NetSupport Delivers Comprehensive Remote Admin Capabilities

During the past six months, we have reviewed several remote control and systems management utilities: Some were good, others were lacking. When presented with the chance to use a similar tool, it stands to reason that we would not be easily impressed. But NetSupport Inc.'s NetSupport Manager 5.0, a remote systems management tool, did impress us as a distinctly powerful tool.

Feature for feature, NetSupport Manager consolidates the offerings of most remote control/remote management software suites available. Many tools remotely control a system by means of a proprietary client, which NetSupport Manager does as well. Other utilities feature Web browser-based remote control and management functionality, and NetSupport Manager does this, too. NetSupport Manager 5.0, in fact, is one of the few tools available that provides both proprietary client- and Web browser-based remote control access and administrative capabilities.

We installed NetSupport Manager on a Windows NT network that consisted of a Windows NT Server 4.0, Enterprise Edition, box updated with Service Pack 4 (SP4) and Windows NT 4.0 Workstation clients updated with SP6.

NetSupport Manager provides support for the standard group of client/server protocols -- TCP/IP, IPX, and NetBEUI -- and for standard serial connections and for the TAPI standard Windows modems.

We configured a Windows NT 4.0 Workstation as the NetSupport Manager controller, which could be used to facilitate remote control and remote management sessions with NetSupport Manager client machines. We configured our Windows NT 4.0 Server, Enterprise Edition, as both a NetSupport Manager client and a controller. Finally, we configured an additional Windows NT 4.0 Workstation as another NetSupport Manager client.

Using NetSupport Manager

NetSupport Manager 5.0 has the cleanest, most intuitive user interface that we’ve encountered among this type of product. Connecting to a remote client machine was simple in the NetSupport Manager environment.

Connection profiles can be created by using the program’s "Add New Client" utility, a wizard that prompts a user or administrator for transport protocol information, local IP address, and NETBIOS names. Once connected to a client machine, users can configure a number of additional settings.

NetSupport Manager includes amenities such as file transfer and remote control capabilities, in addition to chat and talk functionality, similar to other tools.

We were was able to use NetSupport Manager as a platform to remotely control both our Windows NT Server, Enterprise Edition, and Windows NT Workstations. On our 100 Mbps LAN, NetSupport Manager delivered very good performance, and its full-screen feature gave the impression that we were using the machine that we were remotely controlling.

NetSupport Manager’s clean, intuitive user interface made using its file transfer capabilities a snap. We were able to drag-and-drop a series of files to and from the remote client machine to our NetSupport Manager controller station.

We’ve used other remote management tools that provide chat and talk capabilities, but we were impressed with NetSupport Manager’s capabilities in this area. Similar to NetOp 6.0 from CrossTec Corp. (www.crosstec.com), NetSupport Manager’s chat and talk capabilities distinguish it as a potentially great helpdesk support tool. We suspect IT environments with helpdesk support problems could benefit from NetSupport Manager’s error-free real-time communications capabilities.

By enabling NetSupport Manager’s Web extensions capabilities under its advanced client configuration utility, we were able to remotely control systems through Microsoft Corp.’s Internet Explorer Web browser. This is a nice plus.

We encountered a problem, however, when we tried to control access to NetSupport Manager’s advanced configuration utility. When we chose an integrated security model in which NetSupport Manager pulls user authentication information directly from the Windows NT SAM, we couldn’t log back into NetSupport Manager’s advanced configuration utility. The program apparently defaulted to displaying capital letters in both the log in and password fields, a no-no in the case-sensitive Windows NT password field.

We found an interesting work-around to this difficulty that could constitute a much larger security problem. We managed to disable integrated Windows NT security support by manually editing NetSupport Manager’s CLIENT32.INI file, which resides in the program’s default directory. The problem is that anyone can access this directory and that anyone can edit the CLIENT32.INI file. For changes to take place, they must first be saved in the NetSupport Manager advanced configuration utility profile and the CLIENT32 service itself has to be restarted. In Windows NT environments, starting, stopping, and restarting services requires administrator-level privileges, but this can also be accomplished by means of a simple reboot.

Even if an administrator password-protects NetSupport Manager’s advanced configuration utility profile, an unscrupulous employee or hacker could manually remove this password in the CLIENT32.INI settings. By editing only the CLIENT32.INI file, a knowledgeable hacker could custom-configure NetSupport Manager’s settings.

This problem can be circumvented, however, if administrators create a Windows NT access control list entry for CLIENT32.INI.

Security vulnerabilities notwithstanding, NetSupport Manager 5.0 is a good remote control and remote systems management tool. Advanced scripting capabilities, which we didn’t have an opportunity to test, help set this product apart as one of the few applications that can scale to meet the demands of large enterprise environments. In addition, its robust text and audio chat capabilities help make it an excellent fit for IT helpdesk environments. Most importantly, NetSupport Manager’s pricing model is among the most agreeable in the business: Enterprises can obtain a copy of the base product and 25 client licenses for under $1,800.

NetSupport Manager 5.0
NetSupport Inc.
Cumming, Ga.
www.netsupport-inc.com
(770) 205-4456

Price: $1,785 includes 25 user licenses

+ Intuitive, clean user interface makes for simple and easy use
+ Scalable for large enterprise environments
+ Ideal for helpdesk implementations

- Possible out-of-the-box security liabilities