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VPN vs. Remote Desktop: Which Is Right for Your Business?

In terms of implementing a VPN vs. a remote desktop, businesses are wondering which would serve their organization best: one, both, neither?

The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has forced businesses around the globe to respond quickly to drastic changes in the workforce.

While these changes are mainly centered on providing a productive work-from-home situation for many workers, a byproduct has been the fast-tracking of digital transformations to ensure business disruptions are kept to a minimum.

Between March 8 and March 22, 2020, VPN usage in the US increased by 124% in response to COVID-19, an indication of how individuals and businesses are reacting to recent rising cybersecurity threats

Dovetailing digital advancement with remote work considerations is a formula for better business continuity during this crisis and beyond.

However, businesses making this shift must ensure that employees accessing company data are doing so in a secure way.

Hackers have been taking advantage of global confusion caused by COVID-19 to launch persistent cyberattacks, including circulating malicious apps and spreading malware via phishing scams.

Businesses looking to provide work-from-home technology to employees must keep security at the forefront when choosing an appropriate platform.

Currently, there are two options to enable remote work: VPN vs. remote desktop, both of which present a number of benefits and drawbacks that should be considered when choosing one for your workforce.

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VPN vs. Remote Desktop: Getting the Facts Straight

When we speak about VPN vs. remote desktop, it’s not so much a competition as it is determining which you need for your business, or whether you need both to help you function better.

Both virtual private networks (VPNs) and remote desktops can be viable tools to allow remote or mobile staff to access critical business data.

Before we discuss the particulars, it’s important to begin by defining each solution.

What is a VPN?

A VPN is a connection method that extends a private network across a public network to behave like a local area connection, offering remote workers secure, seamless access to crucial data.

The private connection is made using a layered tunneling protocol that is also encrypted, and users must employ authentication protocols to gain access to the virtual point-to-point connection created by this technology.

The benefits include:

  • Access to machines, servers, and data normally only securely accessible within a local network
  • Provides privacy by masking IP address, search history, and location to prevent tracking
  • Increases security through encryption and authentication
  • Reduces support costs as support is outsourced to third-party service providers

However, VPN access must be closely tracked and users should be briefed on correct practices for ensuring nobody who is not an approved user can gain access to your VPN.

Furthermore, if access credentials are stolen, they can present a significant security vulnerability.

Which brings us to another issue: VPNs have limited capabilities for monitoring and usage audits, making forensic work difficult in the event of an issue.

And, you can only access resources that you’ve set up to share on your desktop—should you forget to share a folder, it won’t be available on the VPN remotely.

Related Post: Site-to-Site VPN: How It Works and Do You Need One?

What is a remote desktop?

A remote desktop provides a connection to a specific computer from a remote location so employees can manage a wide range of tasks as if they were sitting in their office at their computer.

Benefits include:

  • Access to resources, including specific network licensed software, existent on your computer.
  • Ability to sign in remotely and mirror the graphical interface of a company-based desktop
  • Screen share capabilities

However, remote desktops are not as secure and can be difficult to configure properly without the right assistance.

And, if your company doesn’t have appropriate bandwidth, connections can lag and interfere with employee productivity.

However, a remote desktop can prove especially useful for conducting work that is hardware intensive.

For businesses which have specific hardware requirements to run programs they use, particularly for tasks that are data- or graphic-heavy, employees will likely not have a viable alternative at home.

In these situations, a remote desktop can solve a lot of your issues, granting access to your work computers from afar.

What’s the Solution?

At its simplest, a VPN will give you access to data on a company network, while a remote desktop protocol provides control for individual desktops from a remote location.

But as we’ve pointed out, there are many elements to consider when deciding which platform to use.

To recap:

  • VPNs don’t provide control over local computers remotely
  • VPNs require pre-planning of shared files and folders
  • Remote desktops provide full access to your desktop computer remotely for increased flexibility
  • Remote desktops can be harder to troubleshoot and configure
  • VPN provides better security and encryption protocols

The important thing to remember is that each platform is meant to accomplish different things, so many businesses need a combination of both technologies to bring full remote functionality to their workforce.

For example, a remote desktop can solve some of VPNs shortcomings (and vice versa) to bring your remote employees a robust, secure experience that can enhance productivity in a crisis—or simply expand your business’ digital capabilities for the future.

In short, a remote desktop can be useful for businesses that still have a need for their in-house hardware and software to maintain operations without disruption.

VPN access is useful for allowing employees to securely access sensitive information and substantially reduce the chance of a breach.

A VPN or encryption of some kind should be considered in any case for using a remote desktop, but the two solutions have very different uses for business.

Takeaways

  • The recent COVID-19 outbreak has forced businesses to fast-track their digital transformation and provide technology to support a remote workforce
  • Both VPNs and remote desktop protocols can provide remote access. A VPN will give you access to data on a company network, while a remote desktop protocol provides control for individual desktops from a remote location
  • Many businesses need a combination of both technologies to bring full functionality to their remote workforce

MSPs provide the tools and expertise to help SMBs achieve their cybersecurity goals, including implementing VPNs. To find out more about how an MSP can help with your cloud services, download our eBook, “Which Cloud Option Is Right For Your Business?”