Away From Home: Control Your Computer Anywhere

By James T Wood

In 1940, Bell Telephone Laboratories researcher George Stibitz demonstrated the Complex Number Calculator at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The calculator, however, was in New York City. According to the Computer History Museum website, “Stibitz stunned the group” by remotely operating the calculator via telephone lines. Today, remotely accessing your devices isn’t nearly so novel. With the built-in Remote Assistance application on your Windows machine, you can control who can access your computer and for how long.

Remote Assistance Host

Step 1

Create an invitation from the host -- the computer you want to control remotely. Click “Start” and “Control Panel.” Type “Remote Settings” in the search bar and press “Enter.” Click “Allow Remote Access to Your Computer.” Ensure that there is a check in the box, and then click “Advanced.”

Step 2

Choose the length of time for the invitation to stay open, up to 30 days. Click “OK,” and then click “OK” again.

Step 3

Click “Start” and type “Remote Assistance,” and then press “Enter.”

Step 4

Click “Invite Someone You Trust to Help You.” Save the invitation as a file and attach it to an email if you use a Web-based client, or use Outlook to automatically attach it.

Step 5

Email the invitation to an account that you can access from your remote location. The attachment automates the connection process; if you don’t receive the email, you can't control the host computer.

Step 6

Change your host computer's hibernation and sleep settings, if applicable, via the Control Panel, in Hardware and Sound, under Power Options. If the host computer is hibernating or sleeping when the Remote Assistance request comes from the remote computer, you won’t be able to connect.

Remote Assistance Connection

Step 1

Launch your email program or website on the remote computer. Open the email you sent to yourself and the attachment with the invitation. Windows then will automatically launch its Remote Desktop Connection software.

Step 2

Connect to the host computer and perform your desired tasks. Enter your administrator password to allow changes to your system and to gain access through your computer’s firewall, if needed.

Step 3

Close the connection only when you've completed all desired tasks, as you won’t be able to reconnect without a new invitation from the host computer. Reconnect using the same process if you accidentally lose the connection on your end; if the connection is lost on the host end, you can't re-establish it.

Tips & Warnings

  • Before you create a Remote Assistance invitation, you have the option to instead choose "Easy Connect," which allows you to bypass the email/attachment step and generate a unique password for remote access.
  • Remote Assistance is already configured to pass through the Windows firewall. If you use a third-party firewall, you need to open TCP/IP port 3389 access to the computer you want to control. Consult the firewall manufacturer for specific instructions.
  • If you have Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise or Ultimate running on your host computer, you can use another tool, Remote Desktop Connection, to control it remotely. However, this tool requires configuring your router.
  • The Remote Assistance tool is designed to facilitate technical support help, and its functionality is limited. To transfer files remotely, for example, you need to connect with Remote Desktop Connection or a third-party connection tool, such as PC Anywhere from Symantec, GoToMyPC, Anyplace Control or RealVNC, which also allow you to log in and out of your home computer without an invitation.
  • Having an open connection to your computer brings an increased risk of unauthorized access to your system. Minimize the risk by setting the smallest invitation window possible when creating the Remote Assistance invitation, and use Network Level Authentication, if possible.
  • To check if you have the option, click “Start” on the remote computer and type “Remote Desktop.” Click “Remote Desktop Connection” and the icon in the upper left corner of the window, and then select “About.” If it says, “Network Level Authentication Supported,” it means that the remote computer must authenticate the identity of the user before the host computer will permit a login attempt.