Experience secure RDP

Published September 30, 2023

How secure is Windows RDP?

Experience the peace of mind that comes with secure RDP sessions. With an encrypted channel, your session remains private and protected from prying eyes on the network.

However, it’s important to be aware of a vulnerability in earlier versions of RDP that could potentially expose your session to unauthorized access through a man-in-the-middle attack.


But fear not! We have the solution to ensure your Remote Desktop experience is fortified against any potential threats.

By implementing SSL/TLS in Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10, and Windows Server 2003/2008/2012/2016, you can guarantee the utmost security for your sessions.

Please note that some systems listed may no longer be supported by Microsoft, which means they may not meet our Campus security standards. In such cases, a security exception may be required.


While Remote Desktop is already more secure than other remote administration tools like VNC, it’s crucial to acknowledge that granting Administrator access remotely always carries some level of risk.

However, we’re here to help you minimize those risks and ensure the safety of your Remote Desktop access to both desktops and servers that you support.


Don’t compromise on security. Follow these tips to fortify your Remote Desktop access and enjoy a worry-free experience.

Securing RDP

Keep Reading RDP in 2023: Redefining Remote Desktop Access

Securing tips for RDP

1. It is strongly recommended that strong passwords be utilized for any accounts with access to Remote Desktop prior to enabling Remote Desktop.


2. In addition, departments should consider implementing a two-factor authentication approach.

Other options, such as a mechanism for controlling authentication via two-factor certificate based smartcards, are available but are not supported by campus.

This approach utilizes the Remote Desktop host itself, in conjunction with YubiKey and RSA as examples.


3. To ensure the security of your system, it is important to update your software regularly.

One advantage of using Remote Desktop over 3rd party remote admin tools is that components are updated automatically with the latest security fixes in the standard Microsoft patch cycle.

4. To ensure that you are running the latest versions of both the client and server software, it is recommended that automatic Microsoft Updates be enabled and audited.

If you are using Remote Desktop clients on other platforms, it is important to ensure that they are still supported and that you have the latest versions. Older versions may not support high encryption and may have other security flaws.

5. To enhance security measures, it is recommended to utilize firewalls, both software and hardware, to restrict access to remote desktop listening ports, with the default port being TCP 3389.

Employing an RDP Gateway is highly advised for limiting RDP access to desktops and servers.

For off-campus connectivity, an alternative option is to utilize the campus VPN software to obtain a campus IP address and include the campus VPN network address pool in the RDP firewall exception rules.

6. Additionally, it is important to enable Network Level Authentication (NLA) on Windows 10, Windows Server 2012 R2/2016/2019.

NLA provides an additional layer of authentication before establishing a connection and is recommended to be kept enabled.

However, if Remote Desktop clients on other platforms that do not support NLA are being used, Remote Desktop servers can be configured to allow connections without NLA.


7. By default, NLA should already be enabled on Windows 10, Windows Server 2012 R2/2016/2019.

To verify this setting, you can check the Group Policy setting “Require user authentication for remote connections by using Network Level Authentication” located at Computer\Policies\Windows Components\Remote Desktop Services\Remote Desktop Session Host\Security. It is crucial to ensure that this Group Policy setting is enabled on the server running the Remote Desktop Session Host role.

Limit users who can log in using Remote Desktop

By default, all Administrators can log in to Remote Desktop.

If you have multiple Administrator accounts on your computer, you should limit remote access only to those accounts that need it. If Remote Desktop is not used for system administration, remove all administrative access via RDP, and only allow user accounts requiring RDP service. For Departments that manage many machines remotely remove the local Administrator account from RDP access at and add a technical group instead.


  1. Click Start–>Programs–>Administrative Tools–>Local Security Policy
  2. Under Local Policies–>User Rights Assignment, go to “Allow logon through Terminal Services.” Or “Allow logon through Remote Desktop Services”
  3. Remove the Administrators group and leave the Remote Desktop Users group.
  4. Use the System control panel to add users to the Remote Desktop Users group.


A typical MS operating system will have the following setting by default as seen in the Local Security Policy:

Secure RDP

The problem is that “Administrators” is here by default, and your “Local Admin” account is in administrators.

Although a password convention to avoid identical local admin passwords on the local machine and tightly controlling access to these passwords or conventions is recommended, using a local admin account to work on a machine remotely does not properly log and identify the user using the system.

It is best to override the local security policy with a Group Policy Setting.


To control access to the systems, even more, using “Restricted Groups” via Group Policy is also helpful.

If you use a “Restricted Group” setting to place your group, e.g., “CAMPUS\LAW-TECHIES” into “Administrators” and “Remote Desktop Users,” your techies will still have administrative access remotely, but using the steps above, you have removed the problematic “local administrator account” having RDP access.

