UK Broadband Providers Block Popular Websites

Disqus

It’s become increasingly common for Internet Service Providers to bump up security for its customers by blocking malicious websites at their level so – even if you have no security or firewall engaged on your devices (P.S. this is a very bad idea!) – you are offered some level of protection. Websites are also blocked for legal issues such as due to court orders. These are usually blocked across the board by all reputable providers and this is great.

However, there’s a worrying trend for ISPs to unilaterally block some sites, for no apparent reason, acting as judge, jury and executioner. In a somewhat sinister turn, some ISPs are blocking innocent sites for no immediately identifiable reason and even when ‘content filtering’ is off. In the case of Vodafone and Disqus, there are numerous postings in Vodafone’s Community asking why Disqus is blocked with no answers provided by the Vodafone team. Vodafone’s own moderators have even suggested using Google’s DNS servers.

Image result for vodafone

Disqus is a popular discussion platform that’s integrated into many websites to provide their comment and discussion functionality. Although we don’t use it on this blog, it provides similar functionality to the ‘comments’ block below. The main advantage is that once you’ve signed up for Disqus you can use that same account across the web. (Note to self, maybe integrating Disqus would be a good idea!).

Diqus is operating legally, is not subject to complaints or court orders, and isn’t on any blocking lists maintained or mandated to be blocked by any UK authorities. So there’s literally no reason why Vodafone is blocking the site. Indeed, despite all the discussion on the topic we’ve been unable to find a single answer or reason provided by Vodafone for such a block.

However, the downside at the moment is that all customers of Vodafone Broadband are probably treated to the infinite wheel of doom when loading Disqus – either the main website or the plugin found on many popular websites – such as Pluralsight.

You may be thinking – that’s OK, I’ll have parental controls and content filtering switched off. That’s fine – but Vodafone has blocked this at DNS level – so regardless of whether you have all these controls switched on or switched off you’ll be unable to access Disqus (and other websites) at all.

What’s the DNS?

DNS or Domain Name Servers are servers that act as an address book for the internet. There isn’t just one – in fact there are many. ISPs usually provide their own DNS. Google provides a public DNS. And there are many other public DNS options out there.

Websites are assigned ‘pretty’ names that are easy to remember called domains. For example, the domain this blog is hosted on is ‘dpscomputing.com’. This ultimately points to the ‘real’ address of all computers (and therefore websites) on the Internet called an IP address – e.g. 192.168.2.1. Much easier to remember the name right?

By default, the router that your ISP provider gives you will likely be set to use their own DNS. So in the case of Vodafone, it’ll use their DNS, for BT it’ll use the BT DNS etc.

The downside to this can be, as we’ve found out in the Vodafone/Disqus case is that your provider can choose to block access to any website on the Internet at any time for any reason (or no reason) whatsoever. In cases where it’s a malicious website – great. But what happens if it’s a popular website that’s been blocked for less than watertight reasons? Sounds like Internet censorship right?

How Do I Know If I’m Affected?

In the case of Vodafone and Disqus – if you try to go to the main Disqus website you’ll be presented with a ‘too many redirects’ error and the URL in your browsers address bar will look quite strange.

https://disqus.com/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/www.vodafone.co.uk/contentcontrolpage/vfb-category-blocklist.html

Lord knows why it’s trying to redirect all these times – looks like Vodafone’s blocking mechanism itself is a bit broke. Thankfully, Google Chrome stops it sending your computer crashing into an infinite redirect CPU crashing spiral of doom:

If it did work correctly, you’d likely see this page:

Rather deceptively, Vodafone suggest that if you change your content control settings this issue would resolve. WRONG! Even with these content control settings disabled, we can confirm sites like Disqus are still blocked – intentionally or otherwise – by Vodafone’s dodgy DNS system.

For the geekier among you, if you are on a website that’s trying to load Disqus and you go to the developer tools ‘Console’ tab (F12), you’ll notice that there’s an error along the lines of ‘SSL_ERROR_BAD_CERT_DOMAIN’. Deceptively this appears like, on the surface, it’s coming from Disqus but is actually a symptom of the content control blocked redirect merry-go-round the request is being sent on.

I Don’t Like Censorship

Nor do we! Keeping people safe is great. Blocking illegal content and criminal activity is also great. We certainly support both of these ideals to keep us all safe. But blocking open discussion on a popular platform for no reason? That sounds nefarious to us!

Thankfully, the beauty of there being many DNS providers means that you have the option to switch to one that is more in keeping with your views (i.e. open and democratic!) by simply changing a few settings.

How Do I Change My DNS Settings?

Firstly, you need to log on to your router. You do this via visiting an IP address or a ‘local domain’. For example, Vodafone uses 192.168.2.1 and BT (via Home Hubs) use bthome.hub.

The actual address might be different depending on the ISP and router version. Simply Google your provider + router login (e.g. Vodafone router login or BT router login) and you should reach your provider’s page for help logging in.

It’s likely once you log in you’ll be in ‘basic’ mode. There should be a button to switch to ‘Expert’ mode – click this, and click OK on any scary warning saying ‘you really need to know what you’re doing’. Essentially, DNS settings are hidden outside of ‘Expert’ or ‘Advanced’ modes.

Inside your router settings panel they’ll be a DNS option – select this and it’ll display your current settings – likely to be set on ‘Auto’ or similar default (unless you’ve changed them previously).

Switch to ‘manual’ which should then prompt you to enter a primary DNS server IP and an optional secondary DNS server IP. In these boxes, you should enter the IP addresses of your preferred DNS service.

If you don’t have one in mind, Google’s public DNS is a good place to start (and will ‘unblock’ sites like Disqus!) so change your settings to:

  • Primary DNS Server: 8 . 8 . 8 . 8
  • Secondary DNS Server: 8 . 8 . 4 . 4

And voilá! Normal service should be resumed!

Need Extra Help?

If you need any help with following the instructions or any more details for your specific provider and router, let us know in the comments below and we’ll try our best to help!

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