Is RDP Encrypted, And How Secure Is It?

May 02 , 2022
07 mins 55 seconds

Author: Aurangzeb

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Whether you already use remote desktops or are considering implementing one, you might be wondering if RDP connections are encrypted. RDP encryption is one of the most vital steps to ensure safety. Let’s look at how encryption works in remote desktop connections. Many factors influence a secure remote desktop connection.

What is RDP?

The Remote Desktop Protocol provides a complete desktop experience to remote users, including sound, clipboard, printers, and high-resolution graphics (which can be scaled down to fit bandwidth) over the Internet.

Microsoft introduced Windows Terminal Server as an add-on to Windows NT Server 4.0 in 1998. With this add-on, you could access your desktop remotely over a network using TCP/IP. This capability has been included in every Windows OS released since Windows XP (circa October 2001). Windows Desktop and Server Operating Systems have used RDP as the de facto standard for remote connection access since XP. It has seen multiple versions over the past 20 years, each adding new capabilities and maturing as a reliable remote access protocol. However, RDP has also been plagued by security problems. The advent of the “new normal,” which includes remote working, an increasing reliance on cloud computing, and the emergence of distributed environments, has led to RDP increasingly being used for applications far beyond those for which it was designed. The use of RDP in ransomware and other cyberattacks helps fuel the success of the project and the onslaught of ransomware. This misuse of RDP has been the subject of dozens of threat and breach reports over the last 18+ months.

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Common RDP Use Cases

Regardless of the size of the company, RDP allows users to access servers, collaborate with other employees, and log in to desktops to perform tasks similar to the ones they would do with an in-person presence.

RDP is most commonly used for:</strong

  • The bastion host is configured to run applications in an environment that emulates local resources.
  • Using a typical office environment (COE), you can offer employees and contractors a virtual desktop interface (VDI) for cloud environments.
  • Using a graphical user interface, maintain, set up, and troubleshoot remote servers no matter where they are.
  • Access to the technical support provided by help desks, call centers, and service desks.
  • Employees, contractors, vendors, or auditors should be able to access a desktop as if they were in an office.

These use cases are valid and have become increasingly important in a work-from-anywhere world. There are, however, some use cases that pose a significantly higher risk than others.

So, Is RDP Encrypted?

Is RDP encrypted? Our short answer to that question is yes – but there are some important caveats. In addition to encrypted connections, V2cloud and other remote desktop services create them by default. RDP software from older versions doesn’t always support encryption at today’s highest level. If you are running a remote desktop environment, the presence of legacy clients could pose the biggest challenge in terms of different levels of encryption.

For your remote desktop environment to be as secure as possible, you should analyze all the clients throughout your network and install the highest encryption possible. You can customize your security levels by setting encryption levels. There are many remote desktop solutions that you can choose from if you don’t want to tinker with the security settings in Microsoft’s built-in RDP. Unlike standard RDP encryption, some companies provide higher encryption levels.

How secure is Windows Remote Desktop?

By using an encrypted channel, Remote Desktop sessions prevent anyone listening on your network from viewing your session. However, earlier versions of RDP have a problem with the way they encrypt sessions. Using a man-in-the-middle attack, the session can be accessed without your permission.

The Remote Desktop connection can be protected with SSL/TLS in Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10, and Windows Server 2003/2008/2012/2016. Microsoft no longer supports some of the systems listed on this page, so they do not meet Campus security standards. Security exceptions are required for unsupported systems.

Even though Remote Desktop is more secure than tools like VNC that do not encrypt the entire session, the chance of unauthorized access to a system always exists whenever administrator access is granted remotely. Using the tips below, you can securely access both desktops and servers that you support through Remote Desktop.

Secure Your Remote Desktop Network with Strong Passwords
It may seem like essential advice, but it always bears repeating: As you evaluate the security of remote desktop encryption, ensure that your accounts are all protected with strong passwords.

Despite the level of encryption your software uses, a hacker could still gain access to one of your approved accounts if their password was weak. Strong passwords across your network are the first defense against someone gaining unauthorized access to your system via remote desktop.

