How to Remote Access a Computer: Ultimate Guide
Author: Mike Khorev
Ever been in situations where you need to access data stored on your laptop or PC, but you currently don’t have physical access to your computer?
This is just one of the situations where remotely accessing your computer can be beneficial, and fortunately, today, we have various methods and technologies to do so.
With the right remote desktop solutions, nowadays, we can quite easily establish a reliable remote connection to your computer from anywhere and from any device (including your mobile phone), and in this guide, we’ll discuss all you need to know about it.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to remote access your computer with different solutions and techniques, and without further ado, let us begin.
Remote Computer Access: The Concept
Remote access, or to be more exact, remote computer access, is the ability to access a computer or even a group of computers (a network that is not within your physical reach.
There are various situations where remote computer access can be beneficial for both businesses and individuals, including but not limited to:
- When you need to access an important file that’s on a computer not currently without your physical presence
- Facilitating employees currently working remotely with the ability to access office computers and their files
- Giving the ability to technicians to remotely access your computer or your devices to perform repairs or troubleshoot an issue
- Allowing you to help someone on their computers who live far away from you. This can be for both personal and professional purposes. For example, you can access your elderly grandparent’s computer remotely and help them fill out an important document or troubleshoot a software issue.
- Allowing efficient file-sharing between devices
- Easily monitor and control computers remotely, useful in remote working situations
- Using less powerful devices to mirror the original computer and access its applications. For example, users can use a cheap tablet to access Photoshop, using the original computer’s resources to perform their work remotely.
With the global COVID-19 pandemic situations throughout 2020 and 2021 transforming how we do business in various ways, remote computer access has surged in popularity and importance.
More and more people are getting more familiar with the concept of remote computer access, and many businesses are now involving remote access in their regular workflow.
How Does Remote Access Work?
While there is a wide variety of actual methods and technologies we can use to perform remote access, all of these methods involve two core elements:
- (Reliable) internet connection
- Remote access software solutions
To perform remote access, you’ll need to install software on the computer you want to access, as well as on the device you want to use to remotely access the device (or some solutions allow you to use web apps, so you don’t need to install anything.)
The manufacturer of your computer’s OS may offer its remote access solution that works natively with the OS. For example, if you are using a Windows computer, then Microsoft offers a fully integrated and built-in Remote Desktop Connection tool, which lets you connect remotely to this device via Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP).
However, there are also third-party solutions available with various features and price ranges, including:
A popular cross-platform remote computer access solution that you can use on Windows, macOS, Linux, and Chrome OS. You can perform remote access to computers running these OSs via mobile apps (iOS, Android, Windows Phone.)
A comprehensive cloud-based virtual desktop solution, allowing you to remotely access a computer and gain a full desktop experience from any device.
Another popular remote access solution. More expensive than TeamViewer but offers high-quality video streaming features.
Remote Computer Access Solutions: Attended vs. Unattended
As discussed, remote computer access can be used for a wide variety of personal and professional purposes.
Based on these purposes, we can divide remote computer access solutions/tools into two main types: attended and unattended.
Understanding these two different types and their differences can help you in determining which type of solution you’ll need based on your needs:
1. Attended Remote Access Solutions
Attended remote computer access solutions will require the owner of the computer (or an authorized person) to be physically present with the computer you are going to remotely access so they can provide authentication.
This type of remote access solution is typically used for customer support purposes, for example, allowing technicians to remotely troubleshoot a computer without physical access.
Since this type of remote access solution requires users to provide authorization and grant access to the computer, these solutions are not ideal for scenarios like when you need to remotely access your own laptop or any situations where the end users cannot be physically present with the device in question.
2. Unattended Remote Access Solutions
Unattended remote access solutions allow users to remotely access a computer without the authorization of the end-user, and the owner/user of the device is not required to be physically present.
Typically unattended remote access solutions will involve a small program installed on the computer (running as a lightweight agent in the background). Users can access the program from another device remotely (i.e., via a web app) to establish remote connections to the computer.
Unattended remote access solutions allow us to connect with your computer from anywhere and at any time, but we may need to pay extra attention to potential security breaches with these solutions.
This type of remote access solution is ideal for companies that require more agility and flexibility in remotely accessing their devices. For example, it can be used by companies looking to facilitate remote workers with the means to connect to their office desktop anytime and from any device.
Best Practices When Performing Remote Access to Computers
Data security is an important concern when remotely accessing a computer, especially if the device in question is storing sensitive/confidential information.
With that being said, here are some best practices you’d want to follow when using remote access solutions to access your devices:
- Regularly conduct security audits
If remote computer access is a part of your business’s day-to-day operations, it’s crucial to perform regular security audits and risk assessments so you can quickly identify vulnerabilities and potential risks in your network.
