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Control remote assistance via Group Policy Objects

Learn the basics of Microsoft's remote assistance feature and how it can be managed through Active Directory.

Remote Assistance is a feature of Windows XP that enables a remote administrator, expert user or help desk operator to either watch the actions of a user's desktop or take control of a user's desktop. This is an excellent tool when your user base is spread out over a significant geographic area and your help desk is centralized.

While this feature can be a great benefit, it can also be viewed as a serious security vulnerability. If any user can connect to any other user's desktop to view data or even take control, maintaining separation of duties and compartmented classification of data can become difficult. In environments where security is a significant issue, Remote Assistance is probably more of a nuisance that it is worth. If you agree with that proposition, disable remote desktop. But in many cases, simply limiting its use and scope may be enough to retain the administrative benefit without sacrificing security. Fortunately, Microsoft included several GPO controls to give you the flexibility to customize this feature to your needs.

Remote assistance can be controlled through Active Directory group policies. These controls are located in the computer configuration section in the administrative templates, System, remote assistance folder.

The solicited remote assistance control enables or disables the ability to solicit remote assistance from the GPO-affected system. When enabled you can also determine whether remote experts only can view the user's desktop or actually take control, and the maximum lifetime of the invitation ticket.

The offer remote assistance enables or disables the ability of a system expert to offer assistance to an end user without a specific request for such aid. When this capability is enabled, you can also determine whether remote experts only can view the user's desktop or actually take control, and exactly which expert users can offer such aid.

James Michael Stewart is a partner and researcher for Itinfopros, a technology-focused writing and training organization.

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