How do I access a work PC from home - file access only?
June 23, 2007 6:41 AM   Subscribe

How do I access files on my work PC from home? I just need to share files, not take control of the computer.

Assume I know nothing about networking / secure access / anything else to do with this subject. I've looked at Remote Desktop, but the work computer needs to be fully useable by whoever is there using it. I've also done some Google searches but didn't find anything that clearly explained the options.

Both computers have XP SP2 - home has XP Home, I believe the work computer has XP Pro. I have admin access to both so can install / configure software & settings at will. Work computer is running our retail Point-Of-Sale system using custom software. I can install the software at home and would like to be able to access real-time POS data at home by accessing the data files across the internet, without locking out the work computer.

I assume I need to install something on the work computer that will allow me to securely connect and share certain files, while providing the best possible protection against hackers. Suggestions on how to proceed / what software to look at are required.

If this is something that is either a security nightmare or very difficult to set up safely, please tell me. I do have the option of working from nightly backups of the files if accessing them real-time is not feasible.
posted by valleys to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Set up an FTP server on the work computer.

But I would recommend working on nightly backups anyway, because presumably these files are going to be accessed on the work computer during the day, perhaps frequently. If they're being transfered when that happens, the work computer won't be able to write to them and will do some combination of: throw an error/lose the data/crash and die.
posted by anaelith at 6:50 AM on June 23, 2007

In short, this is a security nightmare.

It can be done, but it is not easy to do safely, and you probably wouldn't know if you left yourself more exposed. That is not meant as an insult, it just isn't easy to do securely, especially with Windows.

Someone might come back and say I am an idiot, and you can use some simple piece of software to do this. They might be right on both counts. But you have to weigh the risk against the reward - how valuable is that data to others? Are you willing to risk your POS data being leaked, or your POS system being compromised, just so you can have more convenient access to it?

On preview, please don't set up an FTP server. FTP is one of those protocols that should be deprecated for most purposes, much like telnet.
posted by bh at 6:56 AM on June 23, 2007

Set up an FTP server on the work computer.

Better to setup an SFTP server. There are quite a few available. Most FTP clients also include SFTP functionality.

Bear in mind that some "hobbyists" scan the Internet for open ports on what are normally home IP ranges and then try to brute-force crack the password. If you're going to make files available, ensure you make available only what you need. Don't be tempted to share your entire C: drive, for example.
posted by humblepigeon at 6:58 AM on June 23, 2007

Doh—wrong link above. Here you go.
posted by humblepigeon at 6:59 AM on June 23, 2007

GoToMyPC is $20/mo. Some people like it. A friend has it and she likes it. It allows use of programs remotely, which is more than you need.

I would do the FTP thing as suggested above if you don't want to spend anything. Just be aware your IP address could change, depending on how your service provider does things.
posted by The Deej at 6:59 AM on June 23, 2007

Don't use FTP. SFTP is okay. If possible, you should set it up using public key authentication so that no one can log into your computer without the key (a small file), even if they have your password.
posted by grouse at 7:05 AM on June 23, 2007

Use GMail Drive, and Microsoft Sync Toy. That way you can store the important files online, and have them synchronized whenever you want.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:07 AM on June 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hamachi lets your set up a Virtual Private Network among machines on the internet.
posted by tayknight at 7:21 AM on June 23, 2007

Does your company have an IT dept? A firewall? A VPN?

If you have an IT group, please discuss it with them before trying anything. If you have a firewall at work (and chances are that you do), there's probably some form of VPN access that can be set up. Even cheapo Linksys routers have basic VPN setups.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:24 AM on June 23, 2007

I haven't used it in a while, but FolderShare (now apparently part of the Windows Live family) will let you do this fairly simply.
posted by camcgee at 7:26 AM on June 23, 2007

I second FolderShare and Hamachi. I've not used the former, but Hamachi is very, very simple to setup, is secure, and makes it quite easy to use your files over a remote link. You can also use it to remote to the system if you so desire. :-)
posted by tcv at 7:28 AM on June 23, 2007

a friend of mine uses gotomypc, and it seems to work for him, though I don't know firsthand. If anyone else knows more about it it would be interesting to hear it.
posted by micayetoca at 8:05 AM on June 23, 2007

Definitely check with the powers that be at your workplace before implementing anything. I asked for remote access to my work computer from home, and got it, but the IT woman set me up. I don't know enough about networking to attempt it, and I imagine I could royally fark up our system security had I attempted it on my own.