If necessary, you may want to run separate risk assessments for remote services, which should cover the following areas:
- VPN authentication
- Configurations of all important resources
- Group permission changes
- Access control to resources (both cloud and on-premises)
- User activity on cloud solutions, especially cloud solutions that store confidential information
- Failed login attempts
- Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) sessions (if any)
Use the data gathered from the assessment as a benchmark of normal usage. So, you can quickly and effectively identify suspicious activities and prevent any issues as soon as possible.
- Use a secure VPN.
Your employees may use public Wi-Fi to remotely access their computers, for example, when they are at airports or hotels.
Make sure to enforce a policy of using secure VPNs anytime remote access is performed, so your remote desktop server won’t be directly connected to the internet, making it less vulnerable to hackers.
A VPN will facilitate employees with secure access to your office network while at the same time protecting your network’s security during remote access activities.
In short, if your company allows remote access of any degree, investing in a secure VPN is a must.
- Invest in high-quality antivirus
Depending on your industry and/or location, you may be legally required to invest in proper antivirus/anti-malware solutions.
Antivirus will help protect your main network and the computer being remotely accessed from malware infections, for example, when the device attempting remote access is already infected by malware. Vice versa, the antivirus solution should be employed to protect the endpoint devices from malware infections of any kind.
Make sure to choose the right antivirus solution according to your needs, and make sure to install it on all devices.
- Ensure end-to-end encryption
End-to-end encryption ensures that only the sender and the intended receiver of data can access, read, modify, and use the information. Encryption is very important to ensure data privacy and integrity, so even when a criminal successfully intercepts your data transmission or gains access to your employees’ endpoint devices, they still won’t be able to access the encrypted confidential data.
Nowadays, enabling end-to-end encryption is very easy, and there are various free and affordable tools to help you do so. Meaning, there’s simply no excuse not to enable end-to-end encryption.
- Make it mandatory to use strong passwords
Human errors and especially the usage of weak/non-unique passwords remain the top causes of successful data breaches.
Enforce a strong password policy for employees, especially those who will perform remote access. Passwords should be at least eight characters long and include a combination of lowercase letters, uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
Also, educate employees to use unique passwords (one password for one account.) Nowadays, there are various password manager tools (including free ones) that can help you in generating and storing strong passwords easily.
- Employ 2-factor authentication
Still related to the importance of enforcing a strong password policy, you should employ 2-factor authentication on account logins, especially for remote logins.
2-factor authentication (2FA), as a type of multi-factor authentication, is essentially asking for a second piece of information besides the username/password pair to verify the user’s identity. This can be:
- Something you are: face ID, fingerprint, retinal/iris scan
- Something you have: USB dongle
- Something you know: OTP (one-time-password), additional PIN, etc.
The idea of 2-factor authentication is that even if the cybercriminal somehow gained access to the user’s credentials, they won’t be able to access the account due to the extra layer of security provided by 2FA.
- Educate your employees on cybersecurity practices
Unfortunately, your company’s security is only as strong as the least knowledgeable person in your company.
To properly protect your business from data breaches and other cybersecurity threats, you need to train and educate your employees to create a secure culture and mitigate security risks, especially in remote computer access.
Make security awareness training a part of your employee onboarding program, and make sure to regularly refresh the training to include the latest developments and trends in cybersecurity.
While establishing a secure culture can be lengthy and difficult, it’s still very important and is going to be worth it in the long run.
- Update everything regularly
Update your software and firmware as soon as updates are available, and consider replacing devices that are no longer supported by their manufacturers (no longer receiving software updates.)
Make sure to implement automatic software updates whenever possible. If automatic updates aren’t possible, make sure to establish a regular schedule to update everything, at least once a week.
- Establishing a comprehensive remote access policy
To really secure your network during remote computer access, it’s crucial to establish an in-depth remote access policy that identifies who can gain remote access capabilities, when, and how.
Remember to give remote access privilege only when it is absolutely needed by the employee to perform their work.
Your remote access security policy should cover the following areas:
- Centralized management of data access control, ensuring only authorized users can remotely access the network.
- Establishing access and authentication methods, including strong password rules
- Establishing data and network encryption standards
- Email usage policies
- Information confidentiality policies
- Network connectivity best practices (i.e., mandatory VPN usage)
- Physical and virtual device security policies
- Trusted vs. non-trusted sources list
- Third-party vendor access policies
- Acceptable use
Both organizations and individuals can benefit from remotely accessing computers from other locations, especially in today’s increasing trend of remote work and the surge in demands for remote computer solutions.
Today, establishing remote computer access sessions is fairly easy with various affordable and easy-to-use solutions available in the market. However, it’s still very important to choose the right remote desktop solution versatile enough to accommodate your business’s unique needs in remotely accessing different device types across your chosen platforms.
In the above guide, we have also listed some important best practices to follow in order to help create a more secure remote computer access, without compromising the versatility and mobility benefits of remote access. It’s crucial to ensure that your network remains secure while keeping pace with your internal processes.