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Requirements for Remote Assistance

There are several requirements that are needed by both the Helper and the Novice in order for Remote Assistance to work. These requirements include the following:

  • The Helper and the Novice computers must both be running Windows XP

  • In order to receive an acceptance notice of the invitation, the Helper must be connected to the Internet

  • Depending on the Invitation delivery method, the Novice will need either Windows Messenger, a MAPI Email program, or a means of delivery for a file

  • If the Helper or Novice is behind a firewall, the firewall will need to be configured to allow Remote Assistance traffic via outbound TCP port 3398

  • Proper configuration of Remote Desktop properties must be set if remote control is required

  • A strong password is needed by the Helper to establish the initial connection to the Novice

Although the requirements are few, a connection can be difficult to create if either the Helper or Novice is part of a corporate network. End-users behind a corporate firewall may require help in setting up remote assistance. This is due to the level of security needed to ensure data integrity in the enterprise. If Remote Assistance is necessary and your users cannot establish a connection due to current firewall settings, you will need to make sure that the firewall allows port (3398 Outbound TCP) from the client in order to successfully establish a connection.

Using Remote Assistance

Once you meet all the requirements for Remote Assistance to be possible, it is time to make the connection. Because security is such an important issue when dealing with the remote control of a computer, the Remote Assistance program necessitates more than just a simple point and click approach to establishing the connection. There are several checkpoints along the way that give the Novice (owner) the option of preventing the connection from being made.

Sending the Invitation

The first step in setting up a Remote Assistance session is to send a call for help.

  • Click on Start > Help and Support, which will open a window similar to figure 4-1.

    Figure 4-1Figure 4-1: Windows XP Help and Support Center


    The Help and Support Center is new to Windows XP. It is designed to help the user easily and quickly access the many different aspects of Help available in the Windows OS.

  • Click on the link on the upper left Invite a friend to connect to your computer with Remote Assistance

  • Select the type of Invitation you wish to use to send to the technician

    • Windows Messenger: To use this option the Helper and Novice must have the MSN Messenger installed and have an active and open connection between the two messengers

    • Email: To use this option, the Novice and Helper must have a MAPI based email program on their computers (Outlook Express, Outlook)

    • File: To use this option, the Novice and Helper must have a means of delivery for the invitation file that will be created

    Figure 4-2Figure 4-2: The Remote Assistance Invitation methods

File Invitation
  • Enter a name


    You should never use your real name when sending a Invitation. A pseudonym adds an extra layer of protection in case your Invitation is hijacked. Providing your real identity will only help a hacker find your computer more quickly.

  • Choose the time limitation


    For security reasons, it is important to choose a limited time length availability. The shortest you can tolerate (while balancing convenience) is the best.

    Figure 4-3Figure 4-3: Identity and Expiration options for Invitation

  • Enter a strong password (i.e. any word not found in a dictionary, greater that 6 characters, and includes upper case, lowercase, numerical, and one of the following: !@#$%^&*()) that will be required when the Remote Assistance connection is made. You will need to provide the password to the Helper via another means of communication.


    Although you can disable the password option, it is not recommended. This is in case the Invitation ends up in the wrong person's hands. Without a strong password, the Novice computer could be easily breached.

    Figure 4-4Figure 4-4: Remote Assistance password options window

  • Click Save Invitation to store the Invitation file on your hard drive or network

Email Invitation
  • Enter a name and message to be included in the Invitation email

    Figure 4-5Figure 4-5: Remote Invitation Email Message

  • You will be asked by Microsoft Outlook to allow the Remote Assistance program to check if the entered email address is in your address book. Click Yes to pass this.


    Because of the increase in popularity of Microsoft Outlook address book as a vector for computer viruses, Windows XP will verify that the Remote Assistance program is permitted to access the address book.

    Figure 4-6Figure 4-6: Microsoft Outlook Express's Warning Message

    Figure 4-7Figure 4-7: Microsoft Outlook alert dialog box

  • Click Send Invitation

Chat Invitation
  • Open Microsoft Messenger chat program

  • Click Tools > Ask for Remote Assistance and click on the user you want to send the Invitation.

    Figure 4-8Figure 4-8: Sending Invitation via MSN Messenger Service

  • If the user is not listed, select Other... and enter the email address of the helper

    Figure 4-9Figure 4-9: Entering messenger address for Invitation

  • Enter the email address of the user to invite and click OK

  • Enter a message and click the Invite button

    Figure 4-10Figure 4-10: Sending the Remote Invitation via chat

Tracking Invitations

When you send an invitation from the Help and Support Center, it is logged and stored on your computer. This is to provide a means for Windows XP to verify that any incoming Remote Assistance connection request is valid. Windows XP also keeps tabs on any unanswered Invitations in order to allow you the ability to Expire, Resend, Delete, or learn more about the Details of the Invitation.

To access this list, you need to perform the following steps:

  • Click Start > Help and Support > Invite a friend to connect to your computer with Remote Assistance > View Invitation Status

    Figure 4-11Figure 4-11: Viewing Remote Assistance invitation statuses

  • Select one of the Invitation Options

    • Details: This option provides you will all the information about the Invitation. It tells you how the Invitation was sent and to whom it was sent if applicable. It also provides you with the expiration time, open status, password status, and message included.

