VPN vs RDP: Understanding the Key Differences


Remote access has become an essential aspect of our daily lives. Whether you’re working from home or traveling to a different part of the world, staying connected with your office network is crucial for business continuity. Regarding secure remote access, two popular technologies come into play – VPN (virtual private network) and RDP (remote desktop protocol). 

The solutions differ in several ways. This can impact their suitability for specific use cases. There is a clear contrast between them: RDP provides remote access to a computer or device, whereas a VPN allows access to secure networks.

In this article, we’ll explore the key differences between VPN and RDP and help you choose the right technology for your needs. 

What is a Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)?

A Remote Desktop Protocol, or RDP, is a proprietary protocol developed by Microsoft that provides a graphical interface for users to connect to another computer over a network connection. RDP is based on the T.120 family of protocols and uses port 3389 by default.

RDP allows users to access applications and data on remote computers as if they were local. This allows users to work from anywhere. RDP is also convenient for administrators, as it provides a way to remotely manage and troubleshoot servers and desktops.

However, because RDP is based on T.120, it is not as secure as some other remote access protocols, such as VPNs or SFTP. Additionally, RDP gateways add better security and avoid MiTM.

Why Choose a VPN and Not RDP?

There are several key reasons to choose a VPN over RDP for secure remote access. First, VPNs encrypt all data passing between the remote user and the corporate network, ensuring that third parties cannot intercept sensitive information. Second, VPNs offer a higher level of security than RDP by authenticating users and authorizing access to specific resources. Finally, VPNs are typically much easier to set up and use than RDP, making them a more user-friendly option for most organizations. 

In short, while RDP can provide secure remote access, it is often more difficult to configure and maintain than a VPN solution. For this reason, many businesses choose to use a VPN when providing secure remote access.

VPN Advantages

A VPN has several advantages. Here they are at a glance:

  • Creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and the internet, providing greater security and privacy than a traditional RDP connection
  • It can be used to access resources on a remote network, such as a server, making it a more versatile tool than RDP.
  • It is typically faster than an RDP connection, as it uses less bandwidth
  • Allows you to access resources from any device, regardless of the operating system, making it more convenient than RDP

There are, however, some disadvantages to VPNs:

VPN Disadvantages

There is a disadvantage to using a VPN for RDP access instead of a dedicated RDP solution. Mainly, they might not provide the same level of security as a dedicated RDP solution.

Having said that, RDP is not as secure as a VPN because it can be monitored by your ISP and it requires you to have a specific IP address.

RDP Advantages

Likewise, there are also many benefits to using RDP over a VPN for secure remote access. Here they are:

RDP is:

  • More secure than a VPN because it uses multi-factor authentication and encryption

RDP Disadvantages

But, while RDP provides some advantages for remote access, there are also several disadvantages to consider.

Below are some key points to keep in mind. 

RDP is:

  • Requires installation of special software on the remote computer, which can be a hassle for users.

Overall, VPNs tend to be more dependable and offer better performance than RDP.

How to Decide if You Need a VPN or an RDP

There are a few key factors to consider when deciding if you need a VPN or RDP for secure remote access.

First, consider the type of data you need to access and whether it is sensitive. If the data is sensitive, you will likely need a VPN to encrypt it during transit.

If it is not sensitive, RDP may be sufficient.

However, in general, VPNs are better for business reasons. You might also want to consider the number of users who will need to access the data. If there are many users, then a VPN may be more scalable than RDP. 

For these reasons, it is important to use a secure VPN connection when accessing sensitive data over an RDP connection. A VPN encrypts all data transmitted between the user’s computer and the VPN server, ensuring that no one else can intercept or read the data. Additionally, a VPN can provide authentication features to verify the identity of the remote server before connecting.

Let’s look at specific use cases to determine what might be best if you are a business or an individual user.

Businesses: VPN or RDP?

If you are a business, you may need to use a VPN or an RDP, depending on your specific needs for secure remote access. Here are the key differences between the two:

  • VPNs encrypt all data sent through the network, making it more secure than RDP. However, RDP is faster and easier to set up than VPNs.
  • RDP provides a graphic interface that allows users to interact with their remote computer as if they were sitting in front of it. VPNs do not provide this level of interactivity.
  • RDP is typically used for accessing applications or files on a remote server, while VPNs are better suited for accessing on-prem or cloud-based applications.

