What is Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)?

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What is RDP

What is RDP? Microsoft’s RDP Remote Desktop Protocol (or RDP) allows users to connect to and access a remote desktop client, Windows application, or even a server hosted on a remote host. This connection gets established either over the internet or on a local network and gives you full control of data and resources, including the software and tools available on the host.

Since Microsoft developed the Windows Remote Desktop Connection tool, all Windows PCs and servers are free to authorize another Windows device to use it. On the other hand, only a few specific Windows versions allow the RDP server software to run. 

For instance, you can easily use RDP to connect to Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise; Windows 8.1, 8 Enterprise, and Pro; Windows 7 Enterprise, Professional, and Ultimate; Windows Server 2008 and the latest versions. You can’t, however, set up an RDP connection to the systems running Windows 10 Home or other Home editions.

This proprietary communications protocol, i.e., RDP, works like an open-source VNC used on Linux remote connect and some other platforms. Learn more about it in the section below.

What is Remote Desktop Protocol

What is RDPTo put it in simple words:

It provides remote users like you with a graphical interface to see and access a Windows device based in another location. While using RDP, your key peripherals, i.e., mouse and keyboard, also get shared with the remote device, which allows you to use and control it locally.

However, you need an RDP server and an RDP client software to establish the connection. The RDP server software is the one you’re connecting to, and an RDP client is the device on which you must install an RDP client app to control the server software remotely.

It’s a Windows-only protocol, which means you can set up remote connections only with Windows PCs and servers that support it. To make remote desktop access more convenient, Microsoft has developed different client apps for macOS, iOS, and Android, along with a number of third-party applications to run on Linux-based and other platforms.

Though Windows Home versions do not support RDP server software, they can be used as clients to build a connection with other Windows remote systems.

To add further, before establishing a single connection, you must enable the Remote Desktop Connection feature on the Windows PC that you’re connecting to. In the case of connecting multiple users simultaneously, you will be required to have a Windows server that will have RDS (Remote Desktop Services) components installed as well as enabled.

While establishing a remote connection using Microsoft remote connect to a secured enterprise network using RDP, you must have the Remote Desktop Gateway service installed as well as configured on a compatible Windows server. This will not only increase security but will also eliminate the need for an internal VPN. 

What are the Pros and Cons of using RDP?

For people managing remote services for a few computers on the same network, RDP is the go-to proprietary service. The best part s that it is free to use, and the installation is very easy and hassle-free.

But what if your network needs to support more clients? What are the limitations of the features?

Let’s explore the pros and cons of Windows Remote Desktop.

Pros

  1. This is a free service. Remote Desktop is a built-in Windows service that uses the Remote Desktop Protocol. Using your centralized file storage on the go or accessing in-office remote support doesn’t require you to spend any money on a third-party tool.
  2. Setting it up is simple. It is very easy to turn on Windows Remote Desktop, even though it is by default, disabled. 
  3. Please note that this service is not included in Windows Home editions for now.

Cons

  1. Outside the office, it may not be as easy to set up. Windows Remote Desktop must be configured to accept incoming connection requests if you use it outside your office network. 
  2. The feature is only available in the Pro, Business, and Ultimate versions of Windows. 
  3. Remote machines cannot be rebooted, and they automatically reconnect. 
  4. The remote user can’t see or interfere with what you’re doing on their machine when the remote screen is locked. Windows Remote Desktop still has one of the biggest problems that it hasn’t fixed. 
  5. Currently, running more than one session at a time is impossible. Microsoft’s built-in tool cannot handle dozens of remote desktop connections with different network settings, despite a workaround that lets you turn on multiple remote desktop connections on Windows 10 & 8. 

How to Enable Remote Desktop on a Windows PC?

As you already know, you need to enable Remote Desktop on that particular remote Windows PC or server with which you want to set up a connection. Configuring a Windows system to enable Remote Desktop is quite easy. You only need to perform the step-by-step process below to do so:

  • Step 1: First, press the Windows logo plus the I button to open Settings.
  • Step 2: In the Settings window, navigate to System, and then, on the left pane, scroll down to Remote Desktop.
  • Step 3: Select Remote Desktop and navigate to the appropriate window.
  • Step 4: Next, under the Enable Remote Desktop option, toggle the bar and change the status to On.

