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Remote Wake on LAN via Router

Remote Wake on LAN via Router
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When I talked about Wake on Lan (WoL) in a previous article, I also wrote on how it was possible to do it over the WAN. Although being able to magically wake your computer up from its slumber state while within the local network is pretty handy, it’s when you actually get to do it while outside of your LAN that makes the most sense. Previously, you’ve had to configure port forwarding in order for the “magic packet” to be able to reach the computer you intended to wake up. While port forwarding is very easy to set up, things get a bit weird though when that packet needs to reach a computer that is powered off. Many users have discovered that although they may have gotten it to work initially, the magic packet eventually fails to reach its destination and thus, the computer will be unable to wake up.

Due to me recently wanting to really get this to work, I decided to re-tackle the issue. Not surprisingly, the solution was right in my face but I decided to ignore it in that it was finally time to get a new router that was capable of performing WoL!

If you’re dead set on not wanting to throw any money into solving this issue, then please DO NOT read any further!

The Problem

This problem can largely be blamed on your router. In order for the router to send the magic packet, it needs to know the MAC address of the computer’s network card. The MAC address is the hardware address of the card and is different than the IP address of what you’re normally familiar with. One of the biggest differences is that in normal use cases, the MAC address does not ever change and is unique to each network card out there. Your router learns of the MAC address when the computer is powered on and communicating on the network. The MAC address is likely to be stored in the memory of the router. When you power down the computer, after a while, your home router will most likely erase this address from its memory. Therefore, while sending a magic packet over the Internet to the computer within the LAN via port forward may work initially due to the IP-to-MAC mapping in the router’s memory, it will later cease to work once the mapping is cleared from the router. And here is where so many users frustration stems from.

The reason why the magic packet works without the mapping if sent within your LAN is due to the packet being broadcasted out. All network cards will actually receive the packet and looks to see if they own that MAC address. If so, it will process it. If not, it discards it.

Things you have tried included but not limited to:

– Finding a way to create a static IP to MAC address mapping (this is different than a DHCP reservation based on a MAC address identifier)
– Upgrading the router firmware
– Finding a way to port forward the magic packet to the broadcast address of your LAN
– Reading up on flashing router to either DD-WRT or Tomato firmware

The Solution

I’ve tried all of the above but none of them worked. It also didn’t help that my router was not compatible with either DD-WRT nor Tomato. However, that got me thinking. If I’m going to purchase a new router to flash it with either firmware, would there already be a router out there that can natively perform WoL with its built-in firmware? I’m not into the wireless router game and so I have no idea how advanced they have become in the recent years. But I was confident nonetheless taht there must be one out there that can provide home users with decent advance settings to play with. The answer to my WoL problems ladies and gentlemen, after a bit of research, turns out to be the wireless routers from Asus equipped with their ASUSWRT firmware.

The exact model I purchased was the ASUS 802.11ac Wireless-AC750 (RT-AC52U). This model is one of the more lower end models but it perfectly suited my needs because it wasn’t the crazy hardware or amount of antennas it had that attracted me but more so the firmware it was rocking, which Asus calls ASUSWRT.

Asus Router
Asus Router
You can check out all of ASUSWRT’s features from here. Here is a list of Asus routers that DO NOT support the ASUSWRT firmware.

There are many, many features that got incorporated into ASUSWRT’s firmware as I’m sure many other modern home routers do as well in this day and age. I’ll only be talking about two of them here as it was the main selling point of the product. The first, of course, is the built-in WoL functionality. The second is its VPN server feature.

The Setup

To be perfectly honest, this isn’t truely WoL “over the Internet”. The magic packet never gets routed over the Internet to your computer at home. In a way, this still can be labeled Wake on “LAN”. Why? Because it’s your router that actually sends the packet to your computer. For that to happen though, you need to be able to log into your router from the public Internet. This does lower your security a bit so be sure to use a very strong and random password! Unfortunately, the router didn’t allow me to use my ultra long password as the characters got cut off in the interface. That was disappointing to say the least. The other thing you can do is to enable HTTPS so at least your traffic is encrypted over the Internet. Next, you can decide to change the default port. By default, this would be port 8443 with HTTPS enabled. This doesn’t help you if someone is doing a port scan of your device but I still think it’s better than using the default. Lastly and probably the most secure of all is locking down which IP is able to login to your router. However, you’ll obviously need to know ahead of time which public IP you’ll need to login in from and the firmware does limit you to only four entries.

