Netflix has been struggling to shut down subscribers accessing movies and shows not available in other countries. However, its efforts have mostly been futile as Internet Protocol address masking and Virtual Private Network usage, and other methods remain one step ahead of them. However, a Canadian researcher has proposed a new way that can help Netflix stop so-called “content tourists” for good.

AbdelRahman Abdou, from Carleton University Computer Security Lab, has come up with a method that does not look at a user's IP address in order to determine their location. Instead, he has been studying network measurement, which determines the location of a person accessing data by the physical and measurable properties of the internet.

Netflix's current fix for reinforcing geo-blocks is based on a user's IP address, which are easily masked to make the server think the user is in a location apart from where they really are.

Abdou's system bypasses user-submitted information for geo-blocking and instead measures the metrics of the network itself.

As a non-scientific example of how his system works, he explained that a 5-millisecond delay may be expected when data from Toronto, Canada is delivered to North Carolina in the U.S. However, if a user is merely masking their IP to only appear to be located in North Carolina, but is actually in China using a VPN, that delivery time would be twice as long due to the physical distance between the locations.

The system that Abdou proposes could theoretically work better than current systems because data travels on physical fiber-optic, copper cables and on wireless radio waves are at more or less known speed. Therefore, a drastic deviation from known measurements can be a good indicator that a user is hiding behind a VPN to mask their true location.

Drawbacks still exist with this type of identification system, however, because delays in data delivery could also be due to other factors such as data congestion on the network. Moreover, some companies are reluctant to adopt the technology because the test could potentially slow down their service.

However, Abdou says that such delays would only be about one or two seconds long and could be strategically done when the user is busy with other on-site tasks.

“In the case of Netflix, for example, those two seconds of measurements could take place in the background as the user initially scrolls through the list of available media deciding on what to watch,” he said.

Photo: Helge Thomas | Flickr

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