If you’re establishing a single-user connection, then by default, you will be connecting to the PC remotely using the Microsoft account that you generally use for signing in.

For multiple users, click on the option “Select users that can remotely access this PC. Then locate the Add option under the Remote Desktop Users window and search for the account you wish to add.

If you want to allow RDP connections over the internet, you are required to permit incoming as well as outgoing connections to the UDP/TCP port 3389 on the network. [Make sure Port Forwarding isn’t enabled in this case.]

How to Establish an RDP Connection on Windows?

Since all Windows PCs and servers come with Remote Desktop Connection tools installed by default, you can set up the RDP connection just by following a few steps. No third-party software or tools are required when you’re establishing the connection from a Windows PC.

However, if you’re setting up an RDP connection locally, you must first find the local IP or hostname. To do so, follow the steps below.

  • Step 1: Firstly, press the Windows key + I button to open Settings.
  • Step 2: Next, navigate to “Network & Internet” and then click on it.
  • Step 3: In the next window, click on “View your network properties.”

Finally, you’ll see all the information regarding your Remote Desktop PC and its IP address and hostname.

On the other hand, if you’re ready to set up an open RDP connection over the internet, you have to know the IP address issued by your ISP. In the case of secure enterprise networks, you must also know the RD gateway address.

Once you get the IP, follow the steps mentioned below to connect to the Windows Remote Desktop on a remote Windows PC or server:

  • Step 1: Press the Windows logo key + R to open the Run window.
  • Step 2: Next, type in “mstsc” and hit Enter to launch the Remote Desktop Connection tool.
  • Step 3: In the Remote Desktop Connection window, click on the General tab.
  • Step 4: Now, put the IP or hostname of your remote Windows device in the empty box next to the computer and click on the Show Options button.
  • Step 5: Type your username in the empty box next to the username.
  • Step 6: Now move on to the Display tab and confirm the color quality and the remote connection’s resolution.
  • Step 7: Next, navigate to Local Resources and click on More to confirm the peripherals you will share with the Remote Windows Desktop.
  • Step 8: At this point, you can set the quality of the connection by moving to the Experience tab and next clicking on Detect connection quality automatically.
  • Step 9: For enterprise networks, you may have to click the Advanced tab and then Settings to allow a tunneled RDP connection through RD Gateway.
  • Step 10: When you’re all done, click on the Connect button finally and hit Yes when a warning message pops up.

Following these 10 steps will help you set up a connection to a Remote Desktop on a Windows PC.

How to Set up an RDP Connection on macOS?

You already know that Microsoft offers a dedicated Remote Desktop application for macOS that is available on the App Store. Its interface is almost the same as the iOS and Android client software offered by MS. So. The following steps will be similar to the ones on those platforms.

Follow these steps now to connect to a remote Windows device using the Microsoft Remote Desktop app for macOS:

  • Step 1: Click here to download the app, then launch it on your macOS device.
  • Step 2: Next, click on the Add PC/’+’ button.
  • Step 3: Now, type in the IP address or hostname for the remote Windows device in the empty box next to the PC’s name.
  • Step 4: After that, click the down arrow right beside the Add a user account option and add a username and a password to the connection.
  • Step 5: Once done, click the “Add” button.
  • Step 6: In the case of using an RD gateway, under the General tab, click the drop-down menu next to Gateway and choose Add Gateway to put in the Gateway address.
  • Step 7: Next, move on to the Display tab and choose the display resolution, quality, and color.
  • After that, navigate to the Devices & Audio tab and select the peripherals you want to use.
  • Step 9: If you want to share any folder with the RDP server, locate the Folders tab and press the ‘+‘ button to find and pick the folders, then hit the Add button to save changes.
  • Step 10: Finally, move back to the main Microsoft Remote Desktop screen and right-click on the entry, choose Connect from the context menu, and press Continue when the pop-up warning appears to establish the RDP connection.

So these are the 10 steps that will help you set up an RDP connection on your macOS device.

How to Establish a Secure RDP Connection?

Establishing a secured Windows Remote Desktop connection is not easy. Since any type of remote desktop solution unlocks vulnerabilities, RDP is no different. The RDP port 3389 gets scanned regularly to identify exploits. Hence, you must have some full-proof strategies while using RDP over the internet to secure it entirely.

