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What are the dangers of Web-based remote access systems?

Identity management and access control expert Joel Dubin discusses the security risk associated with using Web-based remote access systems, such as LogMeIn and GoToMyPC.

Do you know why LogMeIn might be considered a security risk? Could GoToMyPC, which is very similar to LogMeIn,...

be considered less risky because it's a Citrix system?

The fundamental issue with both of these remote access systems is that as Web-based services, they have the potential to expose your internal corporate network on the Web. Now, that may be a bit of a simplification, since both products come with a number of security controls, like SSL logins, data encryption capabilities and multiple layers of firewalls and gateways. However, they're still basically Web applications running as Web services, featuring of all of a Web service's security vulnerabilities.

Both products provide a hassle-free Web-based login to a remote host, all without the overhead of hardware or software required for VPNs or products like pcAnywhere. Users can then access their office desktop from any Web browser.

Both Citrix's GoToMyPC and the free LogMeIn require you first to register online at their site and to do so from your host computer. After that, both services will require the download of some software (LogMeIn uses an applet). If the host is your office computer, so you can use the services to work from home, this downloading of external software on your desktop might make your IT security department nervous.

For GoToMyPC, users enter the email associated with the account and two passwords. They then pick the registered host and have to enter another password and the computer's unique access code. The code is stored on the computer and is never transmitted or stored on Citrix servers.

LogMeIn also requires a user ID and password, plus a one-time password that it generates. It supports RSA SecurID for true two-factor authentication.

One difference between LogMeIn and GoToMyPC is how they route traffic between the host and the remote computers. GoToMyPC directs traffic through centralized servers, preventing a direct connection between the two computers. LogMeIn, on the other hand, authenticates through its own servers in a peer-to-peer type connection, providing each computer with an encryption key valid only for that session.

This peer-to-peer connection might worry your company's IT department. GoToMyPC offers a service to corporate customers, both large and small, that includes a Web-based centralized management console for setting up security and access to particular machines and users.

But, as you correctly note, both systems are similar, and without inside knowledge of your security procedures or IT architecture, it's difficult to provide a more precise answer.

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This was last published in October 2007

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