VPN vs. Remote Desktop – Gateway Security Concerns

VPNs and Remote Desktop Gateways are two different tools used to achieve similar goals. That is: access content or software remotely and securely, and improve the overall freedom of the user – whether that’s from prying eyes or the need to have physical access to their business network.


But while each option can be attractive, neither is without its security concerns. Before you make any decision on which you should use, it’s important to understand the strengths of each as well as the weaknesses.

What are VPNs?

A VPN is a virtual private network that allows you to securely connect to another network across the internet. So, if for example you are working in a coffee shop and your connection is flagged as unsecured, a VPN would allow you to secure that connection through its virtual private network.


These networks use multiple layers of masking and encryption that make it extremely difficult for hackers, thieves, and even your own government to access your data as it is transmitted across the internet. For this reason, it is a popular choice for improving cybersecurity and privacy. VPNs have many digital security uses, as this article will outline, but they are also not without their drawbacks and legal issues.

What are the pros and cons of using a VPN?

There are many benefits to using a VPN. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is that they keep you safe, secure, and hidden while you browse the internet. They are arguably the most secure, privacy-focused tool you can use to keep your activity away from prying eyes.


By using multiple layers of protection, VPN’s camouflage the destination of your data packets as well as the origin so any third parties attempting to track you will have no idea what you searched for or where you went. Alongside this, the strongest VPNs typically use 256-bit encryption – a level relied on by the largest financial institutions in the world.


VPNs are also compatible across multiple platforms and one provider will usually offer the service to many different devices and platforms, all from the same user account. You can use a VPN on your mobile phone, tablet, Macbook, Windows PC – just about anything you can imagine. Giving you a level of flexibility and coverage that very few tools can offer.


VPNs can be a great tool for avoiding internet censorship and/or content that is location-specific. For example, some shows might be listed on Netflix USA that isn’t listed on Netflix UK, or content from UK providers might not be available to people in New Zealand.


By using a VPN you can “change” your location to be from the country required to access the content. Likewise, if you’re in a country like China, and various websites are prohibited, you can use specific VPN services to circumvent the geo-restrictions and access whatever content you want.


Lastly, one of the best benefits of VPNs is that they’re incredibly cheap for the service they offer. You can get access to all of the benefits listed above and much more, often for less than ten dollars per month. Many of them are free, although these are typically less secure.


Now while VPNs might come with several attractive benefits, they aren’t without their drawbacks. One of the main drawbacks is that while a VPN is an effective security tool, it is not an all-in-one security solution.


It will hide your activity, but if you happen to download a file that is infected with malware, the VPN won’t be able to help you. Unless coupled with strong cybersecurity practices and effective antivirus software, a VPN just won’t be able to offer you the level of protection you may need.


VPNs are also illegal in some countries and using them can land you with expensive fines or even jail time. China and Russia are notable culprits that aggressively pursue anyone who violates VPN restrictions. It’s also worth mentioning that while Netflix VPNs can access blocked Netflix content, they can’t access every single piece of blocked content (ie, Disney+, Hulu, etc.) – so many users who have purchased the VPN for a specific reason may find themselves having to look elsewhere.

What are RDGs?

RDGs, or Remote Desktop Gateways are a tool that allows specific users to access a computer through the internet from any device that can run the RDG software. An easy way to think about it would be to think of how Netflix streams movies to your computer, or how GeForce Now allows you to access a high-spec gaming rig and play video games.


Similarly, an RDG allows you to securely access a computer from just about anywhere in the world, from most devices you would use (like your laptop). Connections are usually secured behind HTTPS and the remote desktop protocol making them a preferred option for remote workers.


What are the pros and cons of using RDGS?

There are a few benefits to using RDGs that make them a great option for the right users. Firstly they’re relatively inexpensive, with Microsoft’s own remote desktop service being free. They’re also securely connected through remote desktop protocols and reliable HTTPS, which means you can enjoy a level of cybersecurity comfort as you work.


RDGs are also completely location independent. While your desktop itself might be at home or located in your office, you can technically access it from anywhere in the world, provided you have a suitable device, internet connection, and the right login details. This leaves you free to complete your work wherever you need to complete it – whether that’s traveling or on the beach.


Another benefit is that your access device doesn’t need to be as high-spec as the device that is running the desktop you’re accessing, which can save money on technology costs. Also, if your desktop or access device is individually compromised they won’t necessarily cross infect one another, which can cut down on replacement costs.


That said, an RDG does require a good connection to function to a desirable standard. Without, you may experience latency issues that will make it extraordinarily difficult to work. And it’s worth mentioning that even more so than a VPN, an RDG is not strictly a security or privacy tool in and of itself, and won’t provide you with anywhere near the full level of cybersecurity you need to make data breach worries a thing of the past.


VPNs and RDGs are both excellent tools. For accessing your desktop from a remote location, RDGs provide a secure option. But as far as general security and privacy essential goes, VPNs are a near-perfect option for anyone. While they aren’t a complete security solution, they are a must-have if you are to protect your privacy and security in the modern world.


Sam Bocetta is a freelance journalist specializing in U.S. diplomacy and national security, with emphases on technology trends in cyberwarfare, cyberdefense, and cryptography. Currently working as part-time cybersecurity coordinator at AssignYourWriter