RDP, which stands for Remote Desktop Protocol, is a protocol developed by Microsoft that aims to provide end-users with a GUI (graphical user interface) to help them connect to other computers or devices over a network.
An RDP server must be deployed on the device that needs to be accessed, while the controller part has to use an RDP client that matches the server. While client apps are more diverse and come in various flavors, RDP servers are a bit more restrictive.
What is RDP?
RDP had (and still has) many names, but it essentially means the same thing. Users can use it to control a remote computer from a distance over an Internet connection, using their physical input devices, which are shared with the remote machine.
A brief history of RDP
Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server Edition saw the first attempt at remote desktop access when the Terminal Server feature was implemented in this edition of the NT 4.0 operating system.
Windows 2000 marked the moment when the service was renamed Terminal Services and became an optional component in the Windows NT OS family. The Terminal Services feature was ultimately renamed to Remote Desktop Services (RDS) in 2009, with Windows Server 2008 R2.
However, the remote desktop connection client started being included by default on operating systems much earlier than 2009. Starting with Windows XP (2001), every Windows edition included a pre-installed RDP client.
Nowadays, RDP has come a long way and provides us with seamless remote desktop access, enhanced security, and numerous accessibility-, performance-, and compatibility-related features.
How to use RDP on Windows?
As we’ve previously mentioned, Windows has built-in RDP features. However, that doesn’t mean that Remote Desktop Access features are enabled by default since they can also pose a security threat, given that misconfiguring them can grant attackers access to your system.
With that in mind, check out the steps below and learn how to enable RDP on your Windows PC:
- Hit the Win key on your keyboard
- Click the gear-shaped button in the Start menu
- Select the System category
- Scroll down (if necessary) in the left pane
- Click the Remote Desktop button
- Flick the Enable Remote Desktop switch to On
- Complete the process of enabling RDP by clicking the Confirm button
Congratulations, now you should have RDP access to your own computer. However, note that the steps above should only ensure remote access on a local network.
Hence, if you want to grant others the right to interface with your PC from a distance, you need to perform a bunch of additional configuration steps.
Assuming that you already enabled RDP access to your computer, click the Select users that can remotely access this PC hyperlink in the same window as we’ve described in the steps above.
Now you should see an empty list, with a quick status check informing you that your current account already has access to remote desktop access. You can click the Add button and search for other users on your PC that you want to grant RDP rights.
Note that if there’s only one account (yours) on the PC and you want to grant access to others, you’ll have to either create new user accounts for RDP usage or share your credentials with others, which is not recommended.
How to enable RDP over the Internet
Using Windows’ firewall
- Hit the Win key on your keyboard
- Type firewall
- Select Windows Defender Firewall with Advanced Security
- Go to the Inbound Rules section
- Scroll down and locate Remote Desktop – User Mode (TCP-In)
- Right-click it and select Properties
- Check the Enabled box
- Click the OK button
Using port forwarding
- Launch your web browser
- Head to your router’s gateway (usually it’s http://192.168.0.1/ or http://192.168.1.1/)
- Access the Port Forwarding section (some routers call it NAT forwarding)
- Create a new port forwarding rule for TCP port 3389
- Bind the rule to your PC’s internal IP (type ipconfig in CMD to find your internal IP)
Alternatively, you can check out our guide, which includes tips on forwarding ports on your router using a third-party tool.
Note that if you have a dynamic IP address, it will constantly change, which means you’ll have to change the port forwarding settings on your router each time this happens.
However, you can also use dynamic DNS services that will provide you with a domain, automatically detect any IP change on your system, and bind the IP address (no matter how many times it changes) to that domain.
How to connect to an RDP machine on Windows
- Hit the Win key on your keyboard
- Type remote
- Select Remote Desktop Connection
- Type the computer’s hostname or IP address in the designated field
- Click Connect
- Type the user name you want to use on your RDP connection
- When prompted, accept certificates and type your password
If done correctly, you should be logged into the remote system. Note that before logging in, you can also press the Show Options button and configure additional settings regarding display, local resources, performance, server authentication, and Remote Desktop Gateway (RDG).
It’s also worth mentioning that you can also remotely access your Windows PC from Mac, but there are additional steps you need to take since they’re two wildly different operating systems.
How to use RDP safely
We can’t stress this enough, but RDP can be a dangerous weapon for attackers to take over your system and gather sensitive information. This is also why we recommend not to enable RDP if you don’t fully understand how it can harm your system.
On the other hand, if you’re willing to risk, there’s little we can do to stop you. However, we can teach you some healthy practice tips you can apply to reduce the risks associated with remote desktop access.
- Disable RDP when you don’t need it
- Configure complex, hard-to-guess passwords
- Try not to use RDP over the Internet, if possible
- Enable Network Level Authentication (after enabling Remote Desktop, click the Advanced Settings button and enable NLA)
- Try allowing only non-administrator accounts to access your PC remotely
- Create a VPN instead of allowing RDP over the Internet
- Choose the highest level of encryption when configuring your RDP settings (enabled by default)
- Try avoiding sketchy third-party tools if you’re not sure about them
Surely enough, you’ve heard about third-party tools that let you access and even control your PC, and most of them require next to no configuration. You just install them on both ends, point them to each other, and that’s about it.
While we’ve mentioned that some third-party remote access tools can be sketchy and harm your PC, fortunately, not all of them are like that. In fact, we’ve compiled a list of great PC remote access tools you can safely use.
RDP can be risky in the wrong hands
All in all, you can see why RDP is still popular among PC users and how it can help you perform a wide variety of tasks on a PC without even being next to it. Given the current situation and increasing demand for Work From Home, we could say it’s a real lifesaver.
However, we can’t ignore the risks of mishandling RDP tools since they can also facilitate unwanted access, breaches, data theft, and even fully-fledged cyber attacks.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you prefer using Windows’ built-in Remote Desktop Client or turning to a third-party solution, just as long as you practice healthy security tips.