Remote access to the university network

Many of the electronic materials and services available to the students of the University of Helsinki can only be accessed through the university’s network. The access is restricted due to information security and because the university pays for the services according to use; therefore, they cannot be made available to users other than university students or staff. Services restricted to the university network include several library services, such as dictionaries and various search databases with their text materials. Other services that require a connection to the university network include, for instance, remote access to the home directory.

If you are not logged in to a university computer in the wired network of the university (in a computer lab, for example), you are usually outside the university network. You cannot access the services restricted to the university’s internal network from outside the university without a remote connection.

Students of the University of Helsinki have three options for forming a connection with the university network:

  • VPN connection software OpenVPN
  • VPN portal accessible with a web browser
  • Virtual desktop

The services differ slightly. As a rule of thumb, it is recommended that you install VPN connection software in all frequently used devices. For occasional use, a better alternative is the browser-based VPN portal. Learn about the service features and choose the best remote connection option for you!

OpenVPN

OpenVPN is an easy-to-use, open-source software which forms a secure VPN connection to the university network. In a VPN connection, your computer’s network traffic circulates safely through an encrypted “tunnel” to the university servers. Your computer will also be assigned an IP address within the university’s address space, making it practically part of the university network for as long as the connection is open. Thanks to this, the VPN connection allows you to access all services restricted to the university network, such as the library databases and your own home directory. You can also use the VPN connection to secure your traffic in public wireless networks (the networks of libraries and cafés, for example, are often completely open).

OpenVPN is available for all the most common operating systems and mobile devices. You can, therefore, use OpenVPN to easily connect to the university’s library databases and dictionaries also on your mobile phone or tablet.

Download the installer on the OpenVPN website. Instructions and links for the installation and use of OpenVPN can be found on the University of Helsinki’s Helpdesk site.

Below is a summary of the pros and cons of OpenVPN:

+ Easy to use after first installation
+ The connection to the university is fully encrypted, preventing unauthorised access to your traffic in open wireless networks, for example
+ Mobile access
Installation requires following the instructions, but they do help you get the installation done quickly

VPN portal

The VPN portal is a simple service accessible with a web browser, enabling you to use many services accessible only from within the university network, such as your Z home directory, library databases and its MOT dictionaries, with a single sign-on. Therefore, it is a kind of “light” version of Pulse Secure that was described earlier. Instructions and more information about the VPN portal can be found on the IT Center’s Helpdesk site.

Below are listed the VPN portal’s features in a nutshell:

+ Easy to take into use: log in on the web site at www.vpn.helsinki.fi and the service is available for your use
+ You can also access the most important library services with the same sign-on
+ The VPN portal is the easiest way to access your home directory from your own computer…
…although managing files through it is more difficult than if you added the home folder on your desktop.

Remote desktop

The University of Helsinki uses a remote desktop (VDI environment) used with VMware client software. You can also run other programs on the remote desktop just as you would on a conventional university workstation. Installation instructions can be found at the Helpdesk site.