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Data Doctors: Is remote help safe?

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Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to evtrib@datadoctors.com.

Posted: Sunday, August 28, 2011 2:33 pm | Updated: 9:30 pm, Sun Aug 28, 2011.

Q: How do I know whether I can trust someone who wants to do remote service on my computer?

A: The Internet has brought massive change to just about every aspect of our lives and dealing with your computer problems is no exception.

Virtually every computer of any importance is connected to the Internet these days, which means getting help via a remote technician is now a very common offering.

The process is fairly simple in most cases: You must go to a specific webpage and click on an authorization button (or a series of acknowledgements) that allows the remote support person to access your computer via your web browser session.

Once you close that session, the remote service person can no longer access your computer, so the common myth that "once they are in, they can get in whenever they want" is simply not possible (with legitimate service providers).

No legitimate company would ever allow their technology to give them secret access to your computer as the fallout from this practice would likely put them out of business.

The key to knowing whether you can trust the process starts with how the remote service is being offered.

If you call a service provider or company that you already do business with (Microsoft, Linksys, Data Doctors, etc.) and they offer remote service as an option to fix your problem, you can generally be assured that it's trustworthy.

If someone calls you out of the blue to tell you that you have a problem and they can fix it by "remoting in," then you should be very suspicious.

There is a recurring scam that's been going around where you will receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft (or some other large tech company) and that they have detected that your computer is infected.

They try to convince you that they are being good Samaritans - or scare you - and offer to "remote in" to fix it for you.

Since you did not initiate the call, you have no way to validate this person, so you should always decline the offer. Microsoft has no remote method to know whether you are infected and they certainly don't have a group of benevolent technicians that spend their days roaming the Internet remotely cleaning up virus infections.

Trust is the key element when allowing anyone to work on your computer whether they are doing it remotely, in a repair shop or even if they are right in front of you in your home or business.

If a technical support person with malicious intent works on your computer, they could just as easily plant malicious code on your computer, even if you are standing over their shoulder, and you would never know it. If you take your computer to a repair shop, they generally have it for days and could do anything they wanted with your data.

No matter how you get your computers serviced, it comes down to trusting your service provider.

Some would say that remote service is more transparent, because you can literally sit and watch everything that the technician is doing while he/she is doing it. Remote service certainly isn't the answer to all your computer problems, especially if it's a hardware issue, but it sure is nice when you're in a hurry to get something fixed, especially for a small businesses or busy moms.

For general computer service needs, finding a company that gives you the option of taking it to a repair facility, having a technician dispatched to your home or business or remotely fixing your problem allows you to decide which method you are most comfortable with on a case-by-case basis.

Once you have established a relationship with a company you trust, allowing them to remotely access your computer to assist you can really be quite efficient for both you and them.

• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the "Computer Corner" radio show, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio

Readers may send questions to evtrib@datadoctors.com

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Ken Colburn
  • Ken Colburn
  • E-mail: evtrib@datadoctors.com
  • Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio
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