However, different enterprises use Remote Desktop Gateways to establish a secure RDP connection to the Windows Server. But individual users don’t have this leverage. We have provided six tips here to help you connect securely to the RDP server.

  • First, ensure you don’t permit open Remote Desktop Protocol connections over the web. Even if you’re required to do so, you must set up your own VPN. Also, using a Remote Desktop Gateway will work fine as it will build a tunnel to your local network, making the process entirely secure. Always remember that allowing any open Remote Desktop Protocol connection over the web is too risky, and you must never do that.
  • Restrict the RDP connections to standard accounts only. Yes, you should only allow non-administrators to set up an RDP connection. It’s because such accounts can’t access settings or install software and have restricted access to the files. This way, you can prevent the probable damage that can occur due to a rough connection.
  • Check whether Network Level Authentication (NLA) is enabled or not. Although Windows 10, Windows Server 2012, and newer versions have this option enabled by default. If you’re using an older version, you must do it manually. Enabling NLA will ensure the authentication (right username and password) before a connection gets established.
  • Use a unique and complex password. A general tip: never use the same password for your different accounts. Instead, create complex ones by intermixing numbers, letters, and characters. This will make it harder to crack.
  • Next, limit the password attempts. Setting a lower number of password tries is always advisable before an account gets locked out. Doing so will restrict any damage that can occur from a DoS attack.
  • Set up maximum encryption for RDP. Though RDP connections always use the highest level of encryption by default, you must ensure that manually at least once. If the encryption is not set to the highest level, you can change it through the Group Policy Editor.

How to Set Maximum RDP Encryption through Group Policy Editor on Windows PC?

Here are the steps to set the RDP encryption level to the highest:

  • Step 1: Go to the computer configuration first.
  • Step 2: Now select “Administrative Templates.”
  • Step 3: After that, click on “Windows Components.”
  • Step 4: Next, move to Remote Desktop Services and click Remote Desktop Session Host.
  • Step 5: From there, navigate to “Security.”
  • Step 6: Now click “Set client connection encryption level.”
  • Change the status to Enabled and choose the High Level.

That’s all! Doing so will help you set the RDP encryption level to the maximum.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is RDP used for?

A: RDP software is used for accessing a desktop or application hosted on a remote host. It lets you connect, access, and provide full control of the data and resources available on the remote host. RDP is so convenient that you will feel like you’re accessing the remote device locally.

2. What is the difference between RDS and RDP?

A: RDS stands for Remote Desktop Services, whereas RDP is a contraction for Remote Desktop Protocol. RDS is the umbrella term used for Microsoft’s remote access features, allowing remote users to access Windows PCs and servers. On the other hand, only this connection-building process is known as RDP.

3. Is RDP only for Windows?

A: RDP is a Windows-only protocol that lets you establish a connection to the remote Windows devices and servers only that support it. Windows Home versions don’t support RDP; hence you can use those as RDP clients but not as RDP servers. However, you can only establish a connection to a Windows PC when the Remote Desktop feature is enabled.

4. Is RDP a VPN?

A: No, RDP is not a VPN. A VPN uses advanced encryption and tunneling technology to create a secure web-based connection between a network and a user. RDP is a secured network communication protocol that allows the remote management of remote Windows PCs and servers.

5. Is RDP safe?

A: Yes, RDP is completely safe as it operates over an encrypted channel, preventing any person from viewing your sessions.

6. Is RDP safe without a VPN?

A: If you’re not working over an enterprise network and not using any RD gateways, you must use a VPN instead of setting up an open RDP connection over any network.

7. Is RDP free?

A: Microsoft’s Remote Desktop is a built-in feature of Windows devices except for Home versions. So, it is free; you only have to enable it from Windows Settings.

8. What are the best RDP alternatives?

A: There are many RDP alternatives available. TeamViewer, ISL Online, RemotePC, Chrome Remote Desktop, Remmina, and VNC, to name a few.

9. How to use a remote desktop to connect to another computer over the internet

A: Open the Remote Desktop Connection app, and enter the name of the computer you want to access and your username and password. On your screen, click the magnifying glass icon. Access the internet from the computer you want to use.

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