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What Is An Obfuscated Server?

What Is An Obfuscated Server?

Updated: 08-19-2021

In today's world, a lot of people use the internet for various purposes. From streaming movies, music, gaming, cash transfers, and activism, there is no limit to what you can achieve with a computer and a good internet connection.

But the increase in internet usage has led to a global problem, cybercrime. As a result, the increase in cybercrimes has prompted many users to opt for Virtual Private Networks. A VPN protects your data from cybercriminals and snoopy Internet Service Providers.

VPN service providers use various servers to deliver confidentiality and security to their users when browsing the internet or using different internet-enabled applications. These servers include standard, double, Onion over VPN, P2P, dedicated IP, and obfuscated servers.

This article focuses on obfuscated servers, covering when and why to use them.

Here is a preview of what to expect:

  • What is an obfuscated server?
  • What are some VPN providers with obfuscated servers?
  • How do obfuscated servers work?
  • Examples of VPN obfuscation
  • Who should use obfuscated servers?
  • Why should you use an obfuscated server?
  • Can NordVPN's obfuscated servers bypass the Great Firewall of China?

What Is an Obfuscated VPN Server?

Despite the popularity of VPNs, some governments, ISPs, and institutions, such as universities, apply VPN blockers and firewalls to block VPN-enabled devices from accessing the internet.

Additionally, using a VPN can also attract a penalty or jail time in countries such as China and Russia.

Some websites also create a firewall that prevents users from accessing their content when subscribed to a VPN service. This is because one of the most popular reasons to use a VPN is to access geo-restricted or copyrighted content, something these sites are trying to prevent.

Some VPN providers have designed special servers known as obfuscated servers to bypass these blocks and restrictions. An obfuscated server camouflages your VPN usage to make it look like you are not using one. As a result, the internet traffic sent from your device is made to look like regular browsing activity.

If you are in China and would like to access banned websites or social media sites, an obfuscated server will help bypass the firewall by acting as though you are browsing an allowed site like Baidu.

Different VPN providers have coined various terms to refer to obfuscated servers. These terms include:

  • Chameleon protocol
  • Cloaking technology
  • Stealth mode
  • Stealth VPN

How Do Obfuscated Servers Work?

When using a standard VPN, a government regulatory body and your ISP can notice you are using a VPN. This is because VPN-encrypted data looks different from regular data traffic. VPN encryption organizes data into data packets and passes it through a secure tunnel.

A standard VPN only guarantees the integrity and confidentiality of your data. On the other hand, when using an obfuscated server, the VPN provider eliminates any signs that your data is VPN protected.

There are several ways providers mask your VPN usage, but the goal is to make your data traffic seem regular. One way is to add an extra layer of encryption, which is basically encrypting already encrypted data.

This technique employs additional encryption programs such as the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and the Secure Shell Protocol (SSH). These protocols blanket the data packets such that an ISP or government cannot distinguish them with regular metadata.

The other method used by VPNs to blend VPN-encrypted traffic with regular data traffic is disorganizing encrypted data and making an incomprehensible mess of data packets. The special servers scramble data traffic to resemble the standard HTTPS stream.

This technique is popular with VPNs that use the OpenVPN protocol. The provider uses an XOR cipher to replace some of the data values usually detected by Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) algorithms. As a result, the new values go undetected, allowing the data path to complete.

The third technique is popular with Tor, an internet browser that lets you browse anonymously. This method uses a program, Obfsproxy, which has several pluggable means of transport that scramble data to make it meaningless.

Some VPN providers integrate Obfsproxy with their applications, although the developers originally invented it for the Tor.Obfs4 bridge client, one of the pluggable transports most suitable for concealing OpenVPN traffic.

Obfuscation works by blocking reverse engineering programs used in VPN blockers and firewalls. Most VPNs use OpenVPN as the default open-source protocol. This protocol leaves a unique signature after encryption.

