VPN vs Remote Desktop

Remote Desktop vs VPN – What is The Difference Between RDP & VPN

Did you know that you can access and use a computer system from another computer or the device you’re sitting at right now? Sounds confusing, right? Actually, it’s pretty simple. While we’re constantly connecting to remote servers to browse the web, talk to our friends, and play games, getting unfettered access comes from one of two ways: Remote Desktop and a Virtual Private Network, otherwise known as a VPN.

Interestingly enough, however, these are two very different beasts. Both have clear differences and a number of pros and cons as well. In this article, we’ll drill down to explain the difference between the two, so keep on reading for this comparison between Remote Desktop vs VPN to decide which is the best solution for your needs:

What is Remote Desktop (RDP)?

Remote desktop, also referred to as RDP and screen sharing, is software that allows you to connect with another computer system wirelessly, giving you complete access to a different computer.

It doesn’t matter if the computer is in the same building, or thousands of miles away, you can easily connect to and use it as if you were physically there. All you need is a Remote Desktop tool or software, and some popular ones include RealVNC, Netviewer, LogMeIn, Teamviewer, Citrix, and Apple Screen Sharing.

On a Remote Desktop, you effectively take control of the whole system, which also means that it’s usually not available to the person physically being seated at that computer (they instead watch you control it, assuming someone is even there). All keystrokes and mouse movements are sent to the remote desktop through the Internet. The screen, on the other hand, is sent to the user so they can see what is happening.

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What is a VPN?

A VPN is much different as compared to RDP. While using a VPN service, your device connects to a VPN server. You cannot directly control the VPN server, which is the case with a Remote Desktop. A VPN acts like a tunnel for your communications and allows you to change your IP address so that you can remain secure and anonymous online.

When connected to a VPN, you continue to use your device instead of an external one. However, your device stays protected against a plethora of online threats, and your virtual location changes which bring other advantages.

The security aspect is the most significant advantage of using a VPN over RDP. Remote Desktop doesn’t come up with features such as encryption, while every major VPN brand offers up to 256-bit encryption.

Remote Desktop vs VPN

A VPN is used to connect with and access resources available on another network. Unlike RDP, a VPN lets you access another network instead of the whole system altogether, which changes your IP address to that of the other network. A premium VPN service encrypts your traffic from end-to-end so that you can browse the web with a cloak of security and privacy.

While you can “change” your IP with a remote desktop connection, that’s because you’re physically using the other device through your own, but not tunneling the connection which is how a VPN is used. In other words, a VPN lets you use your device and another IP address. An RDP connection lets you use the remote connection’s device to use their IP connection. It doesn’t make sense to be used in this way; it’s mostly for remote control of a device, to do a specific activity on a remote computer such as accessing a file you stored on a remote server.

While comparing Remote Desktop vs VPN, we find that a VPN is much better for security purposes and online freedom than a remote desktop system. A remote desktop connection does not serve tunneling requests well; it’s great when you need to access a computer to copy or access files, not for prolonged use, especially in a security context. 

Also, RDPs are costly as compared to a VPN. A Remote Desktop requires greater Internet speeds as compared to a VPN, but it continues to lag despite that. A remote desktop also gives you access to one IP address, whereas a VPN gives you access to many.

With a VPN, you can also get to access features such as a dedicated IP. Security-wise, using a dedicated IP address has its advantages. You get to use a whitelisted IP address that is for your personal use only. You can increase the security of your bank account and any other accounts by limiting access to your dedicated IP address.

Remote Desktop Security Issues

Remote Desktops are insecure because you can never tell what malware or key loggers are installed on the system. Moreover, there’s no way to check if the owner of the RDP is actively monitoring what you’re doing at that particular moment in time (and yes, they totally can).

Also, Remote Desktops are impossible to use in an environment where employees carry their own devices to work. Turning work computers into Remote Desktops can be incredibly dangerous to the security of your business.

Do You Need an RDP or VPN?

That depends on the reason you wish to use it for.

If You’re a Business:

  1. It’s better to use a VPN service, such as PureVPN, as it provides your employees with security and privacy and keeps all confidential information safe.
  2. You can get a dedicated IP via PureVPN. With the dedicated IP, you and your employees can access remote servers without worrying about being locked out.
  3. If you want to test software or code, it’s better to use RDP as it is perfect for experimentation and helps keep your business workstations safe; you replicate the exact environment and access data right on that device.
  4. Use RDP if you need IT technicians to access remote employees’ computers for maintenance and troubleshooting tasks.

If You’re an Individual User, get a VPN because:

  1. You can browse the web securely and privately.
  2. Use it to stream your favorite online channels even if they are unavailable at your location.
  3. Enjoy top-of-the-line encryption.
  4. Avoid online surveillance and tracking by arming yourself.

As a note, you can’t do ANY of that with RDP. They’re just not the same thing, not at all.

A VPN is the best solution as it provides the best features for your everyday browsing needs. It takes care of your online privacy and disallows foreign entities from accessing your network. You can’t do that with RDP, we’ll tell you that’s for sure.


Sheheryar Khan Sheheryar Ahmed Khan is a privacy enthusiast, currently affiliated with PureVPN. His reporting covers subjects related to online privacy, anonymity, and security. Also a believer in online freedom, Sheheryar likes to spend his free time streaming football matches and TV shows online.

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