TeamViewer is a great free program, whether you want to access your computer from afar or help out friends and relatives with their computer. But its default settings are remarkably insecure, instead favoring ease of use. Here’s how to lock down TeamViewer so you can make use of its features without opening yourself up to attack.
The Problem with TeamViewer
Recently, TeamViewer has been in the news because there has been a rash of computers compromised through the remote access tool. As of this tutorial, we haven’t seen any evidence that indicates a system-wide security breach at TeamViewer, but something is certainly fishy. Right now, we are inclined to reluctantly agree with TeamViewer’s press release: it’s very easy for a TeamViewer user to have their computer compromised if they don’t have all the right settings in order. And apart from a few users who had all the right settings, most victims were using an unsecured setup.
If evidence comes to light that TeamViewer experienced a security breach, we’ll certainly update this information. But for now, since many people have to use TeamViewer for one reason or another, we’ll show you how to do it in the most secure way possible.
By default, TeamViewer isn’t a particularly secure application. It favors ease of use over difficult-to-navigate security procedures. This is useful when you’re trying to help your dad solve his computer woes from across the country: you can have him download a single file, run that file, have him give you the simple numeric computer ID and password, and boom, you’re controlling his computer and solving the crisis. But leaving TeamViewer in that simple first-run mode (which really should only be used in such a simple state for those one off emergencies) is just asking for trouble.
TeamViewer has tons of security options you can toggle on and tweak, however, and it’s really easy to go from a not-secure TeamViewer experience to a very secure TeamViewer experience with only a little tinkering.
Before we proceed, however, there are a few things we’d like you to keep in mind while reading through the tutorial. First, not every person needs to turn on every option we suggest. You need to balance your needs and workflow against the security changes you make–you wouldn’t want to, for example, turn on the feature that requires a user at the computer to accept the incoming TeamViewer request if you’re using TeamViewer to connect to your own unattended computer.
Second, if TeamViewer is installed on your computer through your work, by a tech support company you’ve hired, or by a relative who helps troubleshoot and maintain your computer, we’d encourage you to read over this article (and potentially take advantage of some of the tips) but to also consult with the person in charge of your TeamViewer experience.
Finally, we’re using the Windows desktop application for the tutorial, but many (if not most) of the settings we’re changing apply across the other desktop applications for OS X, Linux, and Chrome OS.
Basic Security Practices
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of TeamViewer’s settings, let’s talk about a few basic security practices (that, frankly, apply to almost any program, not just TeamViewer).
Exit TeamViewer, and Run It Only When You Need It
Our first suggestion is both an immediate action you need to take and a general suggestion for future use. First, because the source of the computer compromises appears to be poor security practices, we’re going to do one thing right away: shut TeamViewer temporarily off and update it, and, while the application is turned off, we’re going to update the security on your TeamViewer account through the company’s webpage. (More on this in the next section.)
As a general future consideration, only run the TeamViewer application when you need it. Let’s say that a year from now there is, in fact, a major security breach on the TeamViewer side of things. An application that isn’t running can’t cause any trouble for you. While we understand that some people keep TeamViewer on 24/7 as part of their workflow, and if you absolutely have to, fine. But if you only use it occasionally in your home, or you’re one of the people who only turns it on to occasionally troubleshoot a relative’s computer, then don’t leave it running all day, every day. This is the single best way to avoid giving someone access to your machine.
With that in mind, shut down your TeamViewer application if it is currently running before proceeding onto the next steps.
Create a Strong Password
After shutting down the TeamViewer app, it’s time to log into your TeamViewer account at https://login.teamviewer.com. If you use TeamViewer without an account, we would strongly encourage you to sign up for a free account, as it’s much more secure. Not only do many of the security tips we’re going to highlight over the course of this tutorial rely on features only available to account holders, but you can’t take advantage of the recently rolled out behind-the-scenes security features–account monitoring and trusted devices–without an account.
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