.

    I do diisagree with any interference with our net access though and agree keeping an eye on what your kids are up to is a good idea. Having an ppen and honest relationship with them s an even better idea so they are more likely to speak to you about anything troubling them online. Of course you’ll never stop teenagers looking at unsuitable pictures and we probably all did it ourselves, even if it meant sneaking a look at actual magazines in my day.

    • VPNCompare

      Hi Jim D,

      Yes, I started using the internet in 1995 with Demon Internet at a cost of £10 per month… and then your per minute phone bill on top! (which gladly wasn’t my responsibility to pay back then) They even offered static IP Addresses way back when. Before 1995 I used dial-up BBSes with a 14,400bps modem.

      You guess correct, I was around 10-12 back then. The internet was definitely a rarity back then, especially in the UK. Less so in the US as most of the other kids you bumped into online back then were from the US.

      You make a good point about having an open relationship with your kids and I probably should of touched on that aspect in the article too. Thanks for the input and your thoughts, it all adds to the discussion. Although I admit this article is a little old now.