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RDP Meaning. Learn the Basics of the Remote Desktop Protocol


By Roman Fattakhov of Parallels

Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a proprietary network communications protocol from Microsoft that extends the International Telecommunication Union-Telecommunication (ITU-T) T.128 application sharing protocol and allows PCs and devices running any operating system to connect to each other. Although proprietary, some of the RDP specifications are open for anyone's viewing on the Microsoft website. Thus, RDP can be extended to meet specific organizational requirements if needed.

Windows remains the most popular operating system around the world, so you can connect to most computers easily with RDP. But, the Windows PC you are using must meet certain licensing requirements. There are other network communication protocols such as virtual network computing (VNC), but RDP, consisting of a client and server component, is arguably the most popular.

What Is Remote Desktop Protocol?

To understand the protocol, think of a remote-controlled car or drone that you can control from afar via radio waves. RDP operates in much the same way for computing devices. Instead of radio waves, it uses the internet to communicate and take control of another machine. Since RDP facilitates remote connections, it is traditionally used to assist remote users with computer or device problems.

Since virtualization and cloud computing are now ubiquitous, RDP and similar protocols are used all of the time. When you boot up a virtual machine (VM) in the cloud and connect to it remotely, it is likely that your organization is using RDP or a similar protocol.

Regardless of whether you are connecting to a remote computer or a VM, RDP requires an internet connection.

How Does RDP Work?

You can access a remote computer or VM and have its desktop displayed on the computer you are using with RDP. You can control the remote computer with your mouse and keyboard and operate the remote machine and any applications residing on it.

The computer from which the connection request originates must be running RDP client software, while the computer that is being accessed must be running RDP server software. The latter is known as a Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH). Devices with less than optimal configurations can access and run full-featured programs as if they are local to the RDSH. Much of the communication that takes place between the connecting device and the RDSH goes from the latter to the former. Multiple and simultaneous remote sessions into a server are possible.

By default, all Windows computers include RDP server software and are thus accessible to connection requests. However, Remote Desktop Connection (RDC), the RDP client software, is accessible only to users of Windows Pro and higher versions. If you are running Windows Home, you will need to upgrade to Windows Pro (or a higher version) to use RDC. To avoid costs associated with upgrading, you can try other RDP client software.

RDC is one of three client components of Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services (RDS) thin client architecture, which allows remote client machines that support Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to connect to Windows and any computer running RDS. Windows Remote Assistance and Fast User Switching are the other client components of RDS.

Aside from RDC, RDP clients are also available for Linux, Unix, macOS, iOS, Android and other operating systems. Thus, you can control your workstation or run a VM using practically any device.

RDP server software is also available for Windows, Unix, Linux and OS X. Microsoft Azure uses RDP to serve virtual machines to its customers' users.

What Are the Advantages of RDP?

There are various benefits of using RDP within organizations, including the following:

  • Faster and easier deployment. You experience faster application and/or desktop deployment since application and/or desktop installation on client devices is not required. Because the cloud serves all applications and/or desktops, there are no compatibility issues, making it easier for your IT staff to manage your devices and applications.
  • Enhanced security. Avoid security issues arising from unsecured data residing outside your network. Organizational rules can be enforced to prevent your users from storing data in device and flash drives. Thus, all operations are performed within your network, preventing data from leaving its confines at any time.
  • Reduced downtime. Secure cloud storage means downtime is minimized in cases of device failures. Your users are not tied down to their devices-they can use any device to access their VMs.
  • Lower costs. Compute resources can be assigned to devices based on demand. This translates to lower total cost of ownership since devices without the processing power or capacity to run applications natively can still be used without upgrading them.
  • More devices. Windows-based applications can be delivered to non-Windows machines such as iOS, Android and thin client devices. Users can connect to remote desktops using practically any device.

What About Security in RDP?

Administrator access to remote clients residing on an RDSH is inherently risky. Past discoveries of RDP vulnerabilities and more recently exposed vulnerabilities including BlueKeep and DejaBlue (discovered in 2019) emphasize the importance of security.

RDP security is divided into two types:

  • Standard security that uses RSA's RC4 encryption algorithm to encrypt traffic between the client and server.
  • Enhanced security using Transport Layer Security Protocol (TLS 1.0/1.1/1.2), Credential Security Support Protocol (CredSSP), or Radio Data Systems (RDS) TLS to enable Network Level Authentication, which requires clients to authenticate their sessions with the server.

You should use enhanced security with RDP. In conjunction with this, you should keep your RDP servers behind your firewall to lessen their vulnerability to outside attacks and minimize potential threats to already authenticated users.

Other best practices for securing your RDP servers include:

  • Enforcing rules that require strong user passwords and locking users out of their machines after a set number of unsuccessful login tries.
  • Configuring remote desktop (RD) gateways that enforce two-factor authentication before granting access to your servers. Services on your desktop and workstations should only be accessible from the RD gateways.
  • Updating your RDP client and server software regularly, regardless of whether these are Microsoft or non-Microsoft implementations.
  • Removing administrative access via RDP unless you are using RD for system administration. Even then, limit the number of system administrators in charge of maintaining your RDP implementation. The best ways to do this is to use a Group Policy Setting to override the local security policies on your RD devices or set administrative users as part of a Restricted Group policy. Either way, disable local administrative accounts with RDP access as much as possible.

Parallels RDP Client Offers Excellent User Experience

Parallels RDP Client is an easy-to-install software that provides access for users to connect to either RDS infrastructures or ParallelsĀ® Remote Application Server (RAS) farms. It is an affordable, user-friendly alternative to RDC and other RDP clients. Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android and Chrome OS are supported. Samsung mobile users will find it perfect because it supports Samsung DeX.

Parallels RDP Client allows multiple connection settings and offers drag and drop, multiscreen, and zoom support, among other features that are not available in RDC. Native Android and iOS capabilities, such as gestures, are supported in addition to Touch ID and passcodes for logging on securely to your RDP or Parallels RAS infrastructure.

Parallels RDP Client is free to download from the Parallels website. You can also get started with Parallels RAS by downloading the trial.

Published Monday, October 12, 2020 12:34 PM by David Marshall
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