2018 TIP OF THE DAY 24

Remote access is appealing

Remote access is a wonderfully appealing tool. Rather than relying on your description of the problem, the technician can see it and investigate directly. Rather than trying to walk you through a complicated set of steps that you don’t need or care to actually understand, the technician can just do it for you.

I really, truly, honestly get the appeal. Heck, I’ve used remote access myself to help my friends.

One hard-and-fast rule for remote access

With the rise of the tech support scam, there’s one very simple, easy-to-follow rule:

Never allow remote access to someone who called you.

Never. Period. That’s exactly how the tech support scams succeed in capturing its victims. They call first.

The only acceptable approach to allowing anyone remote access is only after you’ve vetted and selected an appropriate technician or service, and only when you make the first contact. Then, if they suggest it, it might be worth considering.

And please, for safety’s sake, always make a full system image backup of your machine first… just in case.

Recent years have seen rise to something we call the “Tech Support Scam”. Using lies and even threats, scammers attempt to get you to give them exactly what you’re asking about: remote access to your machine. Once they have it, they install malware – often including ransomware – or they leave back doors that allow them continued remote access to your machine when you’re not around.

Needless to say, this type of remote access is absolutely not safe, and should be avoided at all costs.

It’s not about remote access technology; it’s about who you’re allowing to access to your machine.

Would you let them access it physically?

In general, remote access means giving someone complete access to your machine. They can then do whatever they want.

It’s not unlike having a technician visit your home to access your machine, or taking your machine into a shop for repair. Once again, you’re handing that person control. Presumably, that means doing whatever is necessary to resolve the issues that brought you to them in the first place, and nothing malicious along the way.

It bears repeating: it’s all about trust. Regardless of how you allow them access, do you trust the person to whom you’re giving that access?

Watching isn’t always enough

Most remote access technologies allow you to watch what the technician is doing as he or she does it. That’s kinda cool, and often quite instructive. Some also include voice, so you can talk to the technician and they can explain what they’re doing, or answer your questions along the way.

The problem is that this can lead to a false sense of security. It’s possible there’s more going on that you can’t see. That “more going on” could be quite legitimate, or it could be quite malicious.

That’s why I keep coming back to trust.

Multiple layers of trust

The problem is compounded because there are several levels of trust at play. There’s more to it than assuming good intent.

Do you trust they know what they’re doing? Even with good intentions, will they do more harm than good? Will you spend a lot of money and get little for your efforts?

These are the same issues we need to consider whenever asking someone else to help us, but the ramifications of allowing someone to remotely access your machine are more serious. With a local technician or shop, you have someone and some place you can go to in order to resolve your issues. Presumably, they care about their reputation and your power to impact it. Companies that provide remote access support are often far away – faceless entities on the internet. It’s not uncommon for them to be in a completely different country.

My personal position is that I’d be very reluctant to let anyone connect to my machine that way. They’d have access to everything! I can vaguely recall allowing someone to do it once, briefly, a very long time ago, but it still feels like a huge risk.


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