There is great confusion regarding the difference between VPNs and Remote Desktop Protocol software. Some people mistakenly believe that they are one and the same thing, but in reality, they have distinct advantages. A major factor contributing to this confusion is that there are two different types of VPN widely used: pass-through VPNs for consumers and corporate VPNs for connection to local networks.
At VPNOnlineFree, we spend a lot of time examining commercial transfer VPNs that can help gain privacy and online security, but today we are carefully examining corporate VPN intranets, as they are the ones that cause the merging VPNs with Remote Desktop tools.
Corporate RDP and VPN intranets can be used to access resources on a remote network. However, each provides a different level of access. A VPN will allow you to connect to the LAN to use a printer or access files remotely and download them to your machine. RDP, on the other hand, allows you to take control of a remote computer terminal to use this PC as if you were actually there – including using licensed software installed on this machine.
Corporate VPN intranets
If you work for a company that uses a VPN intranet, IT will have provided you with software such as Cisco VPN. This software is used to allow you to securely access the company's central servers.
Companies provide this type of VPN so that their employees can connect directly to a corporate IP address provided by IT. When the connection to this static IP address is established, the employee can access the assets on the local LAN. As a result, they can get the files and folders they need to work on from their home (or hotel, etc.).
What is important to understand is that this type of VPN is completely configured and controlled by the company. When this type of corporate VPN is used, it directly connects each employee to the corporate network using encryption. This creates a secure tunnel between the remote worker and the corporate server, so that valuable business assets can be transferred without fear of being intercepted using a man-in-the-middle attack (MITM).
What this type of VPN connection cannot do is allow a remote worker to physically take control of a computer in the office to start using it at home. For some employees, this type of remote control is necessary, usually because there is software on this computer that the employee must use. This is where RDP comes in handy.
- Can access work-related assets
- Encrypts your information and protects against MITM attacks
- Does not provide physical level access to work computers
Remote desktop protocol
RDP is a tool that, while similar to a surface corporate VPN intranet, offers a completely different level of access and control.
RDP was originally developed by Microsoft to allow users to remotely access their Windows desktop from anywhere. This is useful for enabling remote technical support, or for accessing and using a more powerful machine remotely to take advantage of sophisticated software.
Nowadays, there are different remote desktop tools for different operating systems. Some more popular options include:
Zoho Assist – A great remote desktop tool that has a free tier and premium plans to suit your needs.
RemotePC – A secure cloud-based remote access tool with robust AES 256 encryption.
AnyDesk – Free for personal non-commercial use.
TeamViewer – Free for personal non-commercial use.
Chrome Remote Desktop – free to use.
If you want to connect to a remote PC to directly use this terminal and its software, you will need to either use the integrated Windows 10 remote desktop application, or one of the third-party options mentioned above.
However, keep in mind that Microsoft only allows you to connect using its native remote desktop tool to a machine running Windows Professional or Enterprise editions. You can connect from any version of Windows, but you can only connect to a Windows machine running Professional or Enterprise.
Click here for a full guide on how to use a remote desktop in Windows.
- Can access work-related assets
- Cheap or even free
- Provides better physical access to work computers
- May contain insecurities that lead to piracy
RDP vs VPN – which option should I use?
For most people, a third-party remote desktop app, like the ones mentioned above, will be the best option. Indeed, it is the easiest and fastest way to access a desktop computer remotely.
If you work for a company that requires you to connect remotely to a desktop terminal, the company will tell you which remote desktop application to use. In these circumstances, the decision should have been made for you. Indeed, the IT department will have configured the RDP software on professional computers so that you can connect remotely (and it will provide you with the password to do so).
If you run a small business yourself, you may need to log into your office from your home due to Coronavirus. And, if you have employees, you may need to configure remote desktop access to also work during periods of self-isolation (or for any other reason).
In these circumstances, we recommend that you use one of the Remote Desktop applications mentioned above. Theoretically, you can use a VPN with port forwarding and Windows built-in RDP tool – this is discussed in the guide we linked above. However, this is heavier, more difficult to configure, and has additional potential vulnerabilities.
Finally, it should be noted that if you are using an RDP application to connect remotely to a computer; it is strongly recommended to also use a commercial intercom VPN. Indeed, the commercial VPN will add a layer of encryption to the connection to guarantee the security of your data.
Commercial Pass-Through VPN Services
Commercial VPNs are the type of VPN services we regularly review on VPNOnlineFree.com. These types of consumer VPNs are completely different from the corporate VPN intranets mentioned above.
A commercial VPN is designed to allow its users to obtain digital privacy and security online. With this type of VPN, Internet users can encrypt their Internet traffic to ensure that it cannot be intercepted in transit by wiretaps.
One thing to remember is that when you use RDP, it is possible that the connection it creates contains potential vulnerabilities. Security researchers agree that with a little persistence, a hacker could gain access to your data due to the poor quality RDP connection.
Using a commercial VPN can mitigate potential vulnerabilities with RDP
For this reason, many experts recommend using RDP in combination with a commercial VPN. This provides increased security and privacy for anyone using a remote desktop tool, ensuring that the connection to the remote PC is fully encrypted.
Commercial VPNs ensure privacy by ensuring that your ISP can't track websites you visit online – sometimes on behalf of the government due to mandatory data retention guidelines.
In addition, this type of commercial VPN will conceal your IP address from the websites you visit, providing digital privacy by removing the potential of those sites to follow you. Depending on the work you do, you may prefer that the websites you visit for work are not followed by your ISP. This is especially true for people like journalists, lawyers or anyone else who needs or wants confidentiality.
Commercial VPNs also allow their subscribers to access geo-restricted content, allowing them to pretend to be in another country. This allows internet users to access generally restricted accounts and services, which can be extremely useful for business purposes.
Combine RDP with a commercial VPN
- Can access work-related assets
- Provides physical level access to work computers
- Full encryption to protect against MITM attacks
- Stop prying eyes from your ISP or elsewhere
- Allows employee to access geo-restricted content, including streaming services like Netflix US
- The cost of a commercial VPN could be passed on to the employee, but it's still inexpensive with many benefits
VPN vs remote desktop protocol Conclusion
In this article, we have cleared up some of the confusion surrounding VPNs and Remote Desktop tools. We hope that you will now have a much better understanding not only of the difference between RDP and VPN, but also a clear distinction between the two different types of VPN which often cause confusion between VPN and RDP.
VPNs and remote desktop tools are both useful in themselves. Which one you need will depend on the level of remote network access you need. For many people, a corporate VPN intranet will not be an option because setting it up can be expensive. For these people, RDP will be a better solution.
For anyone who uses RDP to access a computer remotely, a commercial pass through VPN is highly recommended to ensure that the remote connection is established securely. For more information on getting a secure VPN, please see our best VPN guide.