VPN blockers target this signature in a process known as advanced Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). This technique inspects data traffic and categorizes it into safe or unsafe data. The VPN blockers then block the data path if the DPIs index your metadata under the VPN-encrypted data. 

Obfuscated servers hide the signature, allowing metadata to pass unnoticed across the firewall. One of the mechanisms is to direct the servers through a different port to evade firewalls. As a result, most VPN providers lead the obfuscated data to port 443.

VPN use is a controversial subject for various reasons; some countries and internet providers block VPN users. For this reason, VPN providers are constantly developing new programs and servers to sell their products to users in restricted regions.

What Are Some VPN Providers With Obfuscated Servers?

The following are some of the VPN providers with obfuscated servers:

  • ExpressVPN
  • NordVPN
  • Surfshark
  • IPVanish
  • VyprVPN
  • PrivateVPN
  • Hotspot Shield

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is one of the most popular VPN service providers, with over 2000 servers worldwide. In addition, this VPN has several obfuscated servers that allow anonymous internet browsing, making it a global service provider even in VPN-restricted areas.

 

NordVPN

NordVPN is popular among many internet users who want to hide their online presence and safeguard their data. It has over 5000 servers, 161 of which can conceal your VPN use. These obfuscated servers are available in 14 of the 59 countries where NordVPN is available.

Surfshark

Surfshark is an equally reliable VPN with servers all over the world. Surfshark boasts over 1000 servers spread across 60 countries around the world. It is also one of the VPN providers with obfuscated servers that can bypass even the Great Firewall of China.

The VPN service provider denotes these servers as camouflage or NoBorders mode.

IPVanish

IPVanish has over 1300 servers across over 70 countries. Although this VPN does not have obfuscated servers that can bypass the Great Firewall of China, users in other countries can disguise their VPN use from the app's settings.

VyprVPN

This VPN has developed its own obfuscated servers marketed under the Chameleon trademark. It is one of the VPNs that can bypass the Great Firewall of China. The Chameleon protocol hides from DPIs by transmitting data through port 443.

VyprVPN is also versatile and compatible with various devices and operating systems such as Windows, Mac, iOS, Linux, and Android.

PrivateVPN

PrivateVPN has over 150 servers spread across over 60 countries. To bypass firewalls and evade DPI inspection, the VPN uses the Stealth VPN mode. You can enable this mode from the app's settings.

Although PrivateVPN is relatively small compared to giants like NordVPN and ExpressVPN, it is one of the most reliable VPNs that can bypass the Great Firewall of China.

Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield is another VPN with dedicated obfuscated servers among its overall 1800+ servers. The VPN boasts relatively fast internet speeds and discreet firewall evasion mechanisms that can bypass censorship in China. It has a proprietary protocol called Catapult Hydra that masks your VPN usage to seem like regular HTTPS data traffic.

 

Examples of VPN Obfuscation

Countries such as China, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates have banned VPNs, yet some users still use VPNs in those countries. So how do VPN providers deliver services in those countries without manually installing servers in the mentioned regions?

They install special virtual servers that can bypass censorship.

For instance, let's assume you are a gamer based in China and want to purchase a game from Google Play Store. Because China has banned Google, you cannot access the site through the standard VPN server due to the Great Firewall (GFW). Instead, an obfuscated server will mask your internet activity, allowing you to purchase the game.

In another instance, let's assume you want to stream a Korean TV show on Netflix. The streaming service restricts users in any other country from accessing the Korean TV show. You'll need to use an obfuscated server that bypasses the restriction on Netflix if you don't live in Korea.

Another scenario where VPN obfuscation can come into play is when your college or university censors VPN users to save network costs. As a result, the firewall blocks your internet connection unless when browsing academic information on search engines.

However, if you use the camouflage or stealth servers on your VPN, the firewall will see that as normal browsing. It will then allow your PC to access restricted sites.

 

Who Should Use Obfuscated Servers?

Anyone can use obfuscated servers to conceal their online data footprints from nosy third parties. However, you may need to dig deeper into your pockets because premium VPN subscription costs can be expensive.

