VPN vs Remote Desktop: What’s the diff?

By Jordyn Mitchell, NETCONFIG.

VPN and remote desktop
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Did you know that you can log onto another computer from the device that you’re using right now, and did you know that you are constantly connected to remote servers to browse the web, talk to staff and friends?

Since lockdown started more and more businesses and users have become reliant on working from home and inviting more outsiders onto their networks and systems in their businesses. This is generally to provide technical support, or in some cases outsource work. As this requirement grows, more and more tools are being developed to enable this activity.

Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and remote desktop (RDP) sharing are two common applications used for remote work and support. They are two very different beasts. Both have a purpose, and both have pros and cons. It’s important to remember, however, that they are essentially two very different technologies.

What is a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?

A VPN is a piece of software used to keep your internet activity private and secure. Let’s say you are working remotely and you need to access an important file from a corporate server located on a private network. You cannot access this directly from a public network, and that is where a VPN can help. When using a VPN service, your device connects to a VPN server. As the user, you cannot control the VPN server -which you can with a remote desktop. A VPN acts like a tunnel for your communication and enables you to remain secure and anonymous online. This network extender was created to be used over a public network like the internet, using encryption to keep the user session safe and secure.

The way the tech works is at network level and give users access to servers and machines that are generally only available within the corporate firewall. For the average remote corporate user, this is all you need. The connection copies what you would have sitting at your desk with no additional functionality beyond access.

For internal support staff who need to provide support to other employees, this type of connection works fine, since all the resources they need access to are provided as part of their employee onboarding (email, group, shared drives).

A VPN can be installed on practically any device as there are user-friendly apps for most major platforms, VPN also offers a browser extension and add on.

An important thing to be aware of, is that a VPN allows you access only to those files already shared on the private network. If these files are located on your office PC’s hard drive, you will need to establish a remote desktop connection to that computer.

What Is A Remote Desktop (RDP)?

An RDP desktop is a way of accessing a remote server or computer directly as if you were sitting in front of the machine. This is very useful if you need to work on applications that require access to databases, or require access to the work network that the devices are connected to.

An RDP connection is seen as being more forgiving for an end user, as it provides them with a system that they are more likely to recognise and work with daily as it simulates an “in office” experience, while providing them the ability to work remotely. The  RDP connection can be established from almost any device these days. Microsoft has launched an RDP app which can be installed on Windows, MacOS, IOS and Android, giving you the ability to take your work with you anywhere you go. Applications like this also allow users to cache credentials and provide seamless access to their working environment.

RDP does come with a security risk however, as having an “open” remote desktop connection can leave you open to attacks from hackers as they can gain access to your network and can navigate to other servers or devices on your network.

Jordyn Mitchell, NETCONFIG
So, what is best for you?

At Netconfig we strongly recommend the use of Both VPN and Remote desktop connections to provide the best security and ease of use for the end user.


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