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Remote access: What it is and how it works

Imagine you are a tech support specialist enjoying your holiday, but a critical problem occurs on a company server. Fortunately, you can access the computers in your office from a beach halfway around the world and fix the issue. This isn’t science fiction — it’s remote access technology transforming how we work, play, and solve problems. But how does remote access work? Discover what remote access is, the benefits it offers, and how to use remote access software to connect to a device.

Remote access: What it is and how it works

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What is remote access?

Remote access is the ability to connect to and use a network or device from a remote location. This technology enables users to handle files, provide remote support, manage data, and work collaboratively from anywhere, not just within the confines of a physical office. It is particularly useful for employees who need to work from home or other off-site locations.

How is remote access used?

Remote access technology plays a crucial role in enabling flexible and efficient work, learning, and management across various industries.

💼 Telecommuting. Employees can use remote access software to log into their office systems from home, maintaining the same level of efficiency as if they were at their desks in the office.

💻 IT support. From a remote location, IT professionals can access and fix problems on company servers or desktops. This helps keep downtime low and ensures the business is running smoothly.

🎓 Education. Students can use remote access tools to engage with lessons and resources from any location, enabling them to participate in classes and complete assignments without being in a classroom.

🩺 Healthcare. Doctors can remotely access patient records and medical systems, facilitating timely consultations and follow-ups, which is crucial for patient care in remote or underserved areas.

🎮 Gaming. If you are traveling for work and have downtime in your hotel room, you can use cloud gaming services to play your favorite games on a laptop without needing your gaming PC.

🔍 Remote monitoring and management. Engineers can monitor and control industrial equipment from a central office, using real-time data to make informed decisions and respond promptly to any issues.

How does remote access work?

Remote user access allows you to connect to and control a computer or network from afar. This is how it works:

  • Setup and connection.You begin by installing remote access software on both your local device (such as your laptop at home) and the target device (like your office desktop). This setup allows the two computers to communicate over the internet.
  • Secure authentication.You’ll typically log in with a username and password to ensure only authorized users can connect. Advanced options like single sign-on (SSO) simplify this process by letting you access multiple applications or servers without repeatedly entering credentials.
  • Enhanced security.Organizations often implement two-factor or multi-factor authentication (MFA) to further protect against unauthorized access. This approach verifies a user’s identity by combining multiple unique credentials to reduce the risk of cyber threats.
  • Encryption.All data transmitted during your remote session is protected through encryption protocols like Internet Protocol security (IPsec) and Transport Layer Security (TLS). These technologies encrypt your data as it travels between your local device and the remote network, ensuring that your remote interactions remain private.
  • Control and interactionOnce securely connected, you can view and interact with your remote device’s screen. You can open files, use applications, and perform tasks as if you were physically at your office.

Types of remote access

The three common types of remote access are direct, cloud-enabled, and VPN.

Direct remote access software

Direct remote access is the simplest and most common way to access another computer or device. It involves connecting directly over the internet from one device to another. For example, you might use Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to access your work computer from home or use Secure Shell (SSH) to manage a remote server.

However, exposing direct remote access services over the internet carries security risks because they need precise configuration to be secure. This method might not be ideal for businesses with employees working from home because it can leave systems vulnerable if not configured properly.

Cloud-enabled remote access software

Cloud-enabled remote access software is ideal for giving a limited number of staff, third-party vendors, or contractors access to a single computer. Free and trustworthy cloud-based options like Chrome Remote Desktop and DWService are easy to set up and don’t require complex configurations like port-forwarding. However, these tools can consume significant internet bandwidth, which might limit their effectiveness if many people need remote access simultaneously.

VPN (virtual private network)

A VPN creates a secure tunnel between your remote device and office network for seamless access to office resources. To set up a VPN, install and configure VPN server software on your office network, either on a dedicated server or your office router, and install a VPN client on your remote device.

VPNs are perfect for small to medium-sized businesses needing staff to access office systems and services from anywhere. Once connected, employees can use the same tools and access the same files as if they were in the office, providing a seamless and efficient remote work experience.

