Hamachi (now LogMeIn Hamachi) – Part 1

There are lots of ways to connect to your PC nowadays. In the past, I have used simply Remote Desktop (when using Windows) and setting up port forwarding on my router to make sure that I connect to the proper machine. A lot of times, this requires a static IP (as opposed to dynamic, which is still doable, but I like knowing exactly “where my computer is” on the network). This type of connection has been a bit more challenging when trying to access my work, which is behind heavy security (firewalls and such). In those cases, the combination of using VPN software, a static IP and Remote Desktop has proven to be pretty good.

There are easier ways though, as I have found. VPNs are difficult. You need a hardware (or software) piece at both ends in order to create a secure tunnel between the two networks. In my current work, we use an out-dated VPN hardware/software configuration. The software windows piece is no longer supports (as the original company was acquired by another and I believe then end-of-life-ed the product). So, we are stuck with a somewhat flakey VPN network. I tend to work at home regularly, so for me, having access to my computer and network is critical. I have a great piece of software called VPNtracker for my mac and it allows a stable VPN tunnel to my work. Unfortunately, the VPN software for my PC does not run on a Hyperthreaded machine, leaving me the option of either not using my PC or disabling the Hyperthreading, neither option being very appealing.

Enter Hamachi (and Logmein.com). I first came across Hamachi a few days ago. It promised to be a “zero-configuration virtual private networking (VPN) application.” I had to try it to believe it. I downloaded the software on my PC and, to make a long story short, was able to Remote Desktop to my PC at work within about 30 minutes. While for me, it wasn’t completely “zero-configuration,” it was incredibly easy to set up and get up and running.

First a little information about my environment. I had two PCs that I wanted to connect, one at home (behind a router, with a static IP and running ZoneAlarm) and the other at work (behind router and industrial strength firewall and also running ZoneAlarm). Also, the two end-points are NATed which means that from the outside, all of the computers appear as coming from one address per network. That is, if you go to whatismyip.com from any computer within the network, you will always get the same “public” IP address. This type of thing makes direct connections to your computer a bit more challenging as you have to tell your router where to send certain type of traffic.

When you install Hamachi, part of the install process is actually the creation of a new network adapter, specifically for the Hamachi network. This process allows your computer to think that it has a new connector (e.g., ethernet) to your computer. It also allows your computer to then bridge your connection with any existing network connections. (Forgive me if I am over-simplifying or using the wrong technology, but I want to hopefully make this somewhat understandable to everyone.) During the installation process, I was prompted many times, by ZoneAlarm, to approve certain items, one of those being a new network with numbers 5.xxx.xxx.xxx . This is the network that Hamachi uses to communicate. Be sure that you allow all of the transactions that your firewall prompts you with (within reason of course).

You then have to do the same thing on the other computer. You have to have Hamachi running on both computers (obviously) in order to make this work. When you log into the Hamachi network, after the installation is completed, your computer is assigned an IP address (in the 5.xxx.xxx.xxx range). Once you launch the client, you need to set up a “nickname” for the computer (e.g., “My Work” or “My Home”). You do this on both ends (and then you will see that you have two “decidated” IP addresses for each machine).

Now the fun begins…setting up your network. I’m doing most of this from memory so I may be omitting some steps. Once you have both computer Hamachi clients running, you need to create a network. On the windows client, you can do this by clicking on the bottom right corner button (the one that looks like a triangle) and selecting “create a new network”. You are then prompted to create a name of the network and a password for accessing the network. Once you do that, any other Hamachi user can access your network, provided they have the network name and the password. To join the network, just click on the same “triangle” button and select “join an existing network” and enter the network name and password. Once you have the network connected, you should be golden. At any point, you can block a user from accessing your network by simply right-clicking on the user and selecting “block” (with the premium version, you can do more).

That is pretty much it. Once the network is created, you can use Remote Desktop (if you have your connections enabled for that) or other services. I do notice that my workgroups and Active Directory networks show up in my network neighborhood, but I haven’t had a chance to test that out yet. I have also had some issues with ZoneAlarm and Remote Desktop. If ZA is on, Remote Desktop is flakey, if I turn it off, it works great. I need to dig around to figure this out a bit more.

If you are a Gamer, I would definitely check this out. The ability to create networks to play LAN games is huge! Also, if your work has issues with VPNs (or granting you remote access), you might like this (but your IT people might not or they may just block it). Be sure that you set up your “My Hamachi” account where you can manage your clients and networks online!

As I started researching Hamachi, I found that they were purchased by a company called LogMeIn, Inc. in August 2006. I will review one of their apps later. Be sure to check on the differences between the Premium and Free versions of Hamachi. When you install it, you are set at the premium version for 30 days. Here is the comparison. Hope you like it! I certainly do.

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