Web filter evasion part 1: RSS and You

View entire series: Web Filter Evasion

A lot of times, you kind of want access to your favorite content, even if it's just to read it, while at work or school. Some places with more draconian Internet access policies block pretty much everything "cool" and paint their restrictions with a very wide brush. In this series, we'll uncover a few ways around these restrictions.

In Part 1, I am going to cover one way of evading these restrictions that is not only one of the most straightforward and easy methods, but also the least likely to get you in trouble with your boss or your IT department: Online RSS readers.

About RSS
RSS was invented around the turn of the century, but started to gain widespread popularity in the wake of so-called "Web 2.0", when syndication, mash-ups, cross-platform publication and content management all coalesced together. While not every web site has an RSS feed, almost every blog, news site and social network has some kind of RSS integration going on. In this article, I'll focus on gaining access to content via RSS despite web filtering software's strangle-hold.

Local RSS Clients
Local RSS clients such as FeedReader or Mozilla Firefox Live Bookmarks usually contact the site directly, pulling a data feed down (RSS, Atom, XML, etc) to display the information in a lightweight, easy-to-read format. The problem with this is that the RSS feed usually has the blocked URL in it. For example, Digg's rss feeds are all on digg.com. If access to Digg is blocked, you can't get to the feeds, either.

Online Readers
Online RSS readers pull the feed from a central server, then just display the information to you directly over the web. For this example, I'll use Google Reader. That said, My Yahoo and MSN Live (among dozens of others) also offer the ability to integrate feeds on your page but it's not quite as robust as Google Reader. Using the example above, if you add Digg's RSS feeds to Google Reader, your web filter only sees you trying to access http://www.google.com/reader/ which is passing the contents of the RSS feeds to you - and most web filters let you get to Google. Again, if that doesn't work, there are dozens of ways to access RSS feeds with online readers.

Things to note
One flaw here is that embedded content from banned sites won't load and may be logged in your web filtering software. If your employer blocks Flickr, you can load someone's Flickr RSS feed into your reader and see their feed, but all of their images will fail to load. Same goes for blog posts with embedded YouTube videos if YouTube is blocked. You get the idea. Basically, this works best for RSS feeds where most of the content is text-based. News sites like CNN or Engadget. Social bookmarking sites like Digg, delicious and reddit. Blogspot, wordpress or livejournal blogs. Even twitter.

If you get busted (which is not likely if you play your cards right), you can always say that you use something like Google Reader to track updates to your favorite websites at home. If you can get to it from work, it must be okay, right? Make sure you're managing your time wisely, and keep the content you view at work "work safe" and non-offensive. Chances are that your boss won't mind. In fact, he might just think you're checking your personal email really quick, as RSS readers often look somewhat similar to web mail clients. Plausible deniability only works once, though. If you're asked to stop it, you should stop. If your written policy specifically bans all personal Internet browsing, you may also get the book thrown at you. HiR won't be held responsible for legal or employment problems.

How to do it:
First, sign up for a free Google account if you don't have one already.

Next, go to Google Reader and log in.

Add a subscription RSS feed. I'll add HiR Information Report to my Google Reader:

In part 2, I'll cover using out-of-band communication.

View entire series: Web Filter Evasion

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