Whether you’re planning on traveling to the Middle East or you already live there, accessing the internet in the UAE is tricky. Between internet restrictions and content blocks, trying to browse the internet through a regular connection can be incredibly difficult. So, what do you do if you need to access certain websites or make VOIP phone calls to your family and friends?
There’s a solution! VPNs can help you navigate the internet without running into all of those pesky content restrictions and with a VPN solution, you can safely browse the internet in the Middle East without having to worry about the government spying on you or your favorite websites being blocked.
Here are 7 reasons you need a VPN if you live in the Middle East or just visiting:
What is a VPN?
A virtual private network (VPN) is a service that encrypts and tunnels your internet traffic to a private server before unleashing that traffic to the world wide web. That sentence may sound a little confusing. So, let’s unpack it.
When you normally connect to the internet, your traffic goes from your computer straight to whatever website you’re visiting. Your IP address (which is like a signature for your connection) sends packets of traffic directly to the website’s server. That’s why almost anywhere can figure out where you are. For example, this website will show you where you’re located just based on your IP address. Scary, right?
If you’re using a VPN, that can process works a little differently. First, your traffic is encrypted via military-grade encryption technology (usually AES 256-bit.) Then, your traffic is sent directly to a private server located somewhere else in the world. That server then sends your traffic to the web. So, instead of seeing your IP address, websites see the IP address of that private server.
Simply changing that IP address can have profound benefits. Let’s take a look at 7 of them:
The Internet is restricted
The UAE is serious about internet censorship. Without delving into the details surrounding their internet censorship capabilities, the UAE’s government uses Secure Computing’s SmartFilter (a pirated copy according to Smart Computing) to block all of its citizens from accessing certain types of content. Technically, it’s the ISPs (Etisalat and du teleco) that do the censoring, but, since they’re the only two ISPs in the UAE (and they’re backed by the government), it’s effectively complete government censorship.
Nevertheless, these aren’t tiny amounts of censorships here and there. They ban “politically sensitive material” and subjects that are “against the moral values” of the country. This includes pretty much every social media website and content website on the planet.
This can be a serious pain for those in the country but don’t fret. It’s nothing a VPN can’t fix. You can get UAE IP address with your VPN and bypass that pesky internet restriction. Again, since your traffic isn’t coming from the UAE, the Secure Computing’s SmartFilter won’t be able to filter your traffic.
Region blocks may prevent you from watching content
The UAE has a pretty poor selection of streamable content. For starters, almost all content services are blocked and the ones that aren’t, are restricted to viewing content from the UAE which isn’t known for being content-abundant. This is another area where that VPN can come in super-handy. You can connect to servers anywhere in the world and watch their local content. So, if you want to watch Dr. Who, you can connect to the British version of Netflix and consume away. Or maybe you want to watch “The Office” on the American version of Netflix. All you have to do is connect to a server in America, and you’re good-to-go.
Remember those government firewalls; there are local firewalls on top of those! These may be in a local cafe or at a place of business, but many places in the Middle East layer firewalls on top of each other, making browsing the internet without running face-first into one nearly impossible. This is where that superstar VPN comes into play. Not only can it bypass that government filter like a pro, but it can also get around local firewalls. That’s a win-win!
So far, this post has covered bypassing firewalls and getting around region-blocks, but what about your safety and security while you do it? The UAE doesn’t only put smart filters in place, it stalks and watches citizen internet activity. Surprisingly, most of this is done by ex-US intelligence operatives who flipped sides to earn some extra dough.
They’re incredibly talented, well trained, and versatile when it comes to spying and hacking citizens’ devices. However, they’re not smarter than a VPN. That’s because they can’t tell where your traffic is coming from. Since it looks like a private server in another country accessing content, they have no idea that it’s actually someone in the UAE. No one deserves to have their privacy breached by their government. Use a VPN to get your control back.
Use public WiFi
This is especially important for those of you who are planning on visiting the Middle East on vacation or as part of a residency program. Public WiFi at cafes, restaurants, and hotels may be convenient, but it’s also risky. Man-in-the-middle attacks happen when someone else connected to that public WiFi sees your traffic and uses it to steal your valuable information. So, instead of sending traffic packets to websites, they make it, so those packets come directly to them.
Again, VPNs can be your savior. Since your traffic is encrypted and tunneled to a private server, there’s nothing they can do to you.
Speaking of security, online banking is basically a necessity at this point. Over 51% of US adults bank online, and being able to instantly access your funds and make critical banking decisions is crucial — especially when you’re traveling. Unfortunately, connecting to your private bank account in an area where all of your activities are monitored isn’t necessarily safe.
With a VPN, you can bank free-of-worry. Simply connect and go. Your traffic comes from a private server, and there’s nothing the government can do to interrupt your banking experience.
Play online games
Who doesn’t love to play online games every once-in-a-while? From shooting games like Call of Duty to card games like Poker, millions (if not billions) of people play video games. But these online games require you to connect to a server and if you’re in a country in the UAE doing that may be impossible. These government filters and local firewalls can quickly turn your online experience into a dud. If by some miracle you’re able to connect, you’ll be forced to play with others in the UAE. That may not always be ideal — especially if you’re a traveler.
Guess what can solve that? You guessed it! A VPN. You can choose servers from anywhere in the world and connect to them instantly. Want to play with your friends in the US? No problem! Connect to a US server. Want to game with a friend in France? Sure thing! Just connect to a server in France. You can pick-and-choose when and where you connect to servers. There’s value in that. There’s definitely power in it as well.
Trying to do something as simple as browse the internet in the UAE can be a serious pain. Between government censorship, local firewalls, region-blocks, and safety-and-security, the UAE has one of the most notoriously government-controlled ISPs on the planet. But what if you don’t want to deal with all of that? What if you want to browse the internet in peace without having someone spy on your every move.
The answer to all of the above is to get a VPN. Not only do VPNs give you the agility to bypass those pesky government filters and overcome those local firewalls, but they let you stream content from anywhere in the world and bank online with peace-of-mind. Don’t let the UAE’s aggressive internet policies ruin your digital experiences, grab a VPN, and get back to browsing. After all,