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Does Turning Off Remote Access Keep Me Safer?

I turned off anything that I could find on my PC that had anything to do with remote access. I’m set on home group and I’m the only one on it. Am I at least safer from outside attacks?

“Safer” is relative.

Yes, you are a little safer than not having turned those items off, but I don’t want this to lull you into a false sense of security thinking you are “safe.”

Remote access comes in many forms, and you’ve only turned off some of them.

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Windows remote access settings

The setting you’re most likely to have altered is Windows Remote Desktop feature.

Windows Remote Desktop setting
Windows Remote Desktop setting.

This does, indeed, turn off the ability for someone to connect to your computer using the remote desktop protocol via the Remote Desktop application included in Windows.1

Nifty — though you were probably already protected by your router, which disallows incoming connections anyway.

Besides, none of this disables the ability to access your machine remotely.

There is no setting to do that.

Scammers and remote access

This topic comes up most often when we discuss the so called “tech support scam“, in which individuals call you on the phone, claiming they will fix your computer for you and need remote access to do so.

To make that happen, they’ll direct you to a website or a download, at which point you follow a few steps, perhaps enter a code of some sort, and — bingo! — they have the remote access they want.

You’ve just bypassed the remote desktop setting you so carefully set. In fact, remote desktop wasn’t even used. The scammers use any of a number of alternative services and protocols that have nothing to do with remote desktop.

The key to remote access

The common thread to the remote access scam, as well as to any legitimate remote access, is that you need to be running software on your computer that initiates the connection.

Your router prevents incoming connections. It’s software running on your computer that allows, or even invites, others to connect. That software comes in many forms:

  • Remote access software you’ve installed, such as Team Viewer or Chrome Remote Desktop.
  • Remote access software you run “on demand”, such as conferencing software like GoToMeeting or others allowing you to display your desktop in a video conference or give control of your machine to one of the other participants.
  • Remote access software you run when getting support from a trusted yet remote friend, relative, or service technician.
  • Malicious software. Because malware can do anything.

The key is the software is running on your computer.

This allows us to make decisions to get safer still.

Choose what to run

The solution is fairly straightforward.

  • Disable, or not, Remote Desktop. As I said, your router protects you from incoming connections.
  • Choose not to install remote access tools, or choose not to leave them constantly running, loading them only as needed.
  • In conferences and online video meetings, only give access to your computer to people you trust.
  • Only run remote access software when requested by people you already know and trust.2
  • Do everything you should already be doing to keep your computer safe on the internet and free of malware.

The bottom line is that remote access requires your participation, either explicitly, by running remote access tools, or implicitly, by having allowed malware on your machine.

The solution is simple: don’t participate.

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Leo

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Footnotes & References

1: The other feature you may have disabled is “Remote Assistance”. This is actually significantly less of a security concern, as you must initiate it. Regardless, disabling it does not disable remote access.

2: A stranger calling you on the phone does not meet this criteria.

7 comments on “Does Turning Off Remote Access Keep Me Safer?”

  1. Thanks Leo, that`s basically what i was wondering. i know no one, not even you, is ever entirely safe on the internet. but i was hoping with remote access turned off, i would at least be “safe-er”.

    Reply
  2. Is it safe to leave your computer on when you’re finished using it at the end of the day? Unfortunately I have already let people have access to my computer. They were employees of My computer company. I didn’t like to give them access but sometimes I needed to. So in that case they already have access correct? I hope this question isn’t stupid. Thank you

    Reply
    • If you give them a limited guest account, they can cause much less damage because they won’t be able to install programs. I won’t say it’s 100% safe. Nothing ever is but it is much safer than an account with admin privileges.

      Reply
    • I’m not sure how to answer your question: is is safe to leave your computer on? It certainly can be, I do it all the time. If you’ve given others remote access you can always revoke it, depending on what technology you used — it could be as simple as changing a password or not running whatever remote access service they use.

      Reply
    • About leaving your computer on when you’re not using it: Statistically this is a long shot, but the possibility exists for a malicious remote connection to your network. This can happen when your router or an application on your computer is probed randomly, hoping to find a vulnerability. You’ve heard of all those Windows “vulnerabilities”? Many of these vulnerabilities are about any number of background applications or services running on your system that have open network ports (access points), waiting to accept a connection from the outside. As Leo said, the attacker first needs to get through your router, but the router also has its own remote connection applications, as well as other vulnerabilities. Similarly, your firewall isn’t perfect either and it depends on its settings to stop incoming connections. You might be surprised to know that when you install an application, the application can insert itself as an exception to the rules of the firewall, meaning that the firewall will allow an external connection to that application. Once a connection gets past the router and firewall the attacker can exploit other holes in the system to do damage. As I said, this is statistically a long shot, but possible.

      Reply
  3. From my side, I used both Microsoft Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge (As I have Windows-10). I noticed the only times I had the scammers message “Your computer is infected and you have to disinfect it immediately” or something like that, and the only way to get out of the message screen is clicking Cntrl Alt Del, simultaneously to close the program. But it does not come when I use Edge. I therefore suggest that everyone with Windows-10 use only Edge as the browser.

    Reply
  4. Leo This article really hit home.
    I really thought I was a savvy computer person and would never be the victim of a “technical support scam” How mistaken I was — they did not ring me uninvited. I simply mistyped an URL and ended up with my router being hacked. I had no idea it could be that simple – you find a site – top of a google search and it looks legitimate. Perhaps a warning sign was the very prompt offer of technical support,

    However when you think the company you are dealing with is legitimate – and they are being helpful and you do have a problem it is so easy to say — yes I will let you load a well-known “tech support” program and assist me

    Cutting a long story short – I realised after 5 minutes of technical jargon that this person/company either was after my credit card details or wanted access to my computer for a potential ransomware attack. I had not done the first and there was no evidence of the second – thanks to your “nagging” about malware programs

    What they did do though was hack the router so the SSID kept changing. Fortunately, I had a second router and the hacked router was still under warranty.

    However, it was a salutary lesson in how vigilant you need to be.

    Reply

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