Administration Settings
Administration Settings

Once you have your router secured for public access, you’ll now need a method to actually reach your router from anywhere on the Internet. Most of us have a dynamic public IP from our Internet Service Provider and so accessing your router via this method is definitely a no-go. You need something that is static and never-changing. For this, we turn to a special service called Dynamic DNS. This service helps you map a name to an IP address, similar to regular DNS. It’s dynamic in that once configured, the service from then on will automatically update this mapping for you should your public IP change. Key word here is automatically. By default, the Asus router comes with a couple of the more popular DDNS services out there baked in by default. I just chose the one straight from Asus themselves: *.asuscomm.com. All you have to do is specify a name and if it’s available, it’s yours for the keeping. From then on, you can access your router’s login/administration page by going to myawesomename.asuscomm.com. It’s that simple. No signup of any kind is required prior to you being able to use this service.

DDNS Page
DDNS Page

It’s WoL Time

Once you’re able to login to your router from the Internet, the WoL setup is a breeze. Simply head over to Network Tools –> Wake On LAN, give it a PC name to MAC mapping, saving it and that’s it. Anytime you want to wake the PC remotely, simply login to your router, head back to the Wake on LAN page, click on the MAC address and press the Wake Up tab. If configured correctly and barring any weird scenarios, your PC of choice should receive the magic packet and because it has the MAC address as specified in the packet, it will process it and wake itself up. The rest of your home PCs will simply ignore it. Because the router is technically inside your LAN, no advance configuration is needed such as port forwarding.

WoL Tab
WoL Tab

It’s VPN Time

Another very cool feature that sold me on this Asus brand of router was how easy it is to get your own VPN server up and running in no time. Literally, all you do is enable the VPN feature by flipping a switch, giving it an DHCP pool range (10 maximum devices), creating your accounts and that’s it! There are some advance settings but I didn’t have to touch any of them at all. To connect, you’ll use the same DDNS name that you registered with as the server endpoint. From my limited testing, the speeds weren’t all that great while I was connected to my Asus router at my work PC but it does get the job done. Having your own VPN server is great if you’re always connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots while on the go as traffic between you and your VPN server is encrypted. Rather than paying for a VPN service that accomplishes the same thing in encrypting your traffic, you can now do it for free. This does have drawbacks however, in that while your traffic is encrypted, the bad guys will still be able to see “where” your VPN server is located at. If they really wanted to mess with you, they could then attack your home router. If you had a paid VPN service, I doubt you’ll care about someone doing the same to one of their VPN servers located who knows where.

VPN Server
VPN Server
One issue I did encounter with the VPN service was getting it to work on my Samsung Galaxy S6 phone connected to T-Mobile’s LTE network. By default, the APN Protocol was set to IPv6 and because of that, I wasn’t able to connect to my home VPN. After configuring a new APN with all the same settings as the IPv6 one but with the APN protocol set to IPv4, I was then able to successfully connect while on T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network. Another issue was getting my iPad Mini 2 to connect to my wireless network. The Asus router comes equipped with both a 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency network that you can connect to. During setup, I made it so that both frequencies/networks would use the same SSID thinking that the different password is what would determine which frequency the device would use. However, the iPad didn’t like this at all and so I had to change the SSID on the 5GHz frequency to something different. Once done, the device was then able to connect.

In the End

What felt like such a draining and puzzling problem was solved by simply the good ol’ fashion way: throwing a little money at it. Although the model I got was of the lower end, I feel that the firmware greatly makes up for it. In fact, this router is very appealing to users on the fence about either DD-WRT or Tomato. Obviously it’s not an apples to apples comparison but there is simply too much features packed into this guy such as QoS, bandwidth monitoring, WoL, VPN server, DDNS, parental controls, URL and keyword filtering, IPv6 support, dual frequency support, multiple guest networks for each frequency, cloud support, USB port for printer and hard drive sharing plus a host of others and it’s easy to see how attractive this router can be right out of the box. You can definitely do worst for $60. In my limited testing so far, it has been rock solid. WoL works every single time while I’m a work and my VPN connection to the router has yet to give me any hiccups. Time will obviously tell. At the moment though, all I need the router to do is solve my problem of remote WoL and it’s been a champ at doing that.

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