Speaker Key: PB: Phil Brown, DW: David Whelan
PB: Hi, it's Phil Brown and I'm here with David Whelan. Today we are going to talk about remote access.
DW: Remote access is pretty clear. What you want to
do is connect to a server or a computer that is back in your office or
in your home, but you want to do it remotely. So when you are at court,
or when you are on the go, you want to be able to get access to it
whenever you want to. In some ways we are already doing that with tools
like the Cloud, where I can synchronize a file up to Dropbox or
something like that and I can remotely access it through the web or by
downloading it to my device, but that is not really what we mean by
PB: One of the things we are going to be concerned
about with remote access is security and how to keep that information
safe between your device and your computer at home.
DW: That's right because it is using the same
internet as the Cloud, but it is a direct connection to the device that
you are trying to connect to. Remote access means that you are going to
somehow dial in or plug into the computer that you are going to be
using. There are really two ways to do that. One of the ways is VPN,
which is virtual private networking, and a second way is to use
something called RDP, remote desktop protocol, or VNC, virtual network
PB: Let's talk a bit about the differences and what
they mean. VPN, for instance, the virtual private network, is really
just a pipeline - a private pipeline, within the public network.
DW: That's right. It secures everything that is
transmitted through that pipe, and that means that everything that you
do on your device, both at the end where you start and the end where you
come out of that virtual private pipe - that virtual private network -
is encrypted. Some people may know that if you use a VPN to connect to
another country you can connect to resources that are in that country
because it makes it look like you are coming from wherever that country
is. But in your case, you would be using it for your office, so you
would be connecting to a virtual private network client sitting on your
computer in your office, or onto virtual private network hardware that
is in your office.
PB: I guess the first question would be: Does that mean that I can go back to using public Wi-Fi in Starbucks?
DW: I think yes, as long as the VPN is turned on
before you start to transmit any information. Everything after you have
connected to the Starbucks Wi-Fi - after you have agreed to whatever
your terms of service are - just flip to your VPN to make sure
everything is encrypted past that. The traffic is encrypted even though
you are on a public WiFi. No one should be able to see what is going on
inside that VPN.
PB: One of the (disadvantages) of using VPNs and RDPs tends to be a loss in speed sometimes.
DW: Absolutely. If you think about it, it is like
having one of those really big straws for your Slurpee and then going
down to, like, a coffee stirrer and still trying to slurp the Slurpee
through the coffee stirrer. It is not quite that bad, but you will
definitely notice that it is slower. So you will not necessarily want to
use a VPN all the time for your encrypted traffic, and that may take
you over to something like RDP or VNC. The difference really is that
although both of them or all of these use encrypted communications,
where VPN is a pipe and you are just transmitting across the encrypted
pipe, RDP and VNC connect you up to a remote computer and you use that
computer as if you were sitting in front of it. So I would not
necessarily be using anything on my tablet if I was on RDP. What I would
see is my Windows screen and I would move my mouse as if I was sitting
in front of that Windows computer, and I would do things on that
computer as if I was sitting there. So really it is just the activity
that I am doing on that computer that is encrypted. Nothing that is
going on in my laptop or my tablet is encrypted through that connection.
PB: Right, and neither of these concepts is
particularly new. They have been around for years. pcAnywhere, GoToMyPC -
some of those are the more common ones that people have been using for
access. There are other companies as well that do this same sort of
thing as the ones I mentioned, and there is also some mention of things
like personal cloud these days.
DW: Yes, and personal cloud is really similar to
VNC. What you have is a server listening for connections. In the case of
VNC, or even RDP, you would set up your computer inside your office so
that it would be listening for people connecting and then you would use a
client. In the case of the personal cloud it is usually a specific app,
but in the case of VNC or RDP, you would use a specific app that uses
that technology to connect up, and then the system that is listening
would accept the connection once you gave the user name and password.
You would then be into whatever the system is.
PB: Right. So you could use your computer in the
office even though you are not sitting in front of it. And you could
also limit access to certain files if you wanted; maybe there were ten
files that you thought were not secure enough to view from outside the
DW: Right. The personal cloud ones are nice because
it gives you the option to not use the cloud like Dropbox, but still
have access to files, folders, and other information. And again, it is
different from VNC or RDP where you actually see the computer you are in
front of. Personal cloud tends to be giving you file-level access to
whatever those resources are.
PB: And we talked a bit about this in another
podcast when we were talking about clean computers and clean devices.
There is nothing on your device other than the ability to log on with a
VPN. You are not actually storing anything on the device you are using
to access your home or office computer.
DW: Right. I use VNC within my home. I think it is
really good for an internal process. Frankly, I use it because I am
lazy. When one of my kids has a problem on their computer, I will VNC
down to it and fix it remotely without getting off the sofa. So, you
know, maybe not the best example of how to use it, but that's the way it
is. I think the thing to keep in mind if you are going to a VPN or any
sort of remote access technology for your law practice, is that you
should probably use hardware, rather than software alternatives.
Otherwise you have to open up your network connection to the internet so
that it allows the listening to happen with that server that is inside
your office. And if you do not know how to secure, or cannot keep up to
date on the security for that network connection, then you may actually
be opening up your remote access to other people accessing it.
PB: An example of one of those software issues was
Windows XP, which had a very simple setup for VPN, so the user could
easily do it themselves with the software. But of course, Microsoft has
stopped supporting XP, so there are a number of security vulnerabilities
for people who might still be using it.
DW: Right, and you can get VPN built into your
router and built into other systems. So when you are buying hardware for
your office or you home if you want to have VPN connectivity, you can
get it built into that hardware. And then when the hardware is updated
with new software called firmware, then security vulnerabilities that
have been found will be patched and you can be pretty confident that the
security is still there.
PB: Right, and there are a number of apps out
there. I mentioned Tonido, something I am not sure if it is just for
Macs, but it is one of the ones I use to access my computer when I do
not have it with me. I was also using something earlier this year called
Cloak 2, which is an app for the iPhone - I can turn a Starbucks
network in to a trusted network for me, and turn it into a VPN, so every
time I want to access that network, Cloak 2 says, "Oh, look - we've
used this one before and I'm going to create the VPN for you now." And
you can connect seamlessly through a VPN just using the app on your
phone or iPad.
DW: Yes. If you are on Windows or Linux, TightVNC
is a great option, and then you can use any open source VNC client to
connect to it. If you are primarily a Windows environment look for the
RDP apps, which are put out by Microsoft. They are free, and I believe
both IOS and Android have those. You would be amazed at how nice your
Windows computer will look using RDP on an Android tablet. It really is
just like being there, although on a slightly smaller screen.
PB: So again, a safer way to use public WiFi and a good way to wander around with a clean computer.
DW: That's right.
PB: Okay. That's our look at remote access and VPNs and RDPs. Thanks very much, David.
DW: Thanks, Phil.