Hence, using obfuscated servers may be uneconomical for casual browsing, especially in regions with no internet censorship.

The following users need an obfuscated server to browse the internet securely:

 

Users Traveling to Countries Where VPN Use Is Prohibited

If you are traveling to countries that ban VPN use, you will need an obfuscated server. Whether you are visiting for business or leisure, you may need to stream a favorite show or access censored sites, such as Google, and that's when the special servers come in handy.

Importantly, you need to download and activate your VPN service before traveling to such countries. This is because the VPN blockers in such countries can make the installation and registration process difficult.

 

Users Living in Countries Where VPN Use Is Illegal

If you live in a country where VPN use is not allowed, breaking this law might attract jail time or heavy fines. However, obfuscated servers mask your VPN use, allowing you to access worldwide content without worries.

The following countries prohibit VPN use:

China: China's Great Firewall (GFW) detects VPN encrypted data traffic and blocks the user. This restriction also prevents residents of China from accessing banned websites such as Google, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other foreign news channels.

The United Arab Emirates: This powerful monarchy has banned VPN use to keep track of its citizens' online activities. Using a VPN in the UAE attracts a penalty of up to $544,000, but this law only applies to individuals. Government institutions and private entities, such as banks, can still use VPNs.

Russia: It is illegal to use a VPN in Russia; violators of this law could pay up to $5100 in fines. The country is known to censor content it deems "extremist" and also blocks users from accessing some international sites.

North Korea: This East Asian country has strict VPN laws, and as a result, violators risk jail time or harsh penalties.

Belarus: The Eastern European country has banned VPNs and the Tor browser entirely, and citizens can be charged in a court of law if found using any of them.

Iran: Since 2013, Iranians can only use government-regulated VPNs, which are under constant scrutiny. Violators risk up to one year in jail.

Iraq: The Middle Eastern country has completely banned the use of VPNs.

Turkey: The Turkish government banned VPNs in 2018, and since then, individuals found using them can be charged in court.

Oman: The government of Oman censors its citizen's activities on the internet using VPN blockers that do not permit VPN-encrypted traffic.

Political Activists and Investigative Journalists

If you are a political activist, you may run into problems with parties in the government with differing opinions. The same applies to investigative journalists whose content is deemed defamatory or extremist by governments. If you are in a line of work considered "dangerous" in some countries, a standard VPN server is not enough, and that is why you need an obfuscated VPN server.

 

Why Should You Use an Obfuscated Server?

You need obfuscated servers when surfing the internet to:

  • Bypass government restrictions.
  • Circumvent network blocks by your company or institution.
  • Get past VPN blocks placed by certain sites.
  • Give you additional privacy and security.
  • Avoid internet bandwidth throttling by ISPs.

Here's an in-depth look at each one of these reasons:

 

To Bypass Government Restrictions

Some governments constantly track citizens' online activities for intelligence and security reasons. For example, deep Packet Inspection algorithms detect VPN signatures through ports, tracking a user's online activity.

As a result, you may be in legal trouble if the government deems your VPN use mischievous. To avoid such frustrations, consider using obfuscated servers when connected to a VPN. The special servers mask the data traffic, prompting the government to assume you are accessing regular sites.

Another reason to use obfuscated servers is when you need to access sites banned by your government. For instance, some countries have banned some content streaming sites such as YouTube, Spotify, and Netflix, which you can access via an obfuscated server.

To Circumvent Network Blocks by Company or Institution

Some companies restrict their networks to only work-related activities. For instance, the network administrator may configure the office Wi-Fi to prevent users from streaming music or watch videos on YouTube. Some companies do this to maintain their employees' productivity.

If you don't have a VPN, your attempt to access such sites will be futile. Sometimes, blocking mechanisms detect standard servers, especially if the network administrator knows specific employees who use VPNs.

An obfuscated server is the only server that can bypass such a firewall.