She set up PC Anywhere, which worked okay, but now we're all logged onto a server, and I can also log on to the server from home and work from that "desktop" just as if I were in the office. There's no lag time with the latter; PC Anywhere has a definite lag time.

Beware of one thing, though--unpaid overtime. It's very easy to "just check email and do a few letters" and find you've spent a good chunk of weekend/evening time working instead of recharging during your "home" time. Although when there's a lot of work to get done, it's very good to be able to do some stuff at home. My desk is in a small office with two other people and a reception counter (unlike other people in my office who have private space) and sometimes it's very helpful to work on something in quiet.
posted by Savannah at 9:11 AM on June 23, 2007

Setting it up to explicitly connect to an outside computer makes it a security risk.

I would be pretty wary of sharing a POS system. Answer these two questions before continuing:

1) Is what you want to do important to your business?

2) If a curious or nefarious person got access to your POS, what kind of mischief could they do and how hard would it be to undo?

If you find acceptable answers to these, I would nth a recommendation for Hamachi. It's dead easy to setup, very secure, and will let you connect to your remote network as if it is local, and almost always works through though firewalls.

This all assumes this is a small company and there is no regular IT staff. If there is IT staff, ask them. If they say "no" then forget it. They're right.
posted by Ookseer at 9:51 AM on June 23, 2007

fileshare is good, as is free version
posted by spyke23 at 11:01 AM on June 23, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the input so far. To answer a few questions ...

I am 'the powers that be'. I'm also the most knowledgeable - amongst our small staff - about computers so tend to be considered the 'IT Department'. I also know enough not to mess with things that I could break. POS is the only thing that happens on the work PC, but it is obviously fairly crucial to the business. Losing the system and having to switch computers / restore a backup wouldn't be too terrible at this time of year but would be a nightmare at Christmas.

After more thought, what I do is important, and I work from home at least 2 days a week, but the need for real-time data isn't necessarily vital. I'll try working from the backups for a while and see how it goes. It would be more useful for my co-manager, but she has an ancient PC that barfs whenever she tries to do anything more than routine web surfing, so I won't even consider trying to set it up for her.
posted by valleys at 11:33 AM on June 23, 2007

Another vote for Hamachi. I do exactly the same thing with my systems (have it running at work to access files at home, and vice-versa.) It's easy to set up and has worked just fine for me.
posted by harkin banks at 1:12 PM on June 23, 2007

Another nod for Hamachi.
posted by drinkspiller at 2:29 PM on June 23, 2007

USB key
posted by loiseau at 3:49 PM on June 23, 2007

Get a small USB drive and SyncToy as mentioned above, and don't bother with remote access at all. You can get a 16 GB USB drive the size of a matchbox for less than $200, or much larger drives that will hold much more data for about the same price.
posted by me & my monkey at 5:17 PM on June 23, 2007

I'm in agreement with the USB thumb-drive solution. If you do decide to still go the remote route, look into setting up a VPN. You'll need to make sure your local firewall, and company firewall will support it. Aside from that, be sure to configure you local firewall so it only allows VPN connections from your home PC (eg. Specify your home PCs IP address as an exception). Often with a good firewall or IPSEC strategy, you can sleep better at night.

(get that ancient PC replaced too..hah)
posted by samsara at 8:50 PM on June 23, 2007

I would use Hamachi with a good password on your Hamachi network. Should be quite secure. You can set up a shared folder and access it directly as if it were on your LAN. If you need to access today's data and are worried about file-use conflicts, perhaps set up the POS system to periodically copy the data files to your shared folder every hour or so and then access the copies.
posted by jacobsee at 1:16 PM on June 27, 2007

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