How to Unblock Websites: Step-by-Step Instructions

Whether you want to unblock sites at school, work, or home

By
&
Aliza Vigderman
Gabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated on Aug 12, 2021
By Aliza Vigderman & Gabe Turner on Aug 12, 2021

We’ve all experienced website blockers, whether we’re using a school library’s computers, surfing the web at work, or visiting an authoritarian country like China. There’s no doubt that VPNs, or virtual private networks, are the easiest way to unblock websites, but there are a number of other options as well. We’ve presented them all below with step-by-step instructions.

How to Unblock Websites at School, Work, or Home

Can’t access a website at school, at work, or even in another country? We’ve got you covered whether you’re on a phone, computer, or tablet. By hiding your IP address, VPNs can help you bypass site-blockers and internet censorship. Setting up a VPN is easy and only takes a few minutes.

How to Set Up a VPN

  1. Choose a VPN. Our VPN buying guide is a good place to start. Or, if you’re a student, check out the best VPNs for school.
  2. Download either the VPN app to encrypt web traffic across your entire device, or a browser extension to encrypt only your internet surfing. Note that if you’re on a school computer, browser extensions will probably be a better option.
  3. Sign in with your username and password.
  4. Connect to a VPN server. Look for server locations near you for optimal speeds.

Now that your IP address has changed, you should be able to get around internet censorship, even in countries like China, which has the Great Firewall (and if you’re in Hong Kong, read about the best Hong Kong VPNs). Both your IP address and your internet traffic will be encrypted, allowing you to access any site you choose, even restricted sites and those featuring blocked content.

The best VPNs to unblock websites are those with dynamic IP addresses, meaning that you get a new IP address every time you connect to the internet. We recommend reading our ExpressVPN review, Private Internet Access review, and IPVanish review to learn more about quality VPNs with dynamic IP addresses.

Proxy Servers

If you’re looking to encrypt the IP address of a single web page only, you can use a free proxy instead of a VPN. The major advantage of proxies versus VPNs is that proxies are free, usually, and cover only a single website or apps. VPNs, on the other hand, encrypt all web traffic across your entire device, not just your IP address.

For students using school-owned devices, proxies may be a better option. Employees trying to bypass workplace restrictions should look for a public web proxy (if your workplace hasn’t blocked those as well).

Change Device Permissions

Sometimes, unblocking websites can be a simple matter of tinkering with your device’s settings (if you have the administrative privileges to do so).

To disable the Microsoft Defender Firewall:

  1. Click the Start button.
  2. Click Settings.
  3. Click Update & Security.
  4. Click Windows Security.
  5. Click Firewall & Network Protection.
  6. Select your profile.
  7. Scroll to Microsoft Defender Firewall.
  8. Switch the settings to off.1

Additionally, you may be able to unblock sites on Chrome. On a computer:

  1. Open Chrome.
  2. Click More.
  3. Click Settings.
  4. Scroll down to Privacy and Security.
  5. Click Site Settings.
  6. Change the setting of your choice.

On an Android device:

  1. Open Chrome.
  2. Go to a website you want to unblock.
  3. Click More.
  4. Click Info.
  5. Click Permissions.
  6. Click Reset Permissions.

Finally, on an iPhone or iPad:

  1. Open the Chrome app.
  2. Click More.
  3. Click Settings.
  4. Click Content Settings.
  5. Click the permission you want to change.2

Tor Browser

The Tor browser is an open-sourced web browser that hides both a user’s location and their internet activity, a boon for online anonymity. By hiding your location, you might be able to bypass firewalls, although you may not be able to download Tor on school- or work-owned computers, or in countries like China.

NOTE: The Tor browser is not available on iOS devices. Instead, we recommend using an iOS VPN. Learn how to set up a VPN on an iPhone.

Turn Off Screen Time Limits

Perhaps you can’t access a website, not because the website is blocked, but because of screen time limits. If you’re able to, disabling these limits could let you onto the sites of your dreams.

