Watch BBC iPlayer from a non-UK IP address using Ubuntu and Tor

Tuning into UK catchup TV while travelling abroad isn’t an easy task since sites like BBC iPlayer and Channel 4′s 4OD block non-UK IP addresses. An simple fix is using a VPN provider, which could cost you upwards of £50 a year. Not an fortune, however I’ve discovered another method which is absolutely free and will raise your geek kudos to another level.

I’m using Tor, a software client designed to guard your on-line anonymity, then tweaking the configuration file to use only UK “nodes”. Tor recommend not to use any plugins such as Flash, since they can be manipulated into revealing your IP address, so we will not get the full benefit of anonymity as most catchup TV sites use Flash. If you want to know more about protecting your on-line identity, start with the Tor website at www.torproject.org.

You’ll first need to download the Tor Browser Bundle which is much easier than downloading the individual components of Tor, Vidalia then configuring Firefox to work. Tor is a cross-platform, open source project released on many platforms including Windows or Mac. I’m an Ubuntu user, and though the Linux download from the Tor site works a treat, I prefer to add the PPA as detailed at this upubuntu post since it integrates better with the Unity launcher.

Please note upubuntu’s instructions worked a treat for me, except for 

” sudo chown $USER -R ~/tor-browser/ “ should probably be 

” sudo chown $USER -R ~/.tor-browser/ “ since the tor-browser folder is hidden in your home directory.

If you are new to Linux, you need to change $USER to your user name. Windows and Mac users will not need to worry about any of this

After downloading then unpacking your Tor Browser bundle, you’re nearly ready to start watching iPlayer. If you are on-line when you launch Tor-browser, the Vidalia Control Panel will spring into action and start connecting to the Tor Network. On successful connection, The Tor Browser will launch, which is a version of Firefox modified for tighter security. You are now ready to surf the web with protected privacy which the following steps will mess up a bit, but our goal was merely a UK IP address, not an on-line existence free from all surveillance. If this is something you need, check out tails, a live-USB Operating System which run’s Tor on any PC compatible computers without leaving a trace on the host machine when you’re done.

On with the tweaks for BBC iPlayer. Find your Vidalia Control Panel and click on Settings then on Advanced. We need to “Edit current torrc” to edit the Tor Configuration file. Add the two following lines to the top of the file:

ExitNodes {GB}

StrictNodes 1

Then save and exit, and stop and restart Tor so you should start to use only UK nodes. In the mean time, find your Tor Browser Window. Though installed, the Flash browser is not enabled. Go to the Tools menu, then click on “Add-Ons” to open the Add-Ons Manager. Find the Shockwave Flash Plugin and enable it.

Go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/tv and find something to watch. The Tor browser will ask you to activate a plugin. This is to let Flash work. You will need to do the last two steps every time you use Tor. You should now be watching iPlayer.

I’d appreciate any feedback on these instructions, and if any part did not work for you. I’d really like  to find away of enabling Flash by default so I don’t have to manually enable it every time. Any ideas?

 

7 thoughts on “Watch BBC iPlayer from a non-UK IP address using Ubuntu and Tor

  1. Linda Carson

    There is currently a bug in the Vidalia Control Panel which prevents you from editing torrc (it objects to comments lines in the file). The work-around is to find the torrc file and edit it using a text editor instead. This seemed to work OK for me.

    Reply
  2. Linda Carson

    I’ve followed all the above steps to the letter, but I’m still getting the ‘only available in the UK’ message. It seems that when I restarted Tor it re-generated the torrc file and renamed the old one, so my changes to it have thus been negated. Any suggestions?

    Reply
  3. admin Post author

    Hey Linda, sorry I missed your comments. I’m not used to people reading my blog! I encountered the same problem before. My text editor had created a backup called torrc~ which (no idea why) Vidalia was using instead. Try deleting that copy and see how you get on.

    Reply
  4. richard

    Tor no longer works to access BBC iPlayer from outside the UK. This is because the use of iPlayer requires Shockwave Flash to be enabled and, when it is enabled, it reveals a different IP number from the one assigned by Tor when connecting through GB nodes. I cannot find any work around this. Is there one? Thanks.

    Reply
  5. Hans

    Two issues:

    1. never edit the torrc from within the program; use your favourite text editor instead.
    2. every time you notice a certain exit node is not working (copy the ip address you were assigned and find the name for the exit server) you have to add that server to the line
    ExcludeNodes
    (e.g. ExcludeNodes Torland1)
    Certain servers are filtered out by the BBC and will result in the infamous ‘only available in the UK’ message…

    Ciao form Italy!
    Hans

    Reply
  6. ctNguyen

    hi,
    i just want to remark about the chown command. My Case, i am in Ubuntu 12.04 64bit. And the tor-browser folder is no longer in the $HOME directory. It is installed in the /usr/bin/tor-browser. That mean for me, i have to replace your chown command by

    sudo chown $USER -R /usr/bin/tor-browser/

    Reply

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