"Hacking" Public WIFI

Dear GeekWisdom,

I have noticed something very strange at my schools WiFi.  I use YouTube quite frequently, and yet when I am connected to WiFi I cannot find my favorite channels.  They show up just fine when using my mobile data, but seem to disappear completely when connected to the WiFi. How is this possible, and is their a way to 'fix it'?



Dear Confused-Student,

This indeed was quite an interesting and perplexing discovery!  First let me start by telling you a key important rule of security - Security By Obscurity is no SECURITY AT ALL!. 


To begin with, how on earth, can a public WiFi network prevent access to specific YouTube channels?  At first glance, you might think some kind of 'advanced' firewall that filters out specific URL addresses.  Typically though firewalls filter out entire sites by IP Addresses, though in theory with certain firewalls a system could filter out specific YouTube channels.

However, if this was the case, you would get a 'page not found' when visiting the channel, plus it isn't really practical because their can be hundreds of other combinations addresses that will work and the item would still show up in search. But in this case even doing a search on YouTube will not 'FIND'the channel.

Now YouTube offers a special mode you can setup called 'Restricted Mode'. When this is turned on it will filter out content that might be unsafe. It can be useful perhaps to keep kids from watching videos they maybe too young to watch (though - most smart kids know how to shut this off, and most adults don't know hot to turn it on).  Besides - it requires you to login to your YouTube account, and if you are on public WiFi, the wifi network can't control YOUR own account settings.

Thankfully, a few carefully constructed Google searches revealed this:

Force LAN Clients to use YouTube in RESTRICTED MODE - From draytek.com

Turns out it is a little 'hack' that a WiFi router can do if it is operating it's own DNS server.  The idea is to redirect all requests to www.youtube.com instead to restrict.youtube.com, a special site YouTube maintains that only contains the 'safe content'..or what YouTube editors consider 'safe' at least.  In this case, they have determined that your favorite YouTube channel is somehow 'unsafe'.

In fact this is the same way that captive portals work. When you first connect to a public WiFi and you get that 'Accept Terms & Conditions Screen', - no matter what site you try to load, you get that page first. The WiFi router redirects ALL requests to the Terms & Conditions or login page and will not let you go anywhere else until you have hit 'Accept' or whatever.

The problem with all of this of course, is this is NOT SECURITY. It's a little 'HACK'.  As the owner of your own device (laptop, mobile phone, etc) You have the option to simply point your DNS to some other server INSTEAD OF the WiFi routers server.  In Android you would do this under WiFi Advanced..Static..DHCP

Set your DNS to point to OPENDNS Servers ·

And VIOLA, you can now watch those 'mature' videos - ENJOY


Like most things in life, the answer is not simple. On one hand, it is your device and you have the authority to change any settings you want on it. On  the other hand you are connected to someone else's (not your) router.

This means the service you are using is their service, they can kick you off, or do whatever they want.  If you use this method to access content from YouTube (mature or not) you are not violating the law, but if your viewing of this content can be considered 'damaging' or is against the terms of service they provide by the WiFi provider - they may be able to take legal action and sue you.

What is clear is that you did not 'hack' their system. You did not try to gain access to unauthorized content, nor did you try to access another persons account, you simply updated your DNS server preference.



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