      Figure 4-12Figure 4-12: Remote Assistance Invitation Details

    • Expire: This will simply change the status of the Invitation to 'Expired'

    • Resend: In case the recipient never received the Invitation, or it was sent to the wrong location, this option allows you an easy way to recreate the Invitation

    • Delete: As you can guess, this allows you to delete the Invitation. You may get a warning if the Invitation is still in 'Open' status.

Accepting the Remote Assistance Call

The first stage of security in Remote Assistance is the acceptance stage of the request for help. The request can only come via a file or email message.

There are three main ways to receive an invitation. Each of these will be covered in the following pages.

  • Chat: When an invitation is sent via a Windows Messaging program, the requested party must be online. In addition, the party must accept the Invitation. Figure 4-13 illustrates the message that arrives bearing the invitation as a link. To accept, click the highlighted Accept link. This will send a message back to the initiating computer to start the Remote Assistance program.

    Figure 4-13Figure 4-13: Receiving Remote Assistance request

  • Email: When you receive an email message containing a Remote Assistance request, the actual request is included as an attachment. The attached file is the same file that would have been created if the requesting party choose to manually create a file and send it to the remote party. However, there is a message that is included by default with the email message that outlines some of the issues surrounding Remote Assistance. Included in the message is a personal message from the sender. Figure 14 provides and example of a real request for Remote Assistance sent via email.


    As the initial instant message dialog warns, you should never give out password or credit card information via a chat program. This is because you never know who is on the other end, and your information could be easily 'sniffed', or captured as it passes on the Internet.

    • Open the e-mail

      Figure 4-14Figure 4-14:


      The email Remote Assistance comes as an attachment that must be downloaded to the computer and executed. Unless you are sure the request is legitimate and are expecting it, you should be wary about using it. It could be a virus or Trojan in disguise.

      Figure 4-15Figure 4-15: Open Attachment Warning for Remote Assistance file

    • Upon execution of the Remote Assistance invitation, a dialog with the sender's information will be displayed. If there is no password option, the sender did not require a password in the request for help. Otherwise, enter the password and click Yes. This will start the initiation of the connection. This is the second stage of security that is built into Remote Assistance.


      The Second line of security defense that Remote Assistance uses is authorization. The file and email method both can require a password to make the connection. The chat method indirectly requires authentication because the request is made from a Windows Messenger account that itself requires authentication.

      Figure 4-16Figure 4-16: Remote Assistance Helper side connection verification

      Figure 4-17Figure 4-17: Remote Assistance Helper connecting screen

    • File: Accepting the file method only requires that the remote party receives the Remote Assistance file and that they double click it. This will open the same window as Figure 4-17.

Using the Remote Assistance Connection

At this point in the connection process, two security checkpoints have been crossed. On the one hand, the explicit setup and delivery of the request acts as a security filter to limit the session time and permissions on the requesting computer. On the other hand, the password option adds further security.

The next security checkpoint is the required active approval of the Remote Assistance connection by the Novice. Finally, the most critical security checkpoint is that needed to gain full control of the Novice's computer. This checkpoint is similar to the third in that it also requires an active acceptance of a request from the helper before control of the computer is passed to the helper.

To start the Remote Assistance session:

  1. Helper: Start the session by clicking on the file or the link sent by the Novice

  2. Novice: Accept the Remote Assistance connection

    Figure 4-18Figure 4-18: Accepted Chat invitation on Novice computer

    Figure 4-19Figure 4-19: Accepted Remote Assistance file invitation on Novice computer

  3. Session is Initiated and Remote Assistance screen is loaded on helper's computer; connection is established

    Figure 4-20Figure 4-20: The Remote Assistance Window while waiting for authorization from Novice

  4. Helper and Novice: Communicate via chat program that is built into Remote Assistance program

    Figure 4-21Figure 4-21: Remote Assistance screen on helpers computer during session

    Figure 4-22Figure 4-22: Remote Assistance chat session (Left is helper screen /Right is Novice Screen)

  5. Helper: If the problem can not be solved without remote control, the helper can initiate a command to give the helper remote control of the Novice computer

  6. Novice: Accepts or declines the request for Remote Control

    Figure 4-23Figure 4-23: Remote Assistance remote control warning


    Users should be educated to exercise extreme caution before giving someone else remote control over their computer.

  7. Helper: Close the Remote Assistance – Web Page Dialog window and proceed

    Figure 4-24Figure 4-24: Remote Assistance dialog popup informing helper of acceptance of control request

  8. Helper or Novice: When the Novice's problem has been solved, click the Disconnect button to end the session

    Figure 4-25Figure 4-25: Remote Assistance control ended alert

As you can see, the Remote Assistance program is fairly straightforward. The security considerations are well thought out and with the proper configuration will help maintain a secure connection.

The next segment offers pointers that will keep your Remote Assistance sessions secure.

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