Remote access to your home or office computer is a dream many of us have but fail to do anything about. It often comes to mind when we are out and about somewhere and need to access the content of an email, or if you are on the road and left a certain file behind but haven't the time to go back for it. Most of us can relate to a situation where we wished we has access to those home or office bound files through a broadband remote access server, but have done nothing about it believing it to be too hard. It might please you to know that this is not so. In fact it can be quite easy to set up with the use of a DDNS account and some broadband remote access server software. Once set up you will be able to control and peruse your home or office PC from any remote location just as if you were actually sitting in front of it.
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Applications That can Give you Remote Access
The applications required to create a remote broadband connection are many and varied but the most common include the following:
- Netopia's Timbuktu
- Symantec's PCAnywhere
You can also obtain a remote desktop sharing application that is built-in to Windows XP. You can find out more about this application by opening Windows 'Help' then click on 'Invite a friend to connect to your computer with Remote Assistance.' MSN messenger also offer a similar service.
How to Install the Application Software
The remote access server application TightVNC is free and serves as a good example of what you have to do to have it installed correctly. This should occur if you carry out the following instructions:
- Download the TightVNC 'installer' software package and install it on the computer you want to remotely control.
- Click on your Windows 'Start' button, go to 'Program Files', from there to 'TightVNC,' then 'Administration,' and finally 'Install VNC Service.' These actions will result in the VNC Engine running on 'Startup' which will let you reboot the computer from a remote location.
- When the VNC service starts for the first time you will be asked to enter a password. Make sure you make it a good password that you will easily remember but one that would be unknown to others. Probably some event that has been privy to you alone.
- Your next step is to download and install the application 'VNC Viewer' onto the computer you are going to use to carry out the controlling from.
- When running the 'VNC Viewer' type in the IP address, or the DDNS Host name, of the computer you want to connect to.
- You will be asked for the password you previously recorded and when this is complied with the desktop of your remote computer should appear. You will then be able to do anything on it that you would be able to do if you were physically sitting in front of it.
One of TightVNC's biggest weaknesses is that it is not totally secure and therefore you could be vulnerable to hackers who want to infect your computers with malware. The other weakness is that it won't allow you to actually transfer any files from one computer to another but you will be able to copy and paste small amounts of text. You can get around this by running an FTP server or VPN in conjunction with your set-up or simply emailing the required information to yourself.
How to Overcome not Having a Static IP Address
To create a broadband remote access server you will need a permanent or static IP address. A feature most computers don't necessarily have, however, this can be overcome by obtaining a Dynamic Domain Name Service (DDNS). DDNS service providers are to be found on the internet and many offer a free service. It is their task to redirect traffic looking for your particular domain name to whatever your current IP address might be. This means that whenever somebody enters your .com address on their web browser the request will first go to the DDNS providers name server which will seek out your latest IP address and direct your enquirer to your particular computer. Your changing IP address is easily automated so you won't have to be continually telling your DDNS provider of the changes personally.
Automatically Updating Your IP Address
You will now have to automate the process involved in updating your DDNS provider with the latest IP address of your broadband remote access server. This is achieved with an application especially designed for this specific purpose. There are many ways of doing this but as an example it is appropriate to choose one known as DirectUpdate. This particular application can work from behind your router or as a normal internet connection. It's also free. Careful you don't duplicate your services here as most routers these days have built in DDNS capabilities but they may not be compatible with your chosen DDNS provider. To properly set-up your Direct Update application you will have to carry out the following procedure after the application has been downloaded and successfully installed:
- Double click on the DirectUpdate icon in your system tray.
- Select 'Engine Connection' tab and create a password for security reasons as the 'local host.'
- Find the 'status' tab and up at the top you should find a 'create' button, after you have selected this go to your DDNS provider in the pull down menu and add your DDNS user name and password.
- Click on 'Edit IP Detection Settings' and set it to something sensible.
- Below this you will notice a group of services that will check your IP address from outside. Choose a couple and check to see if they work by typing their addresses into Internet Explorer.