Other institutions such as universities, religious organizations, and schools may create a firewall in their network to save on network costs. Usually, such institutions restrict sites that consume a lot of bandwidth, such as streaming and gaming sites.

To Get Past VPN Blocks Placed by Certain Websites

Some websites, especially in the entertainment industry, create firewalls to restrict access when they detect VPN-enabled devices. These include Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Video Prime. These websites have access restrictions to honor contracts with content producers.

For instance, when Netflix releases a movie in the US, the same film may be released in the UK after one month to control sales or for other reasons. Suppose you wish to stream the movie in the UK before the release date. In that case, the obfuscated server will bypass the geo-restriction, letting you access the film as if you are in the US.

To Give You Additional Privacy and Security

Most users turn to VPNs to conceal their original IP addresses and prevent hacking. An obfuscated VPN server scrambles your metadata and presents it as regular browsing traffic. This makes it difficult for hackers and prying eyes to access your online traffic.

For instance, evading the prying eyes of hackers and government agencies is crucial for investigative journalists and activists. Therefore, they need extra security and protection, and that is exactly what obfuscated servers offer.

Additionally, with so many VPN services emerging every day, you may find yourself going for a substandard VPN that sometimes leaks your IP address to third parties. When a VPN has obfuscated servers, it becomes almost impossible to experience IP address leaks. IP address leaks occur when your original IP address leaks, even when connected to a VPN service.

For this reason, it is always a great idea to choose a VPN with obfuscated servers or a stealth mode capable of disguising your data traffic as regular browsing traffic.

To Avoid Bandwidth Throttling by Your ISP

When using standard VPN servers, your ISP can notice that you are using a VPN. As much as a VPN protects the integrity and confidentiality of your online activity, the data traffic looks different when encrypted.

When ISPs suspect that you're using a VPN, they may slow down your internet speeds. This technique is called bandwidth throttling.

Some ISPs enforce bandwidth throttling because they assume you are using a VPN to stream or download big chunks of data from illegal websites.

Using an obfuscated VPN server camouflages your internet traffic, making it seem like you're browsing normally. Your ISP won't detect VPN traffic, meaning they'll have no reason to throttle your internet connection. However, it is worth noting that some obfuscated servers slow down internet speed.

Can NordVPN’s Obfuscated Servers Bypass the Great Firewall of China?

Yes, they can. NordVPN is one of the most widely used VPNs globally, thanks to its numerous servers located in different countries. Most VPNs work just fine, but fail to penetrate the Great Firewall of China.

The government of China developed this firewall to prevent citizens from using certain websites deemed to be illegal or supporting extremism. The Great Firewall of China also helps government intelligence agencies track its citizen's online activities. As a result, the firewall makes China almost insusceptible to external attacks.

China has also blocked applications and websites such as Gmail, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. To access such sites, you'll need obfuscated servers. This is where NordVPN's obfuscated servers come in handy to circumvent the blocks.

There are several prerequisites for NordVPN to work in China. They include:

Install the NordVPN application outside the country. This is because the NordVPN website is inaccessible in China. Therefore, when traveling to China for official or non-official purposes, remember to set up your NordVPN account before entering the country.

Always use the obfuscated server for privacy and security. After entering China, you can browse the internet using the special secure servers.

In addition, pairing all your devices to the NordVPN account is a great way to ensure that you browse safely at all times. If you use any other server, you risk detection by authorities, which might get you in trouble.

Summary

To recap, VPNs are crucial tools in this internet age because they protect your online privacy by shielding your data from nosy ISPs, government agencies, and cybercriminals.

These VPNs use an obfuscated server to achieve a higher level of security for their users.

An obfuscated server masks your online activity from sites that restrict the use of VPNs.

Some countries have banned the use of VPNs. For this reason, you'll need a VPN with an obfuscated server to access specific sites while visiting such countries.

Lastly, be sure to install and set up the obfuscated server before entering any country with restricted VPN use.

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One comment on “What Is An Obfuscated Server?”

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