Update your software

Remote desktop is an advantage over 3rd party remote administration tools in that security patches are automatically applied following Microsoft’s standard patch cycle. Enable and audit your automatic Microsoft Updates to ensure your client and server software are updated. Please make sure you have the latest versions of Remote Desktop clients on other platforms if you are using them. Older versions of the software may not support high encryption and have different security issues.

Enforce two-factor authentication

Departments should consider a two-factor authentication approach. Other options not offered by campus include two-factor authentication via smartcards that rely on certificates. The Remote Desktop host itself and YubiKey and RSA are utilized to illustrate this approach.

Restrict access with firewalls
Consider limiting access to ports on your server to improve security and performance. A brute force attack from an external source will not be able to access your server, preventing safety breaches, increasing storage usage from the logs, and increasing CPU usage as a result.
Limit access to the remote desktop listening ports (TCP 3389 by default) with firewalls (both software and hardware if available). For limiting RDP access to desktops and servers, using an RDP gateway is highly recommended. The campus VPN software can be used to get a campus IP address. Then you can add VPN network addresses to your RDP firewall exception rules as an alternative to supporting off-campus connectivity.

Enable Network Level Authentication

In addition to Network Level Authentication (NLA), Windows 10 and Windows Server 2012 R2/2016/2019 provide it by default. In general, it is a good idea to keep this in place as NLA offers an additional level of security. If you use Remote Desktop clients on other platforms that do not support NLA, you should configure Remote Desktop servers to allow connections without it.

  • Windows 10, Windows Server 2012 R2/2016/2019 should have NLA enabled by default.
  • It is possible to verify using the Group Policy setting that requires user authentication for remote connections by using Network Level Authentication. A Remote Desktop Session Host role must be installed on the server with this Group Policy setting enabled.

Providing the Highest Level of Security and Encryption for Remote Desktops

As we began our journey, we asked, “Is RDP encrypted?” and we were able to answer this question as well as others. The answer to “Is RDP encrypted?” is determined by whether you consider RDP a secure method of accessing remote desktops.

Even though RDP is commonly used and widely available, that does not necessarily make it the best choice. Using your remote desktop environment, hackers will exploit vulnerabilities they can find to gain access to your system or network.

Legacy clients can limit the encryption levels of your remote desktop environment, out-of-date software can provide vulnerable points of entry, and lackluster authentication requirements may make it hard to know who has access to your environment. It’s possible to be attacked by all of these security vulnerabilities in RDP.

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V2 Cloud Desktop Security Features

Cloud service providers must ensure data security. The following list illustrates some of the security features included in the Cloud Desktop Stack to help you better understand why Cloud Desktops are more secure.

  • Datacenters
    In order to ensure maximum reliability and 99.95% service level agreement, data centers are equipped with fully redundant fiber networks and power supplies. There is a gated entrance with staff access that is restricted and logged as well as video surveillance available 24 hours a day. SOC, PCI, and HIPAA security standards are periodically audited in data centers.
  • Servers
    Every virtual machine on our servers runs on the latest hypervisor updates and has an all-encompassing UFW firewall. We use RAID-1 replication with NVMe drives to ensure data redundancy on all our servers.
  • Networks
    Unlike physical machines, virtual machines have isolated private networks with no incoming ports. You can configure firewalls and personal networks between virtual machines from the management console. Our public IPs are all protected against DDoS attacks, and we use IPsec VPNs to connect to your office resources.
  • Connections
    Users can connect to the Cloud desktops securely using SSL HTTPS through the app and web. Through the desktop app, connections are made using RDP over SSH tunneling. Our apps support SAML integration as well as multifactor authentication. Further, all links are monitored by a lockout mechanism that kicks in after multiple failed attempts to log in.
  • Backups
    We provide daily snapshot backups with 7-day retention as part of our business plan. The snapshots are kept offline in a secondary location to ensure that the data is immune to ransomware. A snapshot can be used to recover virtual machines during a disaster. If you or an end-user accidentally deletes a file, a snapshot can be used to recover it.
  • Antivirus
    We provide Malwarebytes Pro antimalware protection with real-time monitoring and nightly scanning as part of our Business plan.

Written By: Aurangzeb

Aurangzeb is a freelance writer who specializes in business, finance, technology, and crypto. He has been blogging for the past 7 years and has published more than 2,000 articles. His work has been read by more than 1 million people around the world.