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  • Showing only topics with the tag "2fa". Back to normal view
    1. Two-factor authentication for home VNC via Signal

      For my particular use case I share my home PC with my spouse and since I'm the more tech-savvy of the two I'll need to occasionally remote in and help out with some random task. They know enough...

      For my particular use case I share my home PC with my spouse and since I'm the more tech-savvy of the two I'll need to occasionally remote in and help out with some random task. They know enough that the issue will usually be too complex to simply guide over the phone, so remote control it is.

      I'm also trying to improve my personal efforts toward privacy and security. To that end I want to avoid closed-source services such as TeamViewer where a breach on their end could compromise my system.

      The following is the current state of what I'm now using as I think others may benefit from this as well:



      I use a simple web form as my first authentication. It's just a username and password, but it does require a web host that supports server side code such as PHP. In my case I just created a blank page with nothing other than the form and when successful the page generates a 6 digit PIN and saves it to a text file in a private folder (so no one can simply navigate to it and get the PIN).

      I went the text file route because my current hosting plan only allows 1 database and I didn't want to add yet another random table just for this 1 value.


      To connect to my home PC I needed to forward a port from my router. I'm going to use VNC as it lets me see what is currently shown on the monitor and work with someone already there so I forward port 5900 as VNC's default port. You can customize this if you want. Some routers allow you to SSH into their system and make changes that way so a step more secure would be to leave the port forward disabled and only enable it once a successful login from the web form is disabled. In my case I'll just leave the port forwarded all the time.

      IP Address

      To connect to my computer I need to know it's external IP address and for this I use FreeDNS from Afraid.org. My router has dynamic DNS support for them already included so it was easy to plug in my details to generate a URL which will always point to my home PC (well, as long as my router properly sends them my latest IP address). If your router doesn't support the dynamic DNS you choose many also allow either a download or the settings you would need to script your own to keep your IP address up to date with their service.


      Signal is an end-to-end encrypted messenger which supports text, media, phone and video calls. There's also a nifty command line option on Github called Signal-cli which I'm using to provide my second form of authentication. I just downloaded the package, moved to my $PATH (in my case /usr/local/bin) and set it up as described on their README. In my case I have both a normal cell phone number and another number provided by Google Voice. I already use my normal cell phone number with Signal so for this project I used Signal-cli to register a new account using my Google Voice number.


      My home PC runs Ubuntu 18.04 so I'm using x11vnc as my VNC server. Since I'm leaving my port forwarded all the time I most certainly do NOT want to leave VNC also running. That's too large a security risk for me. Instead I've written a short bash script that first checks the web form using curl and https (so it's encrypted) with its own login information to check if any PIN numbers have been saved. If a PIN is found the web server sends that back and then deletes the PIN text file. Meanwhile the bash script uses the PIN to start a VNC session with that PIN as the password and also sends my normal cell the PIN via Signal-cli so that I can login.

      I have this script set to run every minute so I'm not waiting long after web login and I also have the x11vnc session set to timeout after a minute so I can quickly connect again should I mess something up. It's also important that x11vnc is set to auto exit after closing the session so that it's not left up for an attacker to attempt to abuse.

      System Flow

      Once everything is setup and working this is what it's like for me to connect to my home PC:

      1. Browse to my web form and login
      2. Close web form and wait for Signal message
      3. Launch VNC client
      4. Connect via dynamic DNS address (saved to VNC client)
      5. Enter PIN code
      6. Close VNC when done


      Here's some snippets to help get you started

      PHP for Web Form Processing

      // Variables
      $username = 'your_username';
      $password = 'your_password_super_long_and_unique';
      $filename = 'path_to_private_folder/vnc/pin.txt';
      // Process the login form
      if($action == 'Login'){
      	$file = fopen($filename,'w');
      	$passwd = rand(100000,999999);
      // Process the bash script
      if($action == 'bash'){
      		$file = fopen($filename,'r');
      		$passwd = fread($file,filesize($filename));
      	} else {

      Bash for x11vnc and Signal-cli

      # See if x11vnc access has been requested
      status=$(curl -s -d "u=your_username&p=your_password_super_long_and_unique&a=bash" https://vnc_web_form.com)
      # Exit if nothing has been requested
      if [ "$status" = "No_PIN" ]; then
        # No PIN so exit; log the event if you want
        exit 0
      # Strip non-numeric characters
      # See if they still match (prevent error messages from triggering stuff)
      if [ $status != $num ]; then
        # They don't match so probably not a PIN - exit; log it if you want
        exit 1
      # Validate pin number
      num=$((num + 0))
      if [ $num -lt 100000 ]; then
        # PIN wasn't 6 digits so something weird is going on - exit; log it if you want
        exit 1
      if [ $num -gt 999999 ]; then
        # Same as before
        exit 1
      # Everything is good; start up x11vnc
      # Log event if you want
      # Get the current IP address - while dynamic DNS is in place this serves as a backup
      ip=$(dig +short +timeout=5 myip.opendns.com @resolver1.opendns.com)
      # Send IP and password via Signal
      # Note that phone number includes country code
      # My bash is running as root so I run the command as my local user where I had registered Signal-cli
      su -c "signal-cli -u +google_voice_number send -m '$num for $ip' +normal_cell_number" s3rvant
      # Status was requested and variable is now the password
      # this provides a 1 minute window to connect with 1-time password to control main display
      # again run as local user
      su -c "x11vnc -timeout 60 -display :0 -passwd $num" s3rvant

      Final Thoughts

      There are more secure ways to handle this. Some routers support VPN for the connect along with device certificates which are much stronger than a 6 digit PIN code. Dynamically opening and closing the router port as part of the bash script would also be a nice touch. For me this is enough security and is plenty convenient enough to quickly offer tech support (or nab some bash code for articles like this) on the fly.

      I'm pretty happy with how Signal-cli has worked out and plan to use it again with my next project (home automation). I'll be sure to post again once I get that ball rolling.

      13 votes