Tips & Tricks

Virtual private networks (or VPNs) are a way to link computers together in a secure, transparent manner using the Internet. Windows XP has made the process simple.

Open the Network Connections window (‘Start > Settings > Network Connections’ or ‘My Computer > Control Panel’). If a web connection hasn’t been created yet, you must define one.

From the Network Connections File menu, select ‘New Connection’ or choose ‘Create a new connection’ from the Network Tasks panel.

The New Connection Wizard launches and shows what you can configure. Although it’s not called a virtual private network, the second option is what we’re trying to set up. Click ‘Next’.

You’ll be presented with a window asking you to choose the type of connection you want to create. Click the radio button next to ‘Connect to the network at my workplace’, then click ‘Next’.

You now have two choices: Dial-Up and VPN connection. Select ‘VPN’ and click ‘Next’ to continue. Even though you can configure a VPN over a dial-up line, that option is for non-tunnelling. (A VPN tunnel is a connection between two computers over a LAN, WAN or internet network that’s maintained as a consistent, more permanent connection rather than temporary connections you’d use to get to something like a website or FTP server).

Each VPN connection is identified by a name, usually representing the gateway you’re connecting to. You must identify the gateway at the other end of the tunnel. Enter either the IP address of the VPN gateway you want to connect to, or its fully qualified domain name.

A summary screen appears, specifying the VPN connection name and the users allowed access to the connection. If you want a shortcut placed on your desktop, check the Shortcut option. Click ‘Finish’ and a window asks for your user name and password. This login is transmitted and encrypted when you access the VPN gateway.

Click ‘Connect’ to start. If your connection doesn’t establish itself right away you may need to tweak some parameters. Right-click the connection icon and select ‘Properties’. Select the ‘Security’ tab.

Under Security Options select ‘Typical’. The box under ‘Validate my identity as follows’ should show ‘Require secured password’. The ‘Require data’ encryption box should also be checked. To use your login and domain settings for the VPN validation, check ‘Automatically use my Windows login name and password’. This is useful for connecting to corporate networks.

Note: Make sure the Windows Firewall is configured and working correctly with your VPN or your connection will be blocked.

If you just want to check on your home computer every now and then, you may want to consider using Remote Desktop instead (see next tip).

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