VPN vs Remote Desktop Protocol: What’s the Difference?

Much like firewalls that protect your computer data, both VPN (Virtual Private Network) and RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) protect the identity of your computer online. You can assume the identity of an entirely different computer that’s located in a different region, state, and country.

Both VPN and RDP can help you change your IP address. However, they are both used for different purposes and provide specific features to the users. If you don’t know the right option to choose, here is everything you need to know about VPN and RDP.

VPN vs RDP

VPN vs Remote Desktop Protocol

VPN and RDP

VPN and RDP are quite similar, and yet entirely different at the same time. Both VPN and RDP, in some way, encrypt your internet traffic. Both provide private access to a server or device that might be located thousands of miles away.

If you’ve ever used Teamviewer or similar applications, you know what RDP is and how you can access a computer or server from anywhere.

On the other hand, there are major differences as well. A VPN makes you look like another server in probably another country. An RDP on the other hand, allows you to act like that server and use its resources like you were directly using it locally.

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. A VPN encrypts your internet traffic and routes it through an intermediary server. While the encryption makes your data secure, the intermediary server hides your real IP on the internet and the websites you access can see the IP of the server you’re connected to. Simply put, it hides your IP address, lets you access content restricted in your region, and secures your network.

Security and privacy are the greatest advantages that a VPN has over RDP. A VPN needs robust encryption to efficiently work and hide the user identity. However, RDPs do not need the top-of-the-line security and privacy to work.

Bottom line, with a VPN, you will be able to access geographically restricted content (such as Netflix or websites banned in your country), but you will still be using your own computer and whatever limited resources it has.

What is RDP?

RDP stands for Remote Desktop Protocol, a program that allows its users to remotely access a personal computer desktop environment or server while being displayed on a different user device. It establishes a virtual connection between the two devices and allows one to control the other.

RDP allows the computer to broadcast its screen to the other computer. As a user, you are entirely in control of the host device. You can even use the host computer’s local files, installed software, programs, and computing power.

While ‘RDP’ is the name of a specific Microsoft developed Remote Desktop Protocol program, there are numerous other remote desktop software available out there. Different RDP developers offer different and unique features to attract users.

Some allow the users to join an existing user session and remotely control the device while showing the controlled session on the other screen. Others even provide features to show a black screen during the control device session.

While both have their own advantages, the reason someone might use RDP over VPN is that RDP offers the power to control another device, potentially a thousand miles away. You can control a supercomputer, with all its computing power, special software and geographical access, from a normal laptop or computer.

RDP Limitations

There are some limitations to RDP. Unless you are using a localized RDP, you need a high-speed internet and a decent computer to properly control the other device. You are sending and receiving large chunks of information, including mouse movements, app commands, screen graphics, and background tasks, and all these actions need a lot of resources to be managed. While these actions can easily be managed locally, handling them over the internet can make the connection slow and lagging.

Not to mention, the host computer is also open to potential threats online during the session. That is unless the device admin implements certain restrictions, which will compromise your session. The potential threats include connection hijack that can lead to an infiltrated and compromised device.

Compare this with a VPN that’s secure and offers high speeds (at least the top VPN providers do).

What do you need?

In the end, it all boils down to your requirements. So, let’s compartmentalize user needs to see what is best suited for what kind of users. The best way to segregate the users is by the intent of use, whether you are using the service for business or personal use.

Business

If you are looking for a secure and private internet access for your employees when working in public spaces or abroad, a VPN is your best choice.

  • To provide your employees a secure central server, which also contains important files, you need to opt for a VPN
  • If you or your employee need a central system on a remote location (due to geographical limitations), you’ll have to go with an RDP.
  • If you or your employees need to access computers remotely for tech support, maintenance, or troubleshooting, use an RDP

Individual

  • If you need to access a secure and private network, go with a VPN
  • If you want to stream your favorite content, which is unavailable in your region or while traveling abroad, use a personal VPN
  • To make your internet safer, hide your IP or identity, use a VPN
  • To evade any online surveillance or censorship, choose VPN

There are seldom cases when an individual needs an RDP to access a remote computer, if not for the kick of it. These situations involve emergencies, when a user has to remotely access their home computer, a friend’s computer, or let their trusted friend access their own.

If you are an individual user, with general day to day needs, a VPN would do the job for you. It will hide the identity of your computer, allow you to change your location, evade surveillance, stream geographically locked content, secure the internet, and offer numerous other benefits.

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