What Is a Remote Access VPN?

2 min. read

A remote access virtual private network (VPN) enables users who are working remotely to securely access applications and data that reside in the corporate data center and headquarters, encrypting all traffic users send and receive.

A secure remote access VPN creates a tunnel between the network and a remote user that is virtually private. Traffic is encrypted, which makes it unintelligible to eavesdroppers. Users in remote locations can securely access and use the network in much the same way as in the office. Using remote access VPNs, data can be transmitted without the risk of interception or tampering. 

How Does a Remote Access VPN Work?

Aa remote location laptop connecting to a main office via a remote access VPN through the internet and network access server.

A remote access VPN works by establishing a secure, encrypted connection from a user's device to the corporate network. This process begins with a VPN client that manages the initial authentication process, confirming that only authorized users can establish a connection. Once authenticated, the VPN client software creates an encrypted tunnel to the VPN gateway. The gateway acts as the VPN server, facilitating a secure path for data transmission.

Even over public internet networks, all data transmitted through the tunnel is encrypted, preserving its confidentiality and integrity. The secure tunnel extends the network's perimeter to the remote user, essentially placing them within the corporate network. This process allows for safe access to internal resources like applications, file servers, and databases.

A remote VPN often includes security features including multi-factor authentication and advanced encryption standards. Additional layers of security ensure the connection remains private and protects the corporate network from potential threats introduced by remote devices.

What Is a VPN?

Benefits of Remote Access VPN

benefits of remote access vpn

Secure Remote Connectivity

A remote access VPN secures connections to the corporate network for remote workers and mobile users. It encrypts data traffic, ensuring confidentiality and protecting the integrity of sensitive information. 

Potentially Cost-Effective 

Implementing a remote access VPN can sometimes be a cost-effective solution for expanding network access beyond the physical confines of the office. For some companies, it can delay the initial need for extensive infrastructure investments.

Simplified Management

Remote access VPNs simplify network management by providing a single point of control for user access and security policies. Administrators can easily manage connections, monitor security, and enforce policies without the need for complex on-site configurations.

Remote Access VPN Challenges


Historically, remote access VPNs were a staple in providing remote workers with access to corporate resources. However, as network architectures evolve and security threats become more sophisticated, these VPNs can sometimes present challenges, particularly when compared to more modern solutions.

Limited Security Measures

Traditional remote access VPNs do not provide sufficient security controls beyond the basics of encryption and authentication. They may lack the ability to enforce granular access controls, leaving sensitive corporate resources potentially exposed to unauthorized access.

Inconsistent User Experience

The user experience with remote access VPNs can be inconsistent and sometimes cumbersome, depending upon the provider and platform. Connectivity issues and the need for manual logins can hinder productivity and frustrate remote employees.

Complex Management and Scalability

As organizations grow, managing a remote access VPN can become complex and time- consuming. Scaling to accommodate an increasing number of remote work users often requires additional hardware and can lead to significant administrative overhead.

Exposed to Network Vulnerabilities

Remote access VPNs can expose networks to vulnerabilities, particularly if endpoint devices are compromised. Since VPNs typically do not assess the security posture of devices, they can inadvertently become conduits for malware or other cyber threats.

Remote Access VPN vs. Site-to-Site VPN

The main differences between site-to-site and remote access VPNs are network connection architectures and use cases.

Site-to-site VPNs link entire networks together. They secure traffic at the edge of the network, allowing different sites to share resources as if they were part of the same network.

Remote access VPNs cater to individual users looking to access a network from distant locations. These VPNs utilize client software installed on each user's device which creates a secure tunnel to the network. 

SASE as the Modern Alternative to Remote Access VPN

Diagram of SASE Architecture, showing user traffic sources and data destinations with integrated network and security services.

The increasing trend of remote workforces and the growth of Software as a Service (SaaS) has led to a change in the flow of digital traffic. Rather than primