By Eric Geier
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are used by many organizations to connect remote networks together and to securely access the network when away from the offices. Thanks to Google’s network services and a third-party company, Gbridge, you can have your own VPN.
You can install the Gbridge software (see Figure 1) on all your computers to remotely access your desktop, files, and to sync or backup folders. All this travels through your virtual encrypted network, so everything is totally secure–great for when connecting to your computers from Wi-Fi hotspots. You can even invite friends to your Gbridge network, giving them limited access to your files and computer.
Here’s a rundown of the features and functionality offered by Gbridge:
- Access files shared by Gbridge on your or your friends’ computers, from within a Web browser.
- When remotely viewing photos, it creates automatic thumbnails and sideshows.
- It also gives you instant access to video and media files.
- Access the regular Windows shared folders/drives between your computers.
- Use remote desktop over an encrypted connection to your or your friends’ computers.
- Use AutoSync to synchronize folders between your computers and/or friends.
- Use EasyBackup to automatically have a directory(s) backed up to another computer.
Understanding the Accounts and Hostnames
To use the Gbridge service, you login using a Gmail account. If you don’t have one, create an account like normal on Google’s Gmail site.
When you login later, you’ll also notice that you must input a Hostname. This is a name that identifies the particular computer and is displayed in Gbridge on each of your computers and your friends’ computers. For example, for your computer at home you might put HomeDesktop, for the PC at work you might use WorkDesktop, and for the laptop you might just say Laptop.
Installing and the Initial Configuration
First you’ll probably want to install Gbridge on all your computers. While you install it on each machine, you should configure the settings. That way when you try to go share a file or remote into your computer’s desktop, it will work as you want. The default installation blocks most features, so you know what you are sharing.
If your network, or router, supports UPNP, the default port configuration should work fine. However, if it doesn’t you’ll have to change the settings (click Options > Advanced Options) and configure your router to forward the defined port to the computer that has Gbridge installed. If you have multiple computers loaded with Gbridge on the same network, you can configure each on its own port and port forward in the router.
You must specify the type of traffic, or if any, Gbridge is open to share. Click the Options button and select Advanced Options. On the dialog box (see Figure 2), see the firewall settings. It’s probably fine to open up all the traffic types for your other computers. If you don’t select anything, your computer will show up on the other computers when you’re connected, but nothing is shared and it can’t be accessed at all remotely.
Tip: On the Advanced Options dialog, you’ll see a spot where you can list fully trusted friends. This basically gives them the same access rights to your machines that you have. So use it for your best of friends. This is great to allow them to access your desktop via Windows instead of VNC and access to your shared folders in Windows.
Next you should review the remote desktop settings. To use Microsoft Remote Desktop, you still need Windows XP Professional, or Vista Business or Ultimate. Any Windows version can connect to a computer via Windows Remote Desktop, but to host a remote desktop connection it must be one of those Windows editions. Additionally, Gbridge only supports Microsoft’s remote protocol between your computers. However, Gbridge also supports VNC remote desktop connections between your and your friends’ computers. Plus you can host and connect on any operating system or edition.
Enabling Microsoft Remote Desktop support in Gbridge is simple. Click DesktopShare and select Configure Microsoft Windows Remote Desktop. Then mark the checkbox on the dialog that pops up and click OK.
To set up VNC, click DesktopShare and select Configure Gbridge DesktopShare (VNC). As you’ll see in Figure 3, the options are straightforward. When you’re done, click OK. Then you should run the test to ensure the VNC server works. Under the DesktopShare button, click Test Gbridge DesktopShare on This Computer.
Don’t forget about the other settings under the Options for chat and network bandwidth settings. Now that we’ve configured the general settings, we’ll experiment with some of the features.
Using Gbridge to Share and Access files
Most of the features are straightforward and easy to understand. Once you have multiple computers configured and online with the Gbridge service, or you’ve added or invited friends, the My Computers and Friends list will populate with icons. To see what you can do with a particular computer or friend, right-click it’s icon, as Figure 4 shows.
Sharing files via the SecureShares feature gives your other computers and/or your friends access to particular files or whole folders. Keep in mind, only read-access is given, you or your friends can’t modify or add files to remote computers via the SecureShares web interface. To get read and write access to your own computers, use the shared folders of Windows by right-click a computer icon and selecting Explore Windows Share Folders. Then if prompted for a username and password, input the credentials for an administrator. This is because the Windows sharing and NTFS file permissions still apply, just like if you were on your local network.
If you want to give your friends the ability to edit your files or add files to your SecureShares, you can use the AutoSync feature. First share a folder via the SecureShare feature. Then your friend can AutoSync your SecureShare to get the files (and any updates) copied and downloaded to their computer automatically. Keep in mind it works one-way, so if you want to get any changed or added files from your friend, they must share the folder they are using for AutoSync. Then you can AutoSync their destination folder. Thus both computers will be updated with each other’s files automatically.
If you have more than one of your computers on Gbridge, you can use EasyBackup. It lets you choose a folder to automatically back up to a remote computer every so often. To configure a backup, click the Create EasyBackup button.
Using Remote Desktop Connections
Like other tasks, you can start a remote desktop session by right-clicking a computer. Alternatively, you can click the DesktopShare button. On either menu, you’ll see a shortcut for VNC and/or Windows Remote Desktop, depending upon if the remote computer is set up to accept connections.
Remember, Windows Remote Desktop is only available between your computers. If you want to start a connection, right-click the desired computer and click Access Windows Remote Desktop. Then you’ll input a username and password of an authorized user or any administrator account, which is password-protected, on the PC you are trying to remote into.
VNC connections to your friends must be initiated by them sending you an invitation. The same goes with you. If you want to give a friend access via VNC remote desktop, right-click their computer icon, click the Send DesktopShare Invitation button, and choose which mode you want. To remote into one of your computers with VNC, right-click the computer, choose Access Gbridge Builtin VNC, and enter the separate password you configured on the Advanced Options dialog.
Playing with your friendly VPN
We’ve discussed just about all of Gbridge’s features and functionality, and how to work with them. Now make sure you keep it updated for fixes, security patches, and new features. Click the Help button and select Check for Updates.
Before you go, one last tip: you can also run other services or servers via Gbridge, such as a intranet or secure FTP access. After you install a server on one of your computers, make sure the firewall isn’t blocking access, and then use the Gbridge address (hostname.accoutname.gbridge.net) to access it from the other computers. Enjoy your new virtual private network!