On an iPhone:

  1. Open your Settings.
  2. Click Screen Time.
  3. Click Continue.
  4. Choose either This Is My Device or This Is My Child’s Device.
  5. Enter your passcode if asked.
  6. Click Content & Privacy Restrictions.
  7. Enter your passcode if asked.
  8. Turn Content and Privacy off.3

On an Android:

  1. Go to g.co/YourFamily.
  2. Sign in.
  3. Select the child you set screen time limits for.
  4. Select More.
  5. Click Disable.4

Other Methods for Unsophisticated Blockers

Those are all the best ways to unblock websites, but if you’re dealing with a very basic blocker, a few other methods could work as well.

  • Use an IP address: Some software blocks domain names only and not the IP addresses behind websites, so if you type the IP address into the URL bar, you could access the website. Use Whois to find out sites’ URLs.5
  • Switch from HTTP to HTTPS: Another method is typing in the URL with either HTTP or HTTPS. Perhaps the software blocks only one or the other, so switching could get you access. However, proceed with caution, as websites whose URLs begin with HTTP are less secure than websites whose URLs begin with HTTPS.
  • Use a cached version: Caching occurs when your browser keeps copies of sites locally for faster loading. You may be blocked from an original site only and not its cached version. To access the cached version of a site on Chrome:
    1. Go on Google.
    2. Search for the website you want to visit.
    3. To the right of the URL, click the downward arrow.
    4. Click Cached.
  • Use a URL shortener: Finally, you may be able to unblock websites by using shortened versions of their URLs. We prefer Bitly as our URL shortener.
    1. Copy the URL you want to visit.
    2. Go to the Bitly website.
    3. Paste the URL in the box that says Shorten Your Link.
    4. Copy the short URL.
    5. Paste the URL into your browser.

Why Are Websites Banned?

For those of us who are against internet censorship, running into blocked websites can be a frustrating experience, but there are many reasons why websites are banned, some legitimate and some not.

Schools

Schools, from elementary schools to high schools, ban websites to censor what children can see. This is a legal necessity for any school that receives discounts on internet access and connections through the federal E-Rate program. These schools must adhere to internet safety policies that block and filter internet access to pictures that are:

  • Obscene
  • Child pornography
  • Harmful to minors

It’s all part of the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which Congress enacted in 2000,6 around the time the internet became widely available.

Did You Know: Certain public schools in the U.S. are legally obligated under the Children’s Internet Protection Act to block obscenity, child pornography, and other pictures that are harmful to minors.

Aside from federal obligations, schools may want to block websites to shield kids from obscene content and keep them safe from cyberbullying, which our cyberbullying research has shown affects one in five kids. To protect kids online usually means websites and search terms restrictions.

Governments

Authoritarian governments like those in China and Russia block websites in order to silence political opposition, independent journalists, and human rights organizations. Governments also may restrict websites in order to protect national security, block child pornography, or prevent copyright or trademark infringement.7

Employers

Employers block websites for a couple of reasons, and no, it’s not just to annoy you.

One, they want to prevent employees from using the internet for personal reasons, otherwise known as “cyberloafing” or “cyberslacking”8 (hey, we’ve all been there). A survey from the staffing firm OfficeTeam found that, on average, employees waste 56 minutes a day online, which amounts to nearly five hours a week.9 Time theft is real, folks, which is why you may not be able to browse social media on your work computer. Rats.

Another reason why employers block websites is to prevent employees from causing data breaches or cyberattacks. Unfortunately, human error is the cause of many data breaches. A study found some pretty shocking employee trends when it comes to digital security and password hygiene:

  • A third of employees save passwords on lists on their computers or mobile devices rather than using encrypted password managers.
  • One in five employees use the same password for every login.
  • Eleven percent of employees who received phishing emails fell victim to them.
  • Only 41 percent of organizations reported that all of their remote employees adhere to the policies strictly on how to store and dispose of confidential information.10

By blocking certain websites, employers can regain some level of control over their digital security, beyond installing antivirus software on devices and having remote employees use VPNs.

