Many people consider Virtual Private Networks and Remote Desktop Protocol to be the same thing however they are not. In fact the two pieces of software can be used complimentary to each other in order to provide better security.

In this article we will review the two different pieces of software and see how they compare against each other and what their advantages and disadvantages are. Both pieces of software are used to access resources on a remote network but provide different levels of access. While a VPN allows you to access resources on the network an RDP can provide a much larger range of processes as it allows you to access a computer terminal on the network.


As most frequent users of our site will know a VPN service can be used in order to encrypt your internet traffic for protection, to enable geo-location content and to bypass content restrictions. Another reason for using a VPN is to be able to remotely access a network, this can allow working from home by being able to access your work files located on the companies computer networks.

Unfortunately with VPN you use a lot of bandwidth as the files that you access are transferred to your computer (on a temporary basis) so that you may be able to access it and edit it. Also with VPN all traffic is routed through your connection meaning that even if an application doesn’t need to connect through the network, for example a web browser, it still will – and it can be very troublesome to bypass this process.  Also when accessing a file on a network you will need to have an application on your own computer that is able to open it which isn’t a problem for most file types but can become an issue with less used ones. Lastly, a major concern could occur when accessing databases through VPNs because if they aren’t correctly configured the DB can become corrupt – this is easier to solve with an RDP as it is most likely protected against on the terminal system.

Pros: Easier to troubleshoot, problems easier to solve, more secure

Cons: large bandwidth requirements, can have slower speeds, can cause system errors if not configured properly


Remote Desktop Protocol was originally developed by Microsoft but is now available on all major platforms and with numerous forked opensource developments such as FreeRDP. It’s purpose is to allow a person to remotely sign in to a computer on a network and mirror it’s graphical interface.

RDP is great because not only do you have access to the network resources you have access to the resources on a single computer. This means that you can run specific network licensed software that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Unfortunately the problem with RDPs is that they are very insecure and with a little persistance a person can gain access to the network. Therefore in most cases an RDP is used in correspondence with a VPN.

Pros: easier to use, can use screen share,

Cons: harder to diagnose, can be hard to configure properly, can have lag if computer your accessing or bandwidth is not efficient enough


The reality is that it is fine to run RDP on it’s own as long as you maintain safe security and encryption practices. As long as you have no bandwidth intensive data then usually a VPN service will suffice. However, some people prefer to use RDP as they feel it to be more natural and it can also use less bandwidth. However, due to the number of security concerns facing RDPs it is recommended to be used in correspondence with some form of encryption such as VPN or SSL – all major providers i.e. Cisco VPN or Citrix abid by this.

Peter Selmeczy I am an engineer by trade and tech geek by night, who's passionate about sharing his knowledge with the people. Find me on Google+.

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4 responses to “VPN vs RDP

  1. I’d like to build an RD Gateway server and use Duo Security to create dual factor authentication. But that leaves me with 2 concerns: Is the RDP traffic encrypted when used without VPN? Can the machine I am connecting from (home PC) infect the destination machine through RDP?

    1. Hi Josh,

      RDP uses “128-bit encryption, using the RC4 encryption algorithm, as of Version 6.” (Wikipedia). It shouldn’t be possible for one machine to infect the other if all you are doing is remote-controlling a PC, but if you transfer infected files between computers (for example using clipboard mapping) the files could transfer a virus.

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