Working From Home: How to Make Sure Your RDP Remote Access Stay Secure

Last updated on May 2, 2020

There has been a large increase in the number of people who work from home and require remote access to their company’s mainframes – even before the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. Now, of course, since we have seen lockdowns in countries all over the world, remote access working has seen an explosion in terms of usage.

In this article, we look more closely at RDP and remote access. We investigate what exactly RDP is and how to stay secure whilst using remote access software. We discuss the risks and potential dangers of working remotely and then go on to explore ways to uphold a secure remote desktop. In doing so, we lay out how to create an RDP security strategy that includes RDP encryption suggestions amongst many other best practices for secure remote desktop access.

What is RDP?

RDP stands for Remote Desktop Protocol. It essentially means that people can access their own computer network or mainframes, or their company’s, so that they can continue to work as if they were in the office. There are several types of remote desktop software available at the moment – all of which have seen a big surge in demand. However, the phrase RDP comes from one of the original packages which is Microsoft’s RDP program. Other software packages available include PC Anywhere or TeamViewer but there are many more.

RDP encryption was always a way of sending data during a remote access session over an encrypted channel, but some earlier versions of remote access software had some vulnerabilities that hackers tried to take advantage of. As such, RDP and secure remote desktop capabilities often become a job in itself at some companies that need personnel to have the ability to work from anywhere.

Risks and Potential Dangers Of Working Remotely

There are a number of risks and potential dangers to working remotely – many of which can be minimized, if not erased completely with the right RDP security management plan. However, it is imperative to first get a handle on how serious it can be should any of these risks or potential dangers materialize as they can have long-lasting ramifications on both an individual as well as a huge multinational company. Without a strong RDP security plan, hackers can wreak havoc on a company by infiltrating a remote desktop. Here are some of the things that can occur should a hacker successful gain access to a remote desktop:

Being held to ransom

A hacker doesn’t have to be a sophisticated IT genius to be able to encrypt data that they find on a network. They can then use that encryption as a way of blackmail or holding a company to ransom. They only release the data, unencrypted, when they have had their demands met and often this is the settling of a certain large amount of cash. To stop this from happening, they need to be prevented from accessing networks in the first instance.

Stealing intellectual property

A hacker, once he or she has gained entry to a network, is capable of stealing any data or information that is held there. Depending on the company, this can have huge competitive effects as a lot of a business’s intellectual property is likely to be held in its mainframes. Again, they can then use this knowledge to blackmail or hold a company to ransom – or simply use that intellectual property for their own gain somehow. Either by selling that information on the black market or otherwise.

Identity theft

Companies are holding more and more personal details about their customers on their online records. In doing so, it makes individuals far more susceptible to identity theft if those records are not kept securely. If a hacker is able to access those details, he or she can build up an online picture of an individual and use it for their own financial gain – particularly if they find credit card details or bank account information. This can have lasting effects on people as it can affect their credit rating for the rest of their lives.

Misleading communications

If a hacker gets into a company’s network through a remote desktop access port, they have the ability to disguise themselves as a company employee. In doing so, they can send misleading communication to or from accounts departments that can wreak all manner of havoc on a business. This can hurt a business financially through requesting outgoings that are false or simply cause them a great deal of time-wasting frustration through trying to unravel any errors that occur due to the hacker’s interventions.

Reputational damage

One of the worst ways that a hacker can hurt a company through accessing their networks from a remote access desktop portal is the reputational damage this breach can cause. If a company is found not to have protected its networks to such a degree that they have left themselves vulnerable to attack, customers are less likely to use them for their services. Reputational damage can be swift in occurring and yet can take years and years to recover from. It can therefore have material impacts on a company’s profits and bottom line.

How To Uphold A Secure Remote Desktop

Given the huge effects that the potential dangers and risks that secure remote desktop working can pose to a company, it is imperative to have a robust and comprehensive plan in place to prevent online attacks. There are numerous ways to help in the protection of RDP security, which we list below.