- If you are using a router you can save all this by supplying your router's user-name and password and get your Direct Update client to check your latest IP address from your routers status page.
- It's now time to do a test. Click on 'Check IP now' on the status page and if the 'Select the Right IP' button starts to flash click on it and tick the box with the correct IP address and untick all the others.
Setting up a Remote Broadband Web Server
A remote broadband web server can also bring with it many benefits. It will allow you to display your favourite photographs as a thumbnail feature rather than you having to send over sized attachments in your emails to all and sundry. It is also a powerful tool to have in your armoury if you do a bit of web designing or developing and want to give your clients a look now and again. This can be a very simple procedure if you care to use a quite small web serving application from AnalogX named 'Simple Server:WWW.' This application is just 187k in size to download and once installed all you have to do is to click on the button, bottom centre, and direct it to your default page (index.html), you then click on 'start' and that's all there is to it.
File Transfer Protocol, or FTP serving, as it is better known, is a useful aid to have when you are downloading or uploading large files. Especially those that are too big to email. FTP server software can be located on your hard drive in a folder that can be accessed by the public, if you want you can place restrictions on it so that only certain people can gain access. There are many FTP server applications available. Before anyone can access your FTP server they will have to be a FTP client and there are also many of these available online to choose from.
Virtual Private Networking
VPN or Virtual Private Networking is another way of accessing remote broadband. In this way several computers can network together by using the internet as the connection between each other in preference to hardwired cable connected networks. VPN can be achieved by using a standard Local Area Network (LAN) that allows you to file share, establish data bases and use a shared printer, by using the internet. Windows for instance has had VPN built into its program since Windows 98 but to become a VPN server you will require Windows 2000 or XP. There are also many other private and non-Microsoft VPN client and server applications available online. Some routers are available that have their own secure VPN servers and client application software built in which basically does all the set up work for you.
Be Careful When Hosting Your own Email
Hosting your own email involves having your DDNS provider having to update MX records which can be a quite risky business. This is because you may innocently cause an open mail relay that could cost you big dollars in excess data costs if a spammer happened to come across it. They could put several gigabytes of spam mail though it as your mail server would be unsecured while connected to the internet. Some hackers are so on the ball that open mail relays are often located within mere hours after being online. The far safest way to own your own domain email addresses is to pay a professional hosting service to set it up for you. If you want to set up an internal mail server within your network it will be best to receive mail from an already established remote pop account and send mail through your Internet Service Provider (ISP). You could place all this behind your router as a router can overcome any miss-configurations.
The Importance of an IP Address
When dealing with anything that involves the internet it is best to picture it as one immense network of computers. Each computer that makes up this network, including your own, has a unique identity and a unique address. Its identity is known as its Mac Address and its unique address is known as its IP address. What we have been discussing here, in the main, has been the IP address. If you want to make any contact with any other computer on the internet the first thing your computer must do is to locate that computer's IP address. There are different categories of IP addresses and these categories depend on the size of the network your computer is connected to. There are IP address numbers reserved for private networks and others for public usage. Public IP addresses can be accessed by almost anyone unless blocked.
How the Domain Name Came Into being
Because people generally have difficulty in remembering a series of numbers, the concept of using domain names became commonly accepted. In order for the domain name concept to work another group of computers had to become involved. These became known as domain name servers and it is these computers that now form the backbone to the World Wide Web or WWW. These servers are much like street directories of the internet because it is they that tell other computers where to find the computer where a certain web page can be located. It is they that have simplified the search to simply typing in a name on your search engine and clicking enter, you are taken directly to the page you are seeking from among the millions out there to choose from.
Remote broadband has become a part of the internet in a big way as it is the manner in which many more computers can share in the overall enjoyment of being online, while at the same time receive protection from a router that doubles as an effective firewall keeping would be hackers at arm’s length. A remote access server set up to serve a network, or other workstations, or simply be a home base for an out and about user who needs to access private files when not around the office or home, can make life that much easier and more productive. It is not a difficult task to set up a broadband remote access server as long as you follow a few basic steps.