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Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP): Everything you need to know

The Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a protocol designed to provide a secure remote connection between two devices. You may already be familiar with it if you’re working remotely and need to access the company’s network from home or a foreign country. Read on to find other use cases of the RDP, its advantages, and its secure application.

Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP): Everything you need to know

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What is the Remote Desktop Protocol?

Remote Desktop Protocol definition

The Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a Microsoft-developed protocol that allows you to remotely access and control a computer or Windows server from another location over a network connection. It grants the client device access to resources and applications on a host computer and allows you to use the remote computer as if you are physically in front of it. The RDP changed the game for various industries, including technical support, telecommunications, and remote administration.

How does the Remote Desktop Protocol work?

The RDP lets you step into another computer from anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection. Imagine you’re at the office and need to access files on your home computer. The RDP can make this happen by creating a secure tunnel over the internet.

The RDP uses a client-host architecture, meaning it sends a connection request from your computer (the client) to the computer you want to access (the host). The request contains the user’s information, such as username, password, and the remote computer’s IP address or hostname.

Once the host computer accepts the connection, the RDP creates a secure connection between the RDP client and the host. It employs encryption protocols, such as RSA, TLS and SSL, to protect your remote desktop session from prying eyes. After securing the connection, the client computer transmits your mouse clicks and keyboard entries to the host, allowing you to navigate the remote computer as if sitting right in front of it.

Advantages of the Remote Desktop Protocol

The reasons why an RDP may be a go-to option for organizations and individuals needing a secure remote connection include:

  • pros
    Remote access. The RDP is a convenient solution for users accessing a remote computer or a server. It provides flexibility for those working from home or while traveling.
  • pros
    Collaboration. The RDP allows multiple remote users to access the same desktop simultaneously, which makes it easier for teams to collaborate on joint projects or training.
  • pros
    IT support. The RDP is highly beneficial for IT professionals seeking to troubleshoot, update, and configure systems without physically accessing the device.

Disadvantages of the Remote Desktop Protocol

Some of the main drawbacks of the RDP include:

  • cons
    Security vulnerabilities. If you don’t secure the RDP properly, it might open the door to your confidential network assets for criminals and cyberattacks.
  • cons
    Complex configuration. It might require advanced technical skills to configure the RDP correctly.
  • cons
    Resource demand. Remote RDP sessions may require extra bandwidth and system resources to transmit high-resolution images or run resource-intensive tasks. This may impact both the host and remote client devices.

Remote Desktop Protocol use cases

Like other remote desktop software, the RDP goes beyond the simple definition of reaching your work or home computer from anywhere in the world. It is commonly used for remote work and allows you to connect to a company’s network from home. RDP creates a secure tunnel to the company’s files and applications so you can stay productive wherever you are. This is also an excellent solution for remote collaboration if, for example, your colleague works away from the office and you need to do a presentation together.

While you may only use remote desktop access when working from home, your company’s IT support team employs it daily to remotely troubleshoot, install software, and manage systems without physical access to the devices. Basically, this tool simplifies work processes and enhances progress in businesses and educational institutions by allowing users to stay current.

How secure is the Remote Desktop Protocol?

The RDP is generally secure. However, because it provides a digital gateway to your computer from anywhere in the world, it may become an entry point for hackers seeking your personal or business data. So it would help if you secured it properly.

One of the key threats for RDP connections is ransomware, which turns your files into hostages until you pay a ransom. Brute force attacks are another potential threat when hackers use trial and error to guess your computer password to get into your network.

Besides locking your digital assets or forcing random password combinations to breach your network, hackers may also set up man-in-the-middle attacks (MITM), allowing them to intercept and read every bit of an RDP conversation. MITM attacks are especially dangerous because they enable an attacker to manipulate the RDP connection without being noticed. The consequences of such an interception can be severe, leading to privacy breaches and loss of login credentials, personal data, or financial details.


The RDP and other Microsoft Remote Desktop services (RDS) are often used interchangeably. Though related, they are not the same thing. Let’s compare the two:

DefinitionA protocol that establishes a secure connection between two computers or Windows servers for remote access.A service that allows users to access virtual desktops or applications hosted on a server using the RDP.
Use casesUsed to remotely access a single computer.Provides remote access to virtual desktops and applications for multiple users.
ArchitectureClient-host model, where the client connects directly to the remote computer.Server-based model that hosts desktops and applications in a centralized server.
DeploymentIdeal for individual users needing remote access to their own computer.Suited for businesses and organizations that need remote access to a central system for multiple users.
LicensingDoesn’t require an additional license apart from the operating system.Requires RDS CALs (Client Access Licenses) and the operating system license.
ScalabilityServes one individual computer.Can serve thousands of users based on server capacity and licensing.
PerformanceDependent on the remote computer’s resources.Optimized for network performance, can leverage server hardware to improve user experience.

The above comparison of RDP and RDS features and strengths may allow you to choose the service that suits your needs. Wrapping up, the RDP is the go-to option for those seeking the most from simple and direct one-on-one remote connections. On the flip side, RDS is the best choice for managing multiple remote connections simultaneously.

How to use the Remote Desktop Protocol

You must set up your host computer first to establish a remote connection. Here’s how to configure your Windows PC:

  1. Open “Settings.”
  2. Head to the “System” tab.
  3. Click “Remote desktop.”
  4. Toggle the switch next to “Remote desktop” to “On.”
  5. Click “Confirm.”
  6. Note the name of your PC for later.

Now that your PC allows remote connections, you can access it from another location by following these instructions:

  1. Type “Remote desktop connection” in the search box and select the “Remote desktop connection” application.
  2. Type the name of a computer you want to connect to.
  3. Click “Connect.”

How to stay safe while using the RDP

If not correctly configured, the RDP may be vulnerable to brute force man-in-the-middle attacks and ransomware, such as DarkSide or Pysa. So, implement these practices into your cybersecurity routine to keep your private data safe and sound.

  1. Limit access. You can reduce the attack surface and minimize insider threats by limiting who can connect to your network through the RDP. Set a limited number of system administrators who can customize network security settings.
  2. Use strong passwords. Come up with strong passwords to protect your RDP from being exploited. Ensure it contains lower- and upper-case letters, numbers, and special symbols. Never reuse your passwords and never disclose them to third parties under any circumstances.
  3. Set up two-factor authentication (2FA). 2FA adds an extra layer of protection by requiring an additional form of user authentication to access a service or application. Even if an attacker compromises your RDP connections, they cannot access your network without this additional identification factor.
  4. Use a VPN. A VPN together with a RDP can help you protect your online activity and encrypt data transmission between the client and host computers. It can help you keep your data hidden from prying eyes.
  5. Keep your software up to date. Update your software regularly to patch your system against known security vulnerabilities and protect your RDP connections from cybercriminals.

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