Strong passwords

Without a doubt, the best way to protect yourself and your company against hacking is to secure your remote desktop software and the devices you are working on with strong passwords. This needs to have the usual mixture of numbers, letters, capitalization, and punctuation marks for the ultimate in strength.

Two-factor authentication

A company’s IT department will invariably always push for two-factor authentication when it comes to remote access. This is because it helps uphold the integrity of the connection over which remote access occurs. It is an additional security measure and hoop that a hacker will need to pass through to gain access to a remote access session that is hard to breach. RSA keys are common means of two-factor authentication but there are increasingly more types of software and hardware available as more people move to a remote access way of working.

RDP Encryption

Ensuring that the software that you do use uses encryption is imperative. Data is at its most vulnerable to interception when it is being transferred over an internet connection. Encrypting that data when it is being transmitted is of the utmost importance, therefore. RDP encryption is one of the strongest ways a company can protect itself against online attacks.

Turn it off

Keeping an online remote access desktop session continually running can be a very risky way to work. It can expose you to online attacks easily by giving hackers more chances and more time to infiltrate your systems and network. A very strong method for protecting yourself and your company from being hacked is simply to turn off your connection when you’re not using it. It sounds simple, but it is is something that so many of us forget on numerous occasions.

Internal IP addresses and select IP addresses

Companies looking to strengthen their remote access capabilities should look at limiting the IP addresses that can access their mainframes. Those IP addresses should be those from internal sources and also that have been certified by an IT department as safe for access. These IP addresses should belong to computers and devices that personnel work on remotely – any others should be locked out until they have been verified.

Review access logs

One of the best ways a company can continually protect itself from online attacks is to learn from past threats. In doing so, they need to monitor their access logs for any anomalies that have happened. Plus, monitoring of access logs is a big deterrent for hackers who do their best at all times not to get caught. It should be written into any RDP security strategy therefore for logs to be checked and for threats to be highlighted. Any vulnerabilities that these threats have exposed then need to be addressed as soon as possible.

Up to date software

An easy way for hackers to access remote desktop sessions is by taking advantage of vulnerabilities and weaknesses in pieces of software. However, software is regularly updated to eradicate these vulnerabilities when they have been exposed. Therefore, it is imperative that every individual who is part of a network needs to update their software to ensure they are using the most current one. By using the most current version of software, you are automatically always using the safest version too. By making sure that every device that uses remote access software has the most current version, it means that the entire network is at its most robust.

Secure networks

The networks that personnel use to access their company’s mainframes remotely need to be secure. If they use public networks, work should be done to ensure that personnel know how to encrypt their data – perhaps through the use of a VPN so that hackers do not use an open network as an easy access point to plant their malware or other viruses. An unsecured network means that anyone can access that network and, importantly, any of the data that is transmitted over that network.

Lockout policy

Hackers can use software that continually tries to access remote desktops through a brute force attack. Companies can protect themselves against this by protecting themselves with a lockout policy. This means that if an account has too many incorrect login attempts, that account is locked until further notice.

Educate your personnel

The education of your workforce can be a key and essential way to maintain your company’s defenses against online attacks. By informing your personnel of their responsibilities in upholding a network’s security, you give them key information on what the ramifications of their actions can be. If they don’t follow procedure and access their mainframes in unsecured ways, they are leaving your company open to all manner of difficulties. By telling them this, you arm them with the knowledge they need to make the right decisions about their actions every time they log on remotely.

Keeping You and Your Company Protected With RDP Security – The Bottom Line

The benefits of remote working are too great to ignore. The productivity and efficiencies that a company can see when they allow their employees the ability to work from wherever they are in the world are huge. Bearing this in mind, it is naive not to offer employees the chance to work remotely simply for security reasons given that remote access can make a company more vulnerable to online attacks.

Having a strategy to uphold RDP security is, therefore, the only option available to companies serious about taking advantage of all the huge plus sides to remote working. While these strategies can be multifaceted and therefore sometimes a little complicated, they are necessary as the alternative is not feasible. Without a robust plan in place, companies leave themselves vulnerable to online attacks. However, simply because a strategy can be complicated it does not mean it is impossible.

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