How can I access my files in the office from anywhere (Remote Desktop Connection)?

Being able to travel anywhere and still have access to your files, folders and programs is one of the things that makes technology great. Remote access has been around for decades, but has only recently become mainstream with the availability of high-speed Internet almost everywhere.

So, what is the best way to safely access your computer remotely? Here are the three most common questions we are asked:

  1. What is the benefit of remote access and what can I access?
  2. What program should I use for remote computer access?
  3. What are the security concerns with remote computer access?
What is the benefit of remote access and what can I access?

Remote access to your computer — commonly referred to as Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) — was originally part of Windows XP and allowed you to access a computer remotely, albeit very slowly and not without a lot of behind-the-scenes setup. Since then, remote access has matured and now allows you to access your desktop (or laptop) and control the screen as if you were sitting in front of that remote computer. You can open programs and modify files.

Many users will log in on the road and open Photoshop, Project, Acrobat, etc. (on their “back in the office” computer) and modify a document and then email it to themselves for use on the local computer. There are even apps for smartphones and tablets that allow for remote access, and they work great. While connected remotely, you can transfer files back and forth and even locally print the documents that are open on the remote computer.

What program should I use for remote computer access?

There are several great programs to remotely access your computers and servers. Take a look at LogMeIn and GoToMyPC. These are paid services that many people have used or heard of. However, if you have a modern Internet router at your office (i.e. purchased within the last 2 years), you can use Remote Desktop Connection, which is free and built into every Microsoft Windows computer.

The only requirement is to know your office’s static Internet IP address (you can ask your Internet service provider for this address); then log into your router and setup a “port forward.” This means that you tell the router how to handle incoming requests from outside users. Create a port-forward for each user who needs to access his/her desktop computer. Then, enter in your IP address and port number (from the port forwarding setup) into the Remote Desktop Connection program and within 3 to 4 seconds, you are at the login screen for your computer.

There are several help guides on the Microsoft website on how to use RDC, and it only takes about 15 minutes to setup. You will be impressed with how fast it connects and how quickly you can access your remote documents and programs.

What are the security concerns with remote computer access?

As with all technology, there is always a security component and related concern. The biggest concern is what network you are connected to remotely that you will be using to remote in to the office. Never use free public Wi-Fi for any remote connections (free – you get what you pay for) as they are not secure and are easily hacked by someone with only moderate knowledge of hacking. You will want to increase the complexity of your office computer password (make sure it is at least 8 characters and includes a number, a symbol and upper- and lowercase letters).

Also make sure that you have two anti-virus/anti-malware programs on both computers (the local and the remote). No single program is enough these days to combat the flood of malware and viruses. We use BitDefender and Malwarebytes (the paid version of both – never use a free anti-virus program – you get what you pay for) for the computers and servers we manage for our clients. Treat your remote access opportunity as you would your online banking access. Protect your passwords and change them regularly. A little preventative maintenance goes a long way to avoiding a remote access security problem.

Conclusion

Remote access is a great convenience and can literally “save the day” when you’re out of the office and forgot a file or need to modify a document or drawing before heading into a meeting or client presentation. Remote access also has many security pitfalls that can be avoided with proper planning and an understanding of what network you are using to connect. Try to never start a remote connection session while on a public Wi-Fi network — use your phone’s hotspot instead. Once you get the hang of remote access, it will literally allow you to work when and where you want, while still keeping your business continuity plan intact.

About Accelera IT Solutions

Accelera IT Solutions is a Phoenix, Arizona-based provider of complete IT services and solutions including on-site support, remote support, data backup and replication (to our secure data center), consulting for HIPAA and PCI compliance, IT project management and cyber-security audits and planning. Accelera also specializes in hardware consulting and installation/setup of servers, workstation, laptops and desktops. Contact Accelera at 623-266-4190 or at www.acceleradata.com.

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