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The difference between Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop

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Hello and welcome, my fellow tele-toilers and anyone just scrolling by!

Today’s HelpWire blog is a logical follow-up to the previous one where we’ve discussed common use-case scenarios for the Remote Assistance app and why Administrator permissions are the must-have to make it work right.

And now we’ll try to figure out how Remote Assistance differs from Remote Desktop, what ports do they use, and what’s Remote Desktop Protocol got to do with all this jazz. On top of that, we’re going to have a good and proper look at some aspects of safe remote connectivity, like why using port assigned in Windows for remote assistance by default is a terrible idea and how not to be low-hanging fruit for all the hackers in the web.

Ready? Let’s roll!

Remote Assistance vs Remote Desktop: know the difference

In a nutshell, both Remote assistance and Remote Connection applications are all about connecting to remote machines via RDP protocol. The difference lies in the area of ends and means. More specifically — to the user’s control level and the most common usage scenarios.

A quick note here: For any of this to work, you need to make sure that remote connections are enabled in both computers’ properties. If you need more detailed instructions on how to do that, just let me know. And here’s the mini version of said instructions: go to the Remote pane of your System Properties and make sure both checkboxes a ticked there.

The Remote Assistance application is commonly used for tech support purposes. During the sessions, some trusted helpers access your PC over the network to fix whatever problems you may have. For the whole session time, you’ll remain in control of your system and, in theory, will be able to interfere if something goes wrong. And no, you really won’t and we’ll come back to that soon, I promise. First, let’s find out how one can make Remote Assistance work.

The whole procedure hasn’t changed much since Win XP times. First off, you type msra.exe into the search box (or just hit Win+R and enter msra.exe there to run the app), then choose the way you want to pass the .msrcincident invitation file to the person you want help from. Using this application has the merit that you can ignore all remote access requests unless you sent an invitation to that specific person. So chances to get scammed are relatively low. And the main shortcoming is that emails with the .msrcincident invitation file often end up in the Spam folder and thus never reach the addressee.

Windows Remote Desktop totally cut off the user on the client-side, so there’s no way to even observe what’s going on with your PC for the time of the session. The main convenience is that you don’t need to mail out invitation files. But on the downside, the full control over your machine will be in hands of your remote helpers. That’s why this technology is mostly used to access your own machine. For instance, to get something done on the office PC while you’re at home, or vice versa.

So, as you see, the core difference between Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop is whether or not you’ll be able to control your machine during the session.

What port do Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop use

So the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything… Well, in the context of this blog, it’s more like: Which port is used by Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop. And that answer is 3389.

What is port 3389? It’s a TCP port reserved in Windows for the remote desktop connection since Win XP. It’s even referred to as Windows Remote Assistance port sometimes. Sure thing, you can choose to use some other ports. But to change a Remote Assistance port you must have Administrator permissions.

Needless to say that you’ll need Remote Assistance ports opened on all computers engaged in both Remote Desctop and Remote Assistance sessions. Preferably, not the standard one, for that’s where all malicious software aim. And, whenever you set a custom port number, don’t forget to add the new rule on the Actions pane of the Windows Firewall management console.

Talking about ports, let me say a few words about TCP port 135, as you need to keep it open if you want to link up your PC with the machine that’s not in your local network. And here’s where the trouble typically starts. That can be yet another open door for worms of all sorts. The most common TCP 135 port vulnerability is the Blaster Worm that just rips your system up for unauthorized remote access and the mass-mailing Reatle E@mm. No one wants that on their computer, right? And guess, what type of service typically runs on TCP port 135 too? That’s right, any messenger you’ve got there. Luckily, that’s not something a decent antivirus can’t deal with.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the Remote Desktop Protocol’s vulnerability. Unprotected RDP connections exposed to the Internet lead to serious problems. So make sure to get yourself a reliable VPN and never use the standard Windows remote access utilities without it. And, at the first chance you’ll have to get a third-party remote tool designed specifically for accessing PCs remotely — just get it.

Here’s my honest opinion, and you can bank on it being true: no standard Windows utility application is a hundred percent hacker-proof. Just make sure that the software you’re going to get has a decent level of traffic encryption, among other things. And use your VPN with it too. There is no such thing as too many precautionary measures.

And that’ll be all for today’s blog. Don’t hesitate to click my links to dig a bit deeper, stay safe, never accept remote connection requests from strangers, and see ya all in the next one.