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Control Other Computers Remotely

06.26.09

Updated for UltraVNC, Jun 2009. The old instructions for use with Netmeeting can be found here.

Intro

What is this about? Well imagine not just accessing but securely controlling your home computer from anywhere in the world even if the computers are protected behind NAT routers. Or if you need to help a friend or family member with computer problems from far away, forget trying to explain everything over the phone, just take over their computer and fix it yourself. They can see everything you do and learn. You can do all this without paying for extra software.

The title is a little deceiving. It takes more than just the free program Hamachi to do this on any computer other than Win XP Pro. You also need UltraVNC (or get it from the UltraVNC home page) which is a free open source program you can download from the web.

I'll talk about some more things you can do after setting this up at the end of the article. Let's get to it.

Steps:

1. Install Hamachi

Ok, you can use Hamachi to make the secure connection between the two computers. Hamachi helps to secure the connection and make the connection possible when one or both of the computers is behind a firewall.

You can find a link to Hamachi on my Downloads page (along with other great programs) or just go to Hamachi's download page.

You need to install Hamachi on both computers. Let's call the first computer Computer 1, and the second Computer 2. When you install it, it will start a tutorial to teach you how to use Hamachi. Follow the tutorial that describes how to set up a Hamachi Network. When you install Hamachi on Computer 2, you'll need to join the Hamachi Network that you set up on Computer 1. As you install it on each computer you'll see a number at the top of the Hamachi window like 5.000.000.000. That is the Hamachi IP address. You'll need these numbers later.

Congratulations, you've completed the first major step. If you're a little more advanced and would like Hamachi running as a service when the computer boots (very helpful for accessing after reboot) read this article . Although we're not done yet, you can already do a lot with your Hamachi Network connection. You can securely access the shared folders on Computer 2 from Computer 1 (or vice-versa). You can also securely chat with a user on the other computer. But our goal is to take over the other computer so continue to the next step.

2. Install and Set up UltraVNC

Installing UltraVNC is not too complicated to install. If Computer 1 is the one in you want to access you'll install UltraVNC as a server on that machine. Then on the computer you'll use to access Computer 1 you only need to install UltraVNC Viewer. Both are included in the download. Simply double click the downloaded setup file to begin the process.

a) During install, when asked to "Select Components" on Computer one, I recommend selecting "Full Installation" when prompted so you'll have both the server and viewer available. If you don't expect to need remote access to Computer 2, select viewer only.

b) When prompted to "Select Additional Tasks" you have some options. If you want to access Computer 1 anytime the computer is on, while installing on Computer 1 check the boxes for "Register UltraVNC Server as a system service" and "Start or restart UltraVNC service." If you want someone sitting at Computer 1 at the time you remotely access it to manually start the server program (for example, helping a distant friend that doesn't need you to have access all the time), you don't need to select either of those options.

c) UltraVNC Server Property Page

During install, if you've opted to install the server, you'll get the UltraVNC Server Property Page. I only recommend changing three things on this window and that depends on how you're using UltraVNC.

First, you must change the VNC Password. Use a strong password with numbers, lower case and uppercase letters, and special characters like @,#,%,*, etc.

Second, if you plan to access Computer 1 from Computer 2 when no one is sitting at Computer 1, I recommend changing the authentication to "Require MS Logon." This means you'll have to know a windows username and password that is normally required to login to that computer. When you choose to use the MS Logon, you'll be prompted to choose which user account to use to run the program. I recommend choosing "Current user" as long as it's an administrator account and unchecking the "protect my computer" box to allow full access to make changes to Computer 1.

Third, if you're using this to access your own computer at home, I recommend changing the option for "When Last Client Disconnects" from "Do Nothing" to "Lock Workstation (W2K)." It's at the top center of the UltraVNC Server Property Page. This means that when you're done accessing the server on Computer 1, it will lock that computer. That means people that have physical access to the computer while you're away won't be able to use your admin login on Computer 1. As a side note, the option says "(W2K)" but it works on XP and Vista as well.

If the owner of Computer 1 does not want to divulge the username and password for their Windows login they can opt not to "Require MS Logon" and only enter a VNC Password instead.

After this "Finish" the install and you should see the icon in lower right corner system tray. It's a blue square with a black and white eye. When someone is connected to the server on Computer 1 that icon turns red.

Try to connect to the server immediately to make sure the access password or username and password work. I had issues with this. To solve them I right clicked on the blue UltraVNC icon in the system tray, selected "Admin Properties" reset the Authentication and then rebooted Computer 1. You can also try to go to Start Menu\UltraVNC\Edit Settings to configure the authentication.

3. Connect to UltraVNC through Hamachi

Alright, now that you have the software installed and setup, it is time to make the connection and take control. Start Hamachi on both computers if it is not already started (If you plan to do this while traveling, you'll need to leave your home computer on with Hamachi and UltraVNC Server on while you're gone. If you're helping a friend with their computer, they'll have to start Hamachi) and connect to the Hamachi Network you created earlier. You should be able to see on Computer 1 that Computer 2 is connected (and vice-versa). If you set up UltraVNC Server on Computer 1, run UltraVNC Viewer on Computer 2, type the Hamachi IP address for Computer 1 into the window at the top of UltraVNC Viewer on Computer 2 and click on the connect button. You'll get a "UltraVNC Authentication" window. You then need to enter the Username and Password (or just password if that's how the server is setup). Enter those and click OK. You'll get a window that shows the desktop of Computer 1.

The view may not look perfect depending on the connection speed. Working in a reduced graphics mode makes the connection faster. Even though it may not look as colorful, you can just click on anything in that window and you are doing it on the other computer. You now have control (total control if you logged into an administrator account). When you're done, just close the window and close Netmeeting and Hamachi.

The UltraVNC connection can be done without Hamachi but it can be much more difficult (routers and firewalls will need more configuring) and not nearly as secure because you won't have the encryption included in the Hamachi connection protecting your data. UltraVNC has it's own encryption capability, but I have not been successful it making it work with Vista and XP after multiple attempts.

4. Handling Firewalls

If you are running a software firewall, it may get in the way of the Hamachi and/or UltraVNC connection. Since Hamachi works like a network adapter, you can create a trusted zone in your software firewall to allow traffic easily through.

If your firewall pops up windows asking you if you want to allow Hamachi or UltraVNC to connect out to the internet you need to allow the programs to connect out.

Other Ideas

With this kind of connection you can run programs on the other computer. You can access all the files whether they are in shared folders or not. You can play your music or video files. Or you can securely browse the internet from your laptop through your home computer at wireless Hotspots thanks to the encrypted Hamachi connection. There are lots of ways you can use such a secure connection without paying the high price for Windows XP Pro.

This is a fairly advanced task but if you have any difficulty, you're welcome to email me with questions but please make sure your email subject line doesn't look like spam or it will probably get deleted. Also email me if you have suggestions on how I can make this or any part of my site better. Thanks.