VPN vs Remote Desktop: The differences between RDP and VPN

In commercial settings, remote access has become essential. Distant access must offer secure and dependable connectivity—the operative word here being secure—whether it’s for remote workers or third-party vendors who require access to a customer network.

Two of the more well-known and frequently used tools for remote help are virtual private networks (VPNs) and remote desktop sharing (RDP). Although they have theoretical and practical differences, they have one thing in common: they have efficiency, security, and usefulness constraints.

It’s crucial to first comprehend how each of these conventional ways functions—as well as how they fall short—before choosing the remote access technique that will perform best for your company.

What exactly is a VPN?

Users can access data as if their devices were directly linked to the private network via a VPN, which extends a private network across a public network.

You might use your VPN, for instance, to establish a connection to your company’s private network and access the application you require if you were working remotely at a coffee shop (public network) but wanted to access a server on the private network.

A VPN connection is all the typical remote corporate user needs. Their connection mirrors the experience they would have if they were seated at their desk at work, but it just offers access.

Additionally, VPNs offer even less functionality and security for third-party vendors, which is crucial considering that third-party connections greatly increase the danger of a data breach for enterprises.

What exactly is RDP, or Remote Desktop Protocol?

A technical benchmark for remotely accessing a desktop computer is the remote desktop protocol (RDP). RDP is the most used protocol, however remote desktop software can also use other protocols such as Virtual Network Computing (VNC) or Independent Computing Architecture (ICA).

RDP offers an encrypted tunnel, similar to VPNs, typically using SSL or other techniques, and then permits a “take-over” of an existing user’s job, obviating the need for additional credentials. In essence, it enables users to log into another user’s computer remotely and behave as if they were physically present on the network.

If, for example, your work laptop needed IT support because it was acting up, RDP enables an IT team member to log in to your desktop and access it as if they were actually there.

VPN disadvantages

When providing third parties remote access through VPN, all security features are gone. Here are a few instances of VPN security drawbacks:

  • Few access restrictions

Access controls are provided by VPNs, but the more restrictions you impose, the less effective the VPN connection becomes. VPN controls slow down the connection process instead of speeding it up, which is expensive for third-party representatives that need a speedy login to address an urgent issue.

Additionally, these access controls fall short of the necessary security measures, such as zero-trust techniques. VPNs also lack schedule-based access, which limits user access to just during predetermined hours, and access notifications, which alert the company when a vendor connects to the network.

  • No management of credentials

The keys to every door in a company’s digital framework are credentials. To access their customers’ networks and systems, third parties require credentials, but it is the organization’s responsibility to keep those credentials as secure as possible.

The risk of passwords being disclosed, shared, or compromised by a vendor representative or hackers via third-party connections is reduced by using sound credential management techniques.

The security of your third parties is necessary for password protection because VPNs can’t manage, store, or obfuscate credentials. In light of this, one could wonder how much one can trust third parties.

  • No session surveillance

The main drawback of VPNs is the absence of access monitoring. While they are in use, third-party vendors are not recorded or subject to audits by VPNs. They lack the tools necessary to control vendor rep activity or hold reps responsible for their deeds while using a company’s network. If there was an incident, there is no way to find its origin, and there is no video to look at to see how it happened. As a result of having too much access, businesses are left open to assault and unable to produce any proof should something go wrong.

  • Not checking employment status

While not all remote access technologies offer this feature, VPNs are unable to keep track of which of your third-party representatives are still workers and which aren’t. Employment verification reduces the possibility that a former employee may obtain outdated VPN credentials and gain unauthorized access to a network.

The drawbacks of RDP

This type of connection is useful for third parties’ assistance skills, but it leaves the customer incredibly exposed. RDP has similar drawbacks to VPNs in that it lacks access restrictions, vendor management, and monitoring, which makes it a popular target for hackers.

  • Lack of access control

An online desktop-sharing solution is accessible to anybody, everywhere. An employee opens a remote assistance session by clicking a link and giving up control of a desktop. Additionally, without access controls in place, a vendor representative has the same level of access as the user to whom they are connected.

There is also no mechanism to set up access schedules or notifications, akin to VPNs. There are workflows for approval, but once a vendor receives clearance, there are no limitations on what they may access inside a network, which unlocks access to the entire organization’s network.

Hackers frequently use this technique to get low-level access to a single network node and then spread their reach by identifying additional exposed devices or services.

  • vendor identity management is not used

The fact that anyone with RDP capability can access the desktop of another user is another drawback of RDP. Since RDP doesn’t require rights, they are unable to track or log user registrations or the permissions granted to each third-party representative. A representative has complete entrance to a machine on the network once they are logged in, including permission to access both local and network resources with the whole permissions of that user.

  • minimal session surveillance

The ability to record sessions is available in certain (but not all) desktop-sharing software, however, this option is rarely turned on. Rarely do these technologies offer the thorough audit reports required to prove compliance with rules, internal security procedures, or legal departments.

The majority of monitoring is done based on the employee’s whim who grants access to their computer. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the worker won’t leave their computer unattended, allowing a representative (or hacker) access to vital resources and data.

Remote Access: RDP vs. VPN

RDP and VPN both perform comparable tasks for remote access, however, VPNs let users connect to secure networks whereas RDP only provides access to a single machine.

Although it is advantageous to grant access to staff members and other parties, this access is unrestricted and insecure. Given the cyber landscape, remote workforces, and expanding IoT, hackers are seizing any opportunity to exploit weaknesses in these sectors. These channels of least resistance are frequently taken through third parties and their loosely regulated and closely monitored remote access techniques.

Conclusion:

Users can access data as if their devices were directly linked to the private network via a VPN, which extends a private network across a public network. On the other hand, RDP is the most used protocol, however remote desktop software can also use other protocols such as Virtual Network Computing (VNC) or Independent Computing Architecture (ICA).

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