Is It Legal to Unblock Websites?

Whether or not it’s legal to unblock websites depends on what country you’re in, among other factors. Authoritarian countries like China and Russia ban certain websites, so unblocking them is illegal. On the other hand, if you’re using a school computer that falls under the Children’s Internet Protection Act, unblocking websites is illegal as well. But as far as unblocking websites at your workplace, that’s legal, although frowned upon.

Recap

There you have it; everything we know about how to unblock websites, and why they’re blocked in the first place. We’re proponents of a free and open internet, so we hope that using a VPN was enough to get you past the firewalls. But note that if you’re in a country like China, you’re unblocking websites at your own risk. While using a VPN is legal in the U.S., that’s not the case everywhere, so above all, proceed with caution.

FAQs

Since internet censorship (and getting around it) is such a huge topic, we’ve answered the questions we get the most below.

  • How do I unblock a site?

    You can unblock a site by connecting to a VPN. A VPN will change your IP address, which could help you get around a firewall.

  • How do I unblock a website on Chrome?

    To unblock a site on Chrome, assuming you have administrator privileges:

    1. Open the Chrome app.
    2. Select More on the right (the three vertical dots).
    3. Click on Settings.
    4. Go to Privacy and Security.
    5. Select Site Settings.
    6. Unblock your desired website.

    However, if you lack administrator privileges, you may need to use a VPN on your device or a VPN browser extension in order to unblock websites.

  • How do I open blocked sites without a VPN?

    To open blocked websites without a VPN, you could try using a proxy server instead. You can also alter your device settings, if you have the administrator account, or use the Tor browser.

  • How do I unblock an app that an administrator blocked?

    The easiest way to unblock an app that an administrator blocked is to connect to a VPN on your device. The VPN will hide your device’s IP address and replace it with a new one, which should let you get around firewalls.

Citations
  1. Microsoft Support. Turn Microsoft Defender Firewall on or off.
    support.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/turn-microsoft-defender-firewall-on-or-off-ec0844f7-aebd-0583-67fe-601ecf5d774f

  2. Google Chrome Help. (2021). Change site permissions.
    support.google.com/chrome/answer/114662?hl=en&co=GENIE.Platform%3DiOS&oco=1

  3. Apple Support. (2021). Use parental controls on your child's iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.
    support.apple.com/en-us/HT201304#set-restrictions

  4. Google for Families Help. (2021). Manage your child's screen time.
    support.google.com/families/answer/7103340?hl=en#zippy=%2Cdisable-screen-time-limits

  5. DomainTools. (2021). Whois Lookup.
    whois.domaintools.com/

  6. Federal Communications Commission. (2019). Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA).
    fcc.gov/consumers/guides/childrens-internet-protection-act

  7. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Content Blocking.
    eff.org/issues/content-blocking

  8. BBC. (2020). Cyberloafing: The line between rejuvenating and wasting time.
    bbc.com/worklife/article/20200206-cyberloafing-the-line-between-rejuvenating-and-wasting-time

  9. Robert Half. (2017). Working Hard or Hardly Working? Employees Waste More Than One Day a Week on Non-Work Activities.
    rh-us.mediaroom.com/2017-07-19-WORKING-HARD-OR-HARDLY-WORKING-Employees-Waste-More-Than-One-Day-a-Week-on-Non-Work-Activities

  10. Shred-it. (2020). Data Protection Report 2020.
    images.learn.shredit.com/Web/ShreditInternationalInc/%7Bbe75755b-977c-4d5b-8e12-55fc5c40ac47%7D_Shredit_2020-Data-Protection-Report_US.pdf?utm_campaign=SIT%20DPR%202020%20Auto%20Response%20USA&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Eloqua