Here we outline five ways you can beat web filters, including proxies, anonymous networks, and VPNs. Here's how to be anonymous on the web.

Much has been said about the UK government's proposed porn filter. Web filtration software is an important and useful tool for protecting vulnerable web users from inappropriate content. But many people have legitimate reasons for wanting to get around web filters imposed on networks and individual PCs. Here we outline five ways you can beat web filters - whether you wish to do so is entirely up to you! The internet is a largely unpoliced landscape so surf safely. See also: How to keep your kids safe online.

Beat web filters: web-based proxies

The simplest way to get around any web filter is to use a proxy. A proxy is a third-party website that fetches pages on your behalf. Filtering proxies insulate you from items such as cookies, Javascript, and some intrusive advertising. Anonymous proxies are used by people who wish to remain anonymous on the internet, and as a by-product a working proxy will make web filters ignore your surfing.

There are several types of proxy, the easiest of which are web-based proxies. Web-based proxies work through a web browser. You simply visit the proxy's homepage and browse from there. These are popular and easy to use proxy services, but that does mean that web filtering systems often identify and block them. A good and popular example is Proxify. Visit: Security Advisor.

Beat web filters: anonymity networks such as Tor

Anonymity networks use layered encryption and peer-to-peer networking to take web traffic off the grid. It means you may find your browsing is slow, but it should be totally anonymous. The best known anonymity network is Tor.

'Tor' stands for 'the onion router'. 'Onion routing' refers to the layers of the encryption used, by the way.

Tor is free software that directs web traffic through a worldwide network comprised of volunteers' bandwidth and hardware. It sends web traffic through more than three thousand relays, encrypting and re-encrypting data, thus concealing the web user's location and- crucial for our purposes - preventing any third party from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis, and therefore outwitting web filters.

Beat web filters: Open proxies

Open proxies are more complicated, and we don't recomment their use. For the record, open proxy servers require you to configure your browser's proxy settings. Because they don't have to modify the webpages in transport they tend to work universally. But it's a complicated process that could leave you vulnerable to web-based attack.

Some commercial enterprises will sell you client-side software that sets up an open proxy server on your behalf, and puts your connection through a virtual private network. The same caveats apply - it may work well, but you are taking a risk.

Beat web filters: just use a VPN

Virtual Private Networks let you access a private network and share data remotely through public networks. Basically VPNs generate virtual P2P connections so that all the data you send is encrypted. More pertinantly, they spoof your physical location which allows you to bypass content filters.

VPNs are typically used by people from outside the UK who wish to access BBC iPlayer content by pretending to be in the UK. Or less prosaically by people who live under oppressive regimes and wish to access censored content. Depending on how web filtering is set up on your system, spoofing your location may free you from filtering.

Beat web filters: Google's Public DNS

One final way to get around web filters is to instruct your PC or laptop to use different DNS tables. Google Public DNS is a free, global Domain Name System resolution service. Every time you visit a website, your computer performs a DNS lookup, converting the numerical address of that web page to the site you see. If web filtering is applied to your system and network those domain names that pertain to tainted sites will be blocked from resolving the page you are expcting. Using an untainted DNS such as Google's gets around this.

Google Public DNS will speed up your browsing experience and improve your security. More importantly, it will let you see the results you expect from a URL with no redirection.

Google explains how to use Google Public DNS here. (See also: Reference/education software reviews).