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What is a remote access VPN and how does it work?

A remote access virtual private network allows organizations to securely share files and resources with their employees. If you work from home, it’s a great way to connect safely to your company’s servers. In this article, we'll explore how remote access VPNs work, how they differ from other VPNs, and what benefits they can offer.

Malcolm Higgins

Malcolm Higgins

What is a remote access VPN and how does it work?

What is a remote access VPN?

A remote access VPN allows remote users to connect to a server belonging to their organization or employer. This system lets employees maintain a secure connection to their office network while working outside of their office, but it also offers other benefits, including enhanced cybersecurity.

How does a remote access VPN work?

A remote access VPN allows devices in different remote locations to access a private network, like that of a company or a government agency. Like any VPN, remote access VPNs connect clients (applications installed on your phone or computer, for example) to servers.

Many organizations maintain an intranet, an internal network that lets trusted users access files, programs, messages, and private resources. If all of its intended users are in the same location, it is relatively easy to regulate who can connect to an intranet. The network access server can be made accessible only to people connected to a specific internet gateway, for example.

However, with remote workers becoming increasingly normalized, many organizations need ways to give secure access to users in a variety of locations. A remote access VPN facilitates this – an intranet can be made accessible only through a specific server, to which the organization’s VPN client software connects.

To maintain synergy, an organization can have all remote employees install a VPN client on their devices, while also configuring their office routers to send and receive data through the same server. For added security, the client can establish an encrypted VPN tunnel between its device and the server.

What is the difference between a VPN and remote access?

Remote access VPNs are just one type of VPN. A VPN, in a general sense, is any private network (an ecosystem of devices and servers, like a LAN) which has been extended across a public network (like the internet). This usually involves installing a client (like a VPN app) on your device, which then routes all user traffic through a server.

The most common type of VPN is the model used in consumer VPNs, like NordVPN. These VPNs involve a client and a server, but they don’t facilitate access to specific resources stored on that server.

With NordVPN, for example, the “private network” is your device (which is installed with the VPN client) and the VPN server. The server allows you to connect to the wider public internet without exposing your IP address. NordVPN also encrypts all of your data as it travels between your device and the server.

Contrast this with the remote access model. This system is not intended primarily to give you access to the wider internet but rather to a specific private network, via a predetermined server. The goal here is to let you connect to an intranet from any location. It’s important not to confuse remote access VPNs with site to site VPNs; the latter uses a similar system, but it’s mainly used to connect whole networks in different locations. Remote access VPNs are also not the same as remote desktops, which also allow people to use resources while working outside of their office. You can, of course, combine a remote desktop with VPN technology.

The key point to understand is that you can use a VPN for secure remote access, but not all VPNs are suited to this function. The best option is to use the NordLayer remote access solution, which allows employees to remotely access a company’s internal private network and protects their online traffic from Wi-Fi spying and man-in-the-middle attacks.

Benefits of a remote access VPN

Every remote access VPN is slightly different, but here are the benefits you and your remote workforce can gain from using NordLayer.

  • Protect against unauthorized users. With a premium remote access VPN, you can ensure that internal networks and resources can only be reached by users who have signed into the appropriate VPN client using multi-factor authentication. You can even set up a dedicated server for your users to allow for greater access control.
  • Streamline remote access. Teams and workforces are becoming increasingly decentralized, but with a good remote access VPN, you give all users access to the resources they need. This will help you to maintain effective remote teams, keeping everyone on the same network wherever they happen to be based.
  • Limit the threat of cyberattacks. When employees are working out of office, they are at greater risk of cyberattacks. If one remote user device is compromised, it could put the whole network at risk from spear phishing and ransomware attacks. But with NordLayer, their data will be sent through a secure tunnel, so even if they connect to unsecured Wi-Fi, they won’t expose their online activity.
  • Facilitate zero-trust network access. Remote access VPN software can be used as part of zero-trust network infrastructure, in which employees repeatedly authenticate themselves in order to access different areas of an organization’s network. This practice can boost your network security and make it harder for hackers to exploit one compromised device to attack the rest of the network.

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Malcolm Higgins
Malcolm Higgins Malcolm Higgins
Malcolm is a content writer specializing in cybersecurity and tech news. With a background in journalism and a passion for digital privacy, he hopes his work will empower people to control their own data.