Software // Enterprise Applications
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Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: XP Professional's "Remote Control" Option

Fred Langa explains how this little-known feature of Windows can be a life-saver if used cautiously.

There's a brief tutorial called "Windows XP Remote Desktop (And Web Access)" available here, and a lengthy Microsoft support presentation, "Windows XP Professional: Remote Desktop" also is available in streaming video, PowerPoint, or transcript form here servicedesks/webcasts/ wc030502/wcblurb030502.asp .

And of course, there's lots more info via Google:

Benefits And Risks
Putting it all together: If the remote-access service is only enabled for limited times and used only by non-Admin accounts, and if all accounts, especially the Admin accounts, on the host system are protected with strong passwords that change regularly, then services like Remote Desktop can be used without extreme risk.

There are other steps that can increase security, too. For example, on NT file system-based XP systems, you can enable per-user file privacy and encryption, so that even if one account is hacked, the files of other users on the system will be very difficult, perhaps all but impossible, to access from afar.

In my own case, I have no qualms about setting up remote access across my office LAN, especially because my firewall blocks inbound remote access queries from the Internet at large. Using Remote Desktop, I can move around the building with ease, yet remain just as productive as if I were still sitting at my desktop PC.

Remote Desktop also has made it easier for me to handle various IT chores (mine is a small business and I wear many hats): I can, for example, use Remote Desktop to trigger virus scans, defragmentation, backups, or other maintenance activities on various machines around the building without having to run back and forth to each machine several times during the maintenance cycle. It's very convenient; I use Remote Desktop almost every day across my LAN.

I also have no security concerns in responding to requests for long-distance help (Remote Assistance) from others. Reaching out from my machine to someone else's carries very little risk to me, as my connection in this case is primarily outbound, and involves lowering no security on my system.

I'm less casual about using remote access for inbound Internet-based access; it's inherently more risky, and requires that all the security steps mentioned above be carried out with great care.

In short: used improperly, remote access can be a major problem. But used properly, it can be a major asset.

What's your take? Are remote-access and remote-control tools worth the security risks? Have you ever benefited or been harmed by use of such a tool? How do XP's tools compare with other remote control products like NetOp, Radmin, LapLink, pcAnywhere, and GoToMyPC? Join in the discussion!

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