ZTNA: Better than both VPN and RDP

There are several reasons why Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is better than both VPN and RDP for secure remote access:

  • ZTNA uses a “zero trust” security model, meaning all users are treated as untrusted by default. This approach to security is more effective at stopping cyber threats than the model used by VPNs and RDPs.
  • ZTNA is much easier to use than either VPN or RDP. Users simply need to install a piece of software on their device and then authenticate with their usual credentials (e.g., username and password). 

Perimeter 81: A Ready-Made ZTNA Solution

Perimeter 81 goes beyond the limitations of a legacy VPN and RDP to provide Zero Trust Network solutions that can offer complete peace of mind to business owners. With a global backbone of over 50+ data centers and an edge presence, enterprises from all sectors can depend on Perimeter 81 for cost-effective remote network security access. 

VPNs may provide adequate security for on-prem resources, but only Zero Trust solutions offer the user-based access rules required for true cloud security.

Here’s why:

  • ZTNA is user-centric and segments the network, and enforces logins through major identity providers.
  • ZTNA is integrated with all on-prem and cloud resources or services for full visibility.
  • ZTNA is at the cloud’s edge and can deploy private VPN gateways worldwide, providing remote workers with fast access.

Why CISOs choose Perimeter81 ZTNA for their IT teams:

Complete peace of mind: With Perimeter81 Zero Trust Network Access, organizations can be confident that access to their data, critical applications, and infrastructure is secure without the expensive orchestration, maintenance, or hardware of legacy solutions.

The lowered total cost of operation: Orchestrating a tall stack of solutions to achieve security requires extensive maintenance, management, and overhead that our unified SaaS eliminates.

Holistic security capabilities: When IT can access more functionality with fewer tools, security improves, and human error diminishes. Equip your IT team with everything in one cloud panel.


Does RDP require VPN?
RDP, or Remote Desktop Protocol, is a proprietary protocol developed by Microsoft that allows users to remotely connect to a computer running Microsoft Windows. RDP uses port 3389 and can be encrypted with SSL/TLS to provide a more secure connection.

VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a technology that creates a private network over a public network (like the Internet). VPNs use tunneling protocols to encrypt data and route traffic through secure servers, making it more difficult for third parties to intercept and spy on data.

RDP does not require a VPN connection. However, if you are looking to add an extra layer of security to your RDP connection, you can use a VPN. A VPN will encrypt your RDP connection, making it more secure.
Is RDP over VPN secure?
RDP over VPN is a secure way to access your company’s remote resources. By using a VPN, all data passing between your device and the remote resource is encrypted. This means that if someone were to intercept the data, they would not be able to read it. Additionally, VPNs provide a way to authenticate the user and the device accessing the remote resource. This ensures that only authorized users and devices can access the company’s resources.
Can ransomware go through RDP?
Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a victim’s files and demands a ransom to decrypt them. Ransomware can spread through email attachments, infected websites, and malicious advertising. It can also spread through a Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), which is a protocol that allows for the remote control of another computer.

RDP is often used by businesses to allow employees to work from home or remotely. However, attackers can exploit RDP to gain access to a victim’s computer and install ransomware. To protect against this, it is important to use a VPN instead of RDP when possible. VPNs encrypt all traffic between your computer and the VPN server, making it much more difficult for an attacker to intercept your traffic and install ransomware.
How does VPN work with RDP?
When used with Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), VPNs provide an extra layer of security by encrypting all data that passes through the tunnel. This ensures that only authorized users can access the remote server and that all data is protected from eavesdropping. Additionally, by authenticating each user before connecting to the VPN, organizations can be sure that only authorized users can access company resources.
Are there any security risks associated with using a VPN with RDP?
There are a few potential security risks associated with using a VPN with RDP. First, if an attacker can gain access to a user’s device, they may be able to intercept and decrypt the data passing through the VPN tunnel. Second, if an attacker can compromise the server hosting the RDP service, they may be able to eavesdrop on all traffic passing through the server, including traffic passing through the VPN tunnel. However, these risks can be mitigated through the use of strong authentication and encryption protocols, as well as regular patching of both client and server software.