Remote access protocols

Remote access protocols enable secure and efficient connections between remote devices and a network or computer. Some of the key remote access protocols include:

  • Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). RDP enables remote desktop control, allowing users to access their work computers, edit files, and run applications as if they were physically present.
  • Secure Shell (SSH). SSH provides secure command-line access to remote systems, encrypts data, and enables secure file transfers. It is widely used for managing servers.
  • Internet Protocol security (IPsec) is a protocol suite that secures internet communications by authenticating and encrypting each IP packet in a data stream. It is commonly used in VPNs to create secure tunnels for remote access.
  • OpenVPN. OpenVPN is a versatile open-source protocol that creates secure point-to-point or site-to-site connections. It is commonly used in VPNs for its strong security and flexibility.
  • Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP). L2TP combined with IPsec provides a secure VPN protocol, offering encryption and authentication for remote network access.
  • Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS). HTTPS encrypts communication between clients and web servers, ensuring secure web-based remote access and transactions.

These are the most common remote access protocols. Other protocols, used less frequently or in more specialized contexts compared to the primary remote access protocols, include the following:

Remote access benefits

Remote access technologies offer plenty of benefits.

Flexibility and improved work-life balance

Flexibility in remote access fosters a modern work culture by allowing employees to adapt their schedules to their personal lives. Employees can work from anywhere, choosing their ideal workspace — whether it’s a home office, a café, or a cabin in the woods. Remote site access supports diverse lifestyles and ensures career continuity despite relocations. This flexibility improves job satisfaction and retention by giving employees control over their work-life balance.

Cost savings

Downtime costs businesses a lot of money. Remote access technologies allow for quicker issue resolution, and getting systems up and running faster than ever. This means businesses can address technical problems as soon as they occur, reducing delays and minimizing financial losses.

Business continuity

Remote access ensures business continuity by allowing operations to continue smoothly during unexpected disruptions. Whether facing natural disasters, pandemics, or conflicts like war, employees can work from any location with internet access. This flexibility keeps critical functions running, minimizes downtime and protects revenue.


Remote access enhances security by providing a secure, encrypted connection that protects sensitive data from unauthorized access. Companies can enforce strong authentication methods, like multi-factor authentication (MFA), to ensure that only authorized users gain access to sensitive content. Additionally, remote access reduces the risk of physical data breaches since employees no longer need to store sensitive information on local devices. Also, by using VPNs and other security measures, businesses can protect their data and maintain security even when employees work from different locations.

How to remotely access a device?

The setup process varies depending on the devices and remote access software you use. Still, the most common scenario is accessing a work computer from a home laptop. Here’s how to remotely access your work PC from home:

Step 1: Prepare your office PC

To connect to your PC remotely, first ensure your device is on and connected to the internet. Next, enable remote access. The instructions for enabling remote access will vary by operating system.

  • To remotely connect to a Windows 10 or 11 PC, go to “Settings” > “System” > “Remote desktop.” Toggle on the “Enable remote desktop” option. Note down the computer name or IP address. You can find your device’s name by going to “Settings” > “System” > “About.”
  • To remotely connect to a MacOS PC, go to “System preferences” > “Sharing,” and enable “Remote management” or “Screen sharing.” Note the computer’s IP address.

Next, configure remote access permissions. Ensure you have the necessary credentials to grant access.

Step 2: Prepare your home laptop

To prepare your home laptop, start by installing Chrome Remote Desktop software or any other remote access tool you prefer. Chrome Remote Desktop software is particularly convenient because it works on any device with Google Chrome. Once you have it installed, open the app or extension and click “Remote access.” Select the computer you want to access, enter the required PIN, and click the arrow to connect.

Note: The setup process will vary depending on the remote access software you choose.

Step 3: Connect

Enter the required passwords or credentials to confirm your identity. Ensure you have the necessary permissions for the remote device. Once connected, you’ll have full control of your office desktop, just as if you were sitting at your desk. Now you know how to access devices remotely.

Chrome Remote Desktop is great for individuals or small teams needing easy access to specific computers for remote work, troubleshooting, or file access. For users and organizations that need a robust, scalable, and resilient network for many interconnected devices, remote access using Meshnet might be a better option. This is why it’s crucial to choose a remote access software that fits your needs and situation.

Remote access software examples

Some remote access software comes pre-installed on devices, like Microsoft Remote Desktop on Windows and Apple Remote Desktop on macOS. These tools make it easy to start remote work right away.

If you want more features and flexibility, try free third-party options. Chrome Remote Desktop offers a simple, browser-based interface that works on any platform. VNC Connect provides customizable and secure access across different devices.

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