Windows 8 VPN: Remote access files and desktop, no extra software needed

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Create a VPN server in Windows 8 and get access to your personal documents and programs securely using Windows Remote Desktop Connection.

Yup! You heard it right, Microsoft is pulling the plug on Live Mesh (officially on February 13, 2013) and with it will go away the option to remote desktop your PC and accessing your documents remotely. Now, how can you continue having these features? You could use SkyDrive, which is the replacement for Mesh and is not bad, but it only gives 7GB of free cloud storage, sync settings and files PC-to-PC, and Remote Fetch, a feature allows you to get access to your files remotely. However remote desktop isn’t a feature anymore, here is when having your own VPN server comes handy and Windows 8 has this feature built-right-in and many users don’t even know it exist.

Using Windows 8 VPN is a free solution that will give you the same Live Mesh features with the difference that you’ll be creating your own private cloud. The only catch though, is that the configuration process is a bit hard, if you don’t know your way around Windows, but hopefully this tutorial will help you every step of the way.

The benefit of creating your own cloud is that you have full control over it, it’s more secure, and you don’t have to worry about how companies deal with your data. Using a virtual private network, you don’t need to worry about forgetting an important document or where is your location; all you need is a Windows PC with VPN client configured and an Internet connection.

Quick Tip: A good idea is to use SkyDrive with all its options and use VPN only when you need to connect remotely to your desktop to use a program or browse the Internet securely.

Instructions

Part One

You’ll need to know what is your public IP address (the unique number assigned to your home router by your Internet Service Provider). This is nothing complicated, you can easily go to Google and search for “What is my IP”.

Because chances are you have a dynamic public IP address, you will also have to configure DDNS (Dynamic Domain Name System) in your router; that way you always know your unique address, to do this follow this guide.

Part Two

To get into your home network you need to configure Port Forwarding in the router, and the port you want to forward is the PPTP or Point-To-Point-Tunneling-Protocol — This is the port number 1723 –. If you need help with this process, we have you covered with this previous article.

Part Three

Thus far, we went through the first two parts, you configured DDNS, which enables you to always use a friendly name, such as website.com, instead of confusing numbers like 163.5.97.187 to reach your network, and you also enabled Port Forwarding, which allows you to connect to a specific computer inside of a network. Now that your PC is ready to be a VPN server — follow the steps below.

Creating a VPN server in Windows 8:

1. Use the Windows 8 Key +X to bring the Power User menu and click or tap Control Panel.

win8-menu-power-user

2. Navigate through Network and Sharing Center, then click Change adapter settings.

Network Sharing Center - Windows 8

3. Hit the ALT key, go to File and click New incoming connection.

Win 8 VPN New incoming connection

4. In this step, tell Windows who can connect. Select the user account allowed to get in to the PC via VPN and click Next. You can also click Add someone and create a VPN user.

VPN users Win 8

From the Account Properties, you can change various settings including password, name and callback.

Virtual Private Network user account settings

5. In the next page: How will people connect? Select Through the Internet and click Next.

Through the Internet option

6. In Allow connections to this computer: Select Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) and click Properties. In the Properties page make sure that Allow callers to access my local area network is checked. In the IP address assignment section, select Specify IP address — basically what you are doing here is tell Windows 8 which IP to assign to the computer that connects via VPN –, for security purposes I would recommend you to only configure two addresses.

Allow connections to this computer

To avoid duplicate addresses on your network, choose an address that is higher than your DHCP server pool. For instance, if your router’s DHCP server is handing out the first 20 IP addresses (e.g., 192.168.1.10 – 192.168.1.30), then enter 192.168.1.40 – 192.168.1.41 as your VPN client addresses. Click OK, leave the default settings and click Allow access.

Win 8 VPN server IP configuration

7. The wizard will complete the process and you can even print the information for future reference. Now just click Close and you will see a new item in the Network Connections page called Incoming Connections

VPN Win 8 completed

This completes the server portion of the process.

Step Four

Remember: To connect to your PC using Remote Desktop from another computer, you must first allow users to connect. To do so, go to the Start screen and start typing “remote access” from the Settings result list, click or tap “Allow remote connections to your computer”. 

Search Settings result

In the Remote tab under Remote Desktop, check “Allow remote connections to this computer” option.

Win 8 Allow Remote Connections

If you will be using the same account you’re signed-in to connect, you are done. If not, click the Select users option and include a different account. To make things even easier, navigate to the Computer Name tab and make a note of the PC name — You can use the computer name or IP address to connect remotely –. Don’t forget to click Apply and OK to save all the changes.

Note: Only Windows 8 Pro and Enterprise have the allow remote connections option.

Step Five

The only thing left to do is to configure a PC or laptop that will connect to the VPN server and you do this by setting up a VPN client. Luckily Windows 8 comes with this tool as well and it is easy as setting it up in Windows 7, steps that you can follow here. Once you completed those steps, comeback and continue with the instructions below.

Note: Have in hand the DDNS (e.g., whatever.com), username and password to configure the VPN client connection.

Go to the Network Connections in Control Panel and:

  • Right-click the newly created VPN connection and select Properties.
  • Navigate to the Security tab and make sure that Type of VPN is set to Point to Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) option and Data encryption is set to Maximum strength encryption (disconnect if server declines).
  • Click the OK to save the settings.

Win8 VPN connection properties

To test the connection, go back to the Control Panel, click Change adapter settings, double-click the VPN connection and hit Connect. If successfully you are now connected to your own private cloud, go to the Start screen, open Remote Desktop, enter the VPN IP address in the PC name field and click or tap Connect.

After you’ve completed all the steps, you’ll be able to connect to your Windows 8 Pro PC from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection and get access to your desktop, documents, programs, and even browse the web privately without paying a dime. Moreover, you just created your own cloud and you don’t have to depend on other companies that may impose restrictions, with Windows 8 VPN the limitation is just how much storage you have available and it is secure PC-to-PC.

Header image Flickr by xJason.Rogersx