Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP): A Deep Dive

    Before we get to know what is a remote desktop protocol (RDP) or the definition of RDP, let’s turn back the calendar years. In 1998, Microsoft unveiled the Remote Desktop Protocol as an integral component of Windows NT Server 4.0 Terminal Server Edition. Initially designed to facilitate the adoption of “thin client” architectures, this protocol enabled business computers and devices incapable of running Windows software to establish connections with more robust Windows servers. It marked a noteworthy advancement, enabling businesses to reduce expenses by consolidating their computing resources into a unified server.

    Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)
    Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)

    Throughout its evolution, Microsoft consistently enhanced RDP, introducing features like audio support, printer redirection, and remote clipboard sharing. These additions increased the versatility and user-friendliness of RDP, making it a valuable tool for businesses across a broad spectrum of tasks.

    In this blog, we will explore the world of RDP and look into how some features of a Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) solution can serve as an RDP alternative.

    What is Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)?

    So, what is a remote desktop protocol or RDP? RDP, developed by Microsoft, is a proprietary technology that facilitates the exchange of graphical user interfaces (GUI) between two computers through a standardized network connection. Leveraging Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), users can engage with a desktop of a remote system as if they were physically there. This functionality allows them to carry out various tasks, including launching programs, accessing files, and printing documents, all from a location separate from the actual system.

    Employees working remotely or traveling can utilize Remote Desktop Protocol to access their work computers. Additionally, support technicians often employ RDP for diagnosing and repairing a user’s system from a remote location. Administrators also use RDP for conducting system maintenance tasks. Microsoft currently calls its official RDP client software “Remote Desktop Connection,” previously known as the “Terminal Services Client.”

    How Does RDP Work?

    RDP works by creating a link between two devices via a network. The device sharing its desktop is referred to as the Remote Desktop Host, and the device accessing it is termed the Remote Desktop Client. Upon the client initiating a connection, a user authentication process takes place, followed by the transmission of the desktop image over the network. This image is compressed and encrypted to ensure security.

    Upon establishing the connection, the client gains the ability to interact with the remote system’s desktop as though they were physically present at the location. This includes launching applications, accessing files, and performing various tasks with the same level of control as if they were in direct proximity to the system.

    Remote Desktop Protocol offers advanced functionalities like remote audio and video playback, clipboard sharing, and printer redirection. These capabilities simplify user interactions with remote systems, providing a seamless experience akin to working on a local machine.

    To sum it up, RDP stands as a vital tool for both businesses and individuals requiring remote system access and management. Its adaptability, robust security features, and user-friendly interface position it as an optimal solution across various functions, spanning from remote support to facilitating telecommuting.

    Features of RDP

    Remote Desktop Protocol is a secure and interoperable communication protocol that establishes secure connections among clients, servers, and virtual machines. Its functionality extends across various Windows operating systems and devices, ensuring compatibility. Moreover, RDP enhances physical security by facilitating remote data storage.

    Key characteristics or features of RDP encompass:

    • Capability to accommodate 64,000 distinct channels for data transmission
    • Encryption employs 128-bit keys for securing the data. 
    • Bandwidth reduction to enhance data transfer rates, particularly in low-speed connections.
    • Authentication through smart cards.
    • Support for utilizing multiple displays.
    • Capability to temporarily disconnect without logging off.
    • RemoteFX virtualized GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) support.
    • Mouse and keyboard data encrypted with 128-bit RC4 encryption.
    • Routing audio from a remote desktop to the user’s computer.
    • Directing local files to a remote desktop.
    • Utilization of local printers in remote desktop sessions.
    • Access for applications in the remote desktop session to local ports.
    • Clipboard sharing between local and remote computers.
    • Running applications on a local computer from a remote desktop.
    • Compatibility with Transport Layer Security.

    Benefits of RDP

    There are many benefits of using RDP. Some notable ones include:

    • Better device management
    • Improved data access and management
    • Remote work support
    • Enhanced security
    • Cost savings
    • Higher productivity

    Let’s look briefly into the higher productivity aspect of Remote Desktop Protocol:

    • Field staff can enjoy equivalent data access privileges as their coworkers, enabling them to contribute information to the company’s database directly.
    • Users working from a remote location can effortlessly retrieve company files stored on the server hardware with minimal expertise. This stands in stark contrast to navigating cloud storage, which may present more challenges.
    • Several applications hosted on the server are accessible to peripheral users, enhancing their project workflow capabilities.

    RDP Use Cases

    The three most vital use cases of RDP are as follows:

    • Remote troubleshooting by either a corporate help desk or by an individual seeking to assist someone they are acquainted with.
    • Remote desktop access (accessing a work or home PC while traveling).
    • Remote administration to remotely modify configurations on network servers, including Virtual Private Server (VPS) management.

    RDP Security Concerns and Challenges

    While offering its own features and innate advantages, RDP comes with its own security concerns and pitfalls that organizations must avoid. Some of the major RDP security concerns are:

    Brute Force Attacks

    One significant security concern linked to Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is the potential threat of brute force attacks. In such attacks, automated tools systematically test different combinations of usernames and passwords until the correct one is discovered, granting unauthorized access to the system. To minimize this risk, it is crucial to employ robust and intricate passwords, introduce two-factor authentication, and restrict the permissible number of login attempts.

    Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

    Another security risk associated with RDP is man-in-the-middle attacks. In such scenarios, an adversary can intercept and modify the communication between the client and the server, potentially leading to the compromise of sensitive information, unauthorized access to credentials, or even complete control over the system. To mitigate the risk of man-in-the-middle attacks, it is crucial to implement encryption during the RDP connection process. This can be accomplished by either utilizing a virtual private network (VPN) or enabling SSL encryption directly on the RDP server.

    Unpatched Vulnerabilities

    The presence of vulnerabilities and exploits within RDP software can pose a significant threat. Unauthorized access to systems can occur when hackers identify weaknesses or bugs in the software code. To minimize this risk, it is essential to consistently update the RDP software with the latest security patches and updates. 

    It is crucial to restrict access to the RDP server to a designated number of users and actively monitor all RDP connections for any signs of suspicious activity. Employing security information and event management (SIEM) tools is an effective method to identify and receive alerts regarding unusual login attempts or any questionable behavior on the RDP server.

    Unified Endpoint Management: An RDP Alternative

    While RDP is a popular standalone choice for remote access, there are effective and comprehensive alternatives like a UEM solution such as Scalefusion. RDP is a good option for small businesses with a completely on-premise IT infrastructure. But such a situation is quite uncommon with modern workplaces embracing enterprise mobility. This is where a UEM solution offers organizations a wider scope.

    All the RDP security concerns mentioned above can be easily mitigated when organizations deploy UEM software. Passcode policies, identity and access management, and automated patch management are some of the native Scalefusion UEM features that overcome the challenges RDP poses. Most importantly, remote access, support, and troubleshooting using UEM extends beyond just desktops, covering endpoints like smartphones, tablets, digital signage, kiosks, and a lot more. 

    To go further than RDP and explore remote access and monitoring via UEM, schedule a demo with our experts. Sign up and avail a 14-day free trial today! 

    Abhinandan Ghosh
    Abhinandan Ghosh
    Abhinandan is a Senior Content Editor at Scalefusion who is an enthusiast of all things tech and loves culinary and musical expeditions. With more than a decade of experience, he believes in delivering consummate, insightful content to readers.

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