How much do you trust them?
No, seriously, how much do you really trust them?
All other issues aside, this is entirely a matter of trust.
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Remote access is a useful tool to allow a trusted individual access to your computer for support or other purposes. The key is that you must know and trust the individual, just as you would if you handed the computer to them. NEVER allow remote access to someone whom you don’t know or who contacts you.
Reputable or fraud?
The key word in your question is “reputable”.
Recent years have seen rise to something called the “tech support scam”. Using lies and threats, scammers try to get you to give them remote access to your machine. Once they have it, they install malware — often including ransomware — or they leave back doors allowing them continued access when you’re not around.
This kind 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 access to your machine.
Would you let them at it physically?
Remote access means giving someone complete control of your machine. They can do whatever they want.
It’s like having a technician visit your home or taking your machine into a shop for repair. You’re giving that person control. Presumably, that means resolving the issues bringing you to them in the first place, and nothing else malicious along the way.
It’s all about trust.
Watching isn’t always enough
Most remote access tools let you watch the technician’s activities. That’s often instructive. Some include voice, so you can talk to the technician and they can explain what they’re doing or answer questions along the way.
The problem is this can lead to a false sense of security. It’s possible there’s more going on 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
There’s more to this than good intent.
Do you trust they know what they’re doing? Will they do more harm than good? Will you spend a lot of money and get little in return?
These are the same issues 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 distant, 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.
I also realize that sometimes it’s the most expedient approach to problem solving, and by and large, the reputable companies and technicians doing it are probably quite competent.
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 you don’t need or care to 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 you.
The only acceptable approach to allowing anyone remote access is 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.