Going forward, whenever new machines are added in the OU under the GPO, your settings will be correct.

Group policy management editor

Set an account lockout policy

By setting your computer to lock an account for a set number of incorrect guesses, you will help prevent hackers from using automated password guessing tools from gaining access to your system (this is known as a “brute-force” attack). To set an account lockout policy:


  1. Go to Start–>Programs–> Administrative Tools–> Local Security Policy
  2. Under Account Policies–> Account Lockout Policies, set values for all three options. Three invalid attempts with 3-minute lockout durations are reasonable choices.

Secure RDP in best ways

  1. Do not allow direct RDP access to clients or servers from off campus.

Having RDP (port 3389) open to off campus networks is highly discouraged and is a known vector for many attacks. The options below list ways of improving security while still allowing RDP access to system.


Once an RDP gateway has been set up, hosts should be configured to only allow RDP connections from the Gateway host or campus subnets where needed.

2. Use RDP Gateways (Best Option)

Using an RDP Gateway is strongly recommended. It provides a way to tightly restrict access to Remote Desktop ports while supporting remote connections through a single “Gateway” server.

When using an RD Gateway server, all Remote Desktop services on your desktop and workstations should be restricted to only allow access only from the RD Gateway.

The RD Gateway server listens for Remote Desktop requests over HTTPS (port 443) and connects the client to the Remote Desktop service on the target machine.


  • Utilize Campus RDP Gateway Service.

This is the best option to allow RDP access to system categorized as UC P2 and lower. Includes DUO integration. RDP Gateway Service is provided by the Windows Team. Documentation is available here: https://berkeley.sharepoint.com/sites/calnetad/gateway(link is external).

The RDP Gateway Service also supports the new Remote Access Services requirement of the draft MSSND update (requirement 8), which requires the use of an approved service (i.e., RDP gateway, dedicated gateway, or bSecure VPN) for access to the UC Berkeley network from the public Internet.


  • Dedicated Gateway Service (Managed)

Needed for rdp access to systems that are UC P4 or higher. Must also be configured for DUO

Some campus units use an IST managed VPS as an RD Gateway. A rough estimate might be that 30-100 concurrent users can use one RD Gateway.

The HA at the virtual layer provides enough fault-tolerant and reliable access; however a slightly more sophisticated RD gateway implementation can be done with network load balancing.


  • Dedicated Gateway Service (Unmanaged)

Installing and configuring RD Gateway on department run hardware.There are many online documents for configuring this embedded Windows 2016/2019 component.

Installing the configuring, the role service is mostly as described; however, using a Calnet issued trusted Comodo certificate is recommended.

Using a self-signed cert is ok for testing, and using a CalnetPKI cert can work if all clients have trusted the UCB root.

The Comodo cert is usually better accepted so that your end users do not receive certificate warnings.

Configuring your client to use your RD Gateway is simple.

In essence, a simple change on the advanced tab of your RDP client is all that is necessary:

3. Change the listening port for Remote Desktop

Changing the listening port will help to “hide” Remote Desktop from hackers who are scanning the network for computers listening on the default Remote Desktop port (TCP 3389).

This offers effective protection against the latest RDP worms such, as Morto. Change the listening port from 3389 to something else and remember to update any firewall rules with the new port.

Although this approach is helpful, it is security by obscurity, which is not the most reliable security approach.

You should ensure that you are also using other methods to tighten down access as described in this article.

4. Tunnel Remote Desktop connections through IPSec or SSH

If using an RD Gateway is not feasible, you can add an extra layer of authentication and encryption by tunneling your Remote Desktop sessions through IPSec or SSH. IPSec is built-in to all Windows operating systems since Windows 2000, but use and management are greatly improved in Windows 10.

If an SSH server is available, you can use SSH tunneling for Remote Desktop connections.

5. Use existing management tools for RDP logging and configuration

Using other components like VNC or PCAnywhere is not recommended because they may not log in a fashion that is auditable or protected.

With RDP, logins are audited to the local security log, and often to the domain controller auditing system.

When monitoring local security logs, look for anomalies in RDP sessions such as login attempts from the local Administrator account.

RDP also has the benefit of a central management approach via GPO as described above.

Whenever possible, use GPOs or other Windows configuration management tools to ensure a consistent and secure RDP configuration across all your servers and desktops.

By enforcing the use of an RDP gateway, you also get a third level of auditing that is easier to read than combing through the domain controller logins and is separate from the target machine so it is not subject to tampering.

This type of log can make it much easier to monitor how and when RDP is being used across all the devices in your environment.

Keep Reading; Experience the buzz of Wireguard
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