Remote Access Shenanigans in 2021

A couple of years ago, I wrote about how I get access to my home network. In a previous job, I worked nights for a big financial company with a very restrictive network. I often connect to the work network from home (which I call telecommuting) and to the home network from work (which I call reverse telecommuting). Most of the time it’s to fix stuff, sometimes it’s because there is a downtime window: for work that is at night when everyone has gone home, at home it’s during the day when everyone is at work/school.

My dream is to be able to sit at a desk, anywhere in the world, and do whatever it is that I need to do, with minimal fuss on my part, and with no impact on the people (coworkers and family) that I support. It’s a lofty goal that is beset by overprotective firewalls, pandemics, and crappy laptops.

When in doubt, SSH

Most of my remote administration tasks involve logging in to either a system administration web GUI, or logging into a command shell. For that, SSH tunneling works great. I have port 22 opened on my firewall and mapped to a Linux server. That host does nothing except serve as a jumpbox into my lab network. Once I can SSH in, I can drop a local port to SSH to my management workstation that sits on the other VLANs. The reason I don’t forward port 22 directly to the management workstation is that I have concerns about my internal VLANs being a single hop from the Internet. It’s not really a security measure so much as an obscurity measure.

I haven’t done much traveling in the last 2 years, and on the one trip that I did take, I didn’t have much time for hacker shit. But when I am away from home, and able to do hacker shit, NeoRouter comes in handy.

NeoRouter on a hosted server

I have also written about cloud hosted VMs. Some of these services are fairly inexpensive, but not at all reliable, and some of them are quite reliable, but they are very expensive. I would put Cloud At Cost in the first category, and Digital Ocean in the second. Cloud hosting is an important upgrade to my remote access arsenal, because in a world of NAT and firewalls, having something directly connected to the Internet with a static IP is a game changer.

In my network travels, I came across the free tier of Google Compute Engine. It does what it says on the tin: a shared CPU Linux container with a static IP. It won’t cost you much for the first year, but it is extremely under powered. Fortunately, NeoRouter will provide access to plenty of resources hosted on my Proxmox cluster at home, and the service itself doesn’t take much compute power. After the free year, the VM costs me $4 give or take, sometimes it goes up to almost $6 to run the box 24×7. You can shave off a dollar or so each month by scheduling downtime. For me that was 12:30am to 6:30am. It took me a couple of hours to get it working, which I guess is more about principal than actual savings. If you value your time, just get a Digital Ocean droplet for like $5 and change per month and get on with your life.

With NeoRouter running on a hosted VM, it creates an overlay network that allows my Windows desktops and Linux servers to communicate with each other, even though they are on different physical and logical networks.

I have also begun experimenting with graphical Linux desktops instead of Linux servers or Windows desktops, but I will save that for a later post.

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