Dear Lifehacker, Everyone in my house loves to stream movies however I want to ensure they're doing it safely. Should they be using a VPN or a DNS proxy when streaming? Also, are there any that you can recommend? Thanks, Joel
We're not sure what you mean by "safe" here. Do you mean hiding your identity from the "copyright police" or keeping hackers and harmful malware at bay? As you specifically mentioned streaming movies, we're going to assume the former.
If your family is watching copyrighted material without paying for it, you should be worried: Australian rights holders including Foxtel and Village Roadshow have stepped up their attacks on so-called "internet pirates" - and they are chomping at the bit to sue small-time infringers.
Circumventing ISP blocks to popular torrent sites is laughably easy - but you can never be sure who is watching from the sidelines, quietly logging your internet activity. It's therefore imperative to mask your identity if you intend to keep those black sails sinisterly unfurled.
A DNS does not provide encrypted connections or change the IP address of the device in use. When it comes to streaming, it can be useful for watching geo-restricted content such as the US version of Netflix, but you won't be anonymous while doing it.
A VPN, on the other hand, masks your IP address by redirecting it through an overseas server. In other words, it makes it appear as though you're accessing websites from a different physical location.
However, it's worth noting that VPNs come with their own drawbacks so it pays to choose wisely. You can check out our personal favourites for 2017 in this guide.
With that said, nothing you do online is ever truly anonymous. As our own security expert warns: "with enough effort, any 'block' can be circumvented and your ISP traced back to you." Take that for what it's worth.
Naturally, it's also important to keep tabs on the types of sites your family members are visiting. Many "free movie" streaming and torrent sites are riddled with adware and malware that are capable of seriously borking your computer - or worse.
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Torrenting is completely legal and it's not all that difficult to circumvent ISP blocking of torrent websites. For instance, you can do it through a VPN, which often requires a monthly subscription fee. Here are some ways to gain access to blocked torrent sites for free.