In many situations, people have to access data stored in their PCs remotely. This can become necessary both for average PC users and those working in a corporate network environment. The on-going pandemic forced thousands of organizations to switch to work from home mode. So, millions of employees had to access their systems from home, using RDP technology. The Remote Desktop Protocol is one widely used technology invented by Microsoft, and it is bundled in nearly every version of Windows OS. Through RDP, you can access the files and content in a PC running Windows positioned far away –via the internet from a second computer/device. The advantages of RDP are undeniable, but you have to think of the security risks too.
Understanding the RDP risk factors
When you log on to the internet, there are some risk factors involved. Nowadays, people spend online several hours a day, and most of the time; they do not think much of such online security risks. However, by using RDP, you are actually doubling the risk factor! Two PCs or devices are involved here- one playing the host and the other serving as a client. The online malicious attackers can target one or both of the systems. The RDP security attacks can be multifaceted, and the consequences can be quite serious. That is why RDP security is often a cause of concern for the security experts and network administrators.
Cyber-attacks that exploit RDP security loopholes
Before you know how to boost the level of RDP security in your PCs and devices, it is also necessary that you know the common types of cybersecurity attacks that target this protocol. Those RDP security attacks are:
- Brute force attacks- A widely used attack technique to get through RDP security protocols; in it, the attackers use specialized tools to generate password and username combinations randomly. These attacks may get hold of systems with weaker passwords.
- Malware attacks- A number of malware are made to target the RDP system and tools specifically.
- Ransomware attacks- The Ransomware campaigns targeting enterprises are often based on RDP. One prominent example is the RobinHood ransomware attack that targeted Baltimore city.
The tried and tested methods to boost RDP security and repair the loopholes
While the inherent security flaws of RDP are there, the good thing is you can take several measures to cover the loopholes and boost the level of security. Listed below are some effective RDP security measures you can adopt.
- Updating the OS version- There are millions of PC users who are still using older versions of Windows such as Windows 7 and 8 and even Windows XP. While the RDP component is there in many older versions of windows, they are less secure than what you get in the latest version, namely Windows 10. In older Windows versions, RDP is present as terminal services. It is less secure than the latest version. So, you may consider upgrading to the newest Windows version if using RDP is a need for you.
- Enabling Network Level Authentication- This is necessary when you want to enhance the level of RDP security. Windows Vista upwards, NLA is present, but you have to enable it. You have to browse the Control Panel and choose System and Security → System. Then choose Remote Settings and opt for Remote → Remote Desktop. Pick the option that allows RDP connections with NLA. Windows 10 has NLA enabled by default. When NLA is enabled, it is not possible to log in to the system without typing in the exact username and passwords.
- Limiting the RDP users- You can select what types of users can connect to a host PC using RDP from remote locations. From the start, the menu chooses programs and then select Administrative Tools → Local Security Policy. Under this section, you have to select User Rights Assignment. Then you have to remove the Administrators group. You can define users who can use RDP to access the host system.
- Using a VPN service- It can be a wise move to step up the security of the system when you use RDP services and tools. The VPN service ensures data sent and received between host and client PC remains encrypted. It also hides the internet address of the client PC. This makes the task tougher for cybercriminals targeting the system. You can use VPN both on Windows-based computers and smartphones these days. It is better to use paid VPN services.
- Using Remote Desktop Gateway- You can enjoy secured RDP functionality if you have a PC running Windows Server series OS. In the RDP gateway, a remote desktop connection is set up using point-to-point mode. The connection is also secured through the firewall.
- Using strong passwords- When you choose a complex password that is difficult to guess, RDP security enhancement is easy. It is wise to make a system password using numbers, symbols, and lowercase and uppercase characters. This will make the PC more resilient against the brute force RDP attacks.
- Using account lockout- To make your PC used for RDP more immune to cyber-attacks and external exploits, you can define an account lockout policy. You can define the number of password attempts after which the account will get locked. You may also define lockout tenure. Choose Start and then browse Programs → Administrative Tools. Under it, choose the Local security policy. The Account Lockout Policies are placed under this section.
- Updating system and getting security patches- You should keep the option for downloading and installing Microsoft updates for the system. It is good for boosting RDP and overall system security. The security patches enhance system defense against stealthy cyber-attacks.
- Backing up data- It is better that you take preventive measures while enhancing RDP security levels in the host and client PC and devices. Ensure you keep backing up important data regularly. This will ensure that even if your system is compromised by an RDP attack, your data is not lost.
RDP is quite convenient, and you can use it in certain situations to access data remotely. You may use the Remote desktop connection module of Microsoft. Besides, there are plenty of third-party RDP offerings out there. However, do not overlook the security protocols regardless of the tool and device chosen.