TeamViewer Remote Desktop
I know what you’re thinking. “It sure would be nice to build a secure VPN without having to be a Braniac.” Well, with TeamViewer, you can. And it’s free for personal use. About 200 million computers use or have used TeamViewer, according to their website. It’s secure from end to end.
TeamViewer is a full featured remote desktop application. It supports file transfers to and from the server computer. You can connect from a laptop, desktop, tablet, or phone. Unlike many other remote desktop applications, the version you download is not crippled in any way, except for occasional nag screens that remind you it’s free for personal use only.
With TeamViewer, you can securely control a remote desktop. This means you can run a program on that desktop from afar, including your browser. By using your remote browser, you’re exposed in the same way as if you were using your home network rather than the network you’re using locally.
How Does TeamViewer Work?
Go to TeamViewer’s website and look around. Download the appropriate version. Install a copy on each laptop or desktop you want to control or use as a remote controller. Some versions, such as Android, may be used only as remote control software. Then you open an account with TeamViewer.
TeamViewer’s servers sit in the middle of the remote session and securely coordinate the connection. During configuration, you define which computers may be controlled remotely. To remotely control a computer, you start TeamViewer on that computer. TeamViewer’s servers take notice and all client computers that are also signed in to your account will see that the remote desktop is available for a remote connection. Double click workstation name and you’re in.
TeamViewer provides other connection options. You can use a static password or use a password that changes every time TeamViewer starts on the host. There are a lot of options and many capabilities. This is only a brief introduction showing how to use your home internet connection from anywhere you have access to the internet.
[Update July 2, 2016 – About a month ago, reports surfaced on the internet that TeamViewer had been hacked. Anecdotes appeared about people watching their screens come to life while they watched the cursor move around without their assistance. Some people claimed theft from ancillary accounts, such as Amazon or eBay or Paypal. All articles appeared to be similar, making it appear, to me, that one ‘press release’ was rewritten and distributed. TeamViewer acknowledged some accounts had been breached, but the scope of the break in has not been reported, or at least I haven’t seen it. TeamViewer responded to the security issue by enhancing log in procedures to add a layer or two more to the desktop sign-in. The stories of the hack disappeared after a couple of days.
One common element in the analysis was that it may have been a common password hack performed on individuals who use the same user-id and password for many on line accounts. TeamViewer supplies accounts that make remote sign in to multiple devices easy. Once you got-in, you had easy access to all remote devices associated with the account. They have since added a layer or two more to this approach, making it more secure.
TeamViewer accounts are optional. You can use TeamViewer with or without one. The net effect of the common passsword hack was when one account somewhere was hacked, many others were also hacked indirectly. No proof for or against this assertion was provided by anyone, but it seems like a good explanation to me.
TeamViewer allows you to use their servers as a nexus between your remote location and your home pc or allows exclusive access over the local lan. The former appeared to be the path of the hack. I use the latter method for desktop access – access over the local lan exclusively. I would use this approach with Microsoft Remote Desktop or any other remote desktop program or for remote access of any type. To me, leaving any door open on your network from outside entails risk.
To access the local lan from afar, I use OpenVPN on a pfSense router to create a secure bridge from that location to my local lan. Encryption, certificates, and multiple layers of user-ids and/or passwords that are specific to individual laptops or tablets and must match the installed certificates are used.
Not to be a buzzkill, you don’t need that level of security to use a remote desktop program. I just like it that way. More information about home network security can be found in this article.
Configuring The Remote Desktop
Start TeamViewer and Sign Up. Afterward, you will see this as TeamViewer’s start screen. If you like, you can enter a fixed password for this computer. Sign in.
If this computer is to be controlled remotely, Add this computer.
Follow the prompts.
Go to your favorite coffee shop and sit fearlessly next to anyone. Start TeamViewer. Sign in. Double click the computer name hosting the remote desktop. TeamViewer initiates a secure SSL oriented connection between you and your home computer.
Here’s your remote desktop. Start your favorite browser.
Go to your favorite website. You are connected to it through your home internet by way of the coffee shop you’re currently sitting in.
What’s the Catch? It’s Wake-on-LAN.
TeamViewer supports wake-on-LAN and provides documentation. If wake-on-LAN works on your computer, you will have it made in the shade. You can start TeamViewer on the remote desktop, put it to sleep, and wake it up remotely from afar before making your remote connection. If wake-on-LAN doesn’t work on your PC, then you have to leave the remote computer on and fully aware in order to connect.
Wake-on-LAN allows you to wake a sleeping computer up, remotely, so you can then do whatever you need. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work on a lot of computers. On some computers, it works under a limited set of conditions only and won’t accept all connections. The only way to know if it will work at any level is for you is to configure it and try.
With TeamViewer, you will either wake up the server while on the local LAN or remotely from a distant location. Waking the computer remotely from a distant location is a far more complicated scenario to configure.
TeamViewer didn’t invent wake-on-LAN. You can see if it works with or without TeamViewer. TeamViewer is just making a slick option available if you’re one of the lucky ones who can use it. They provide an instruction manual that details how to set it up on your PC.
To configure wake-on-LAN so that you can awaken a PC from a distant location, in general, you:
- Switch on Wake-on-LAN in your BIOS
- Attach your PC to a wired internet connection, not wireless.
- Open a DDNS account. You will need a URL to find your computer over the internet.
- Use ipconfig to find out the MAC address of the wired internet adapter.
- Go to Device Manager and find your wired internet adapter. Select all options that mention magic packets and enable them. Check the boxes that allow the computer to be awaken from the internet.
- Select the Power Options that allow the computer to be awakened remotely.
- Go to your router and forward port 9 UDP to the IP address of the PC to be awakened. Your router may also have a special wake-on-LAN configuration screen.
- Configure TeamViewer as requested.
Wake-on-LAN is less difficult to set up if you remain on the local network. Consult TeamViewer’s guide for specific instructions.
Then put your PC to sleep and use the TeamViewer Wake computer button from a different computer and see if it works. Put it back to sleep, wait a few minutes, and try it again. Hopefully, it still works. Wake-on-LAN has a bad habit of working initially, but not after a few minutes (I suspect an ARP cache is cleared a few seconds or minutes after the computer falls asleep).
If it works, consider yourself lucky. There are a few programs on the internet available for download that will turn your PC on remotely without TeamViewer. If one works, this opens up other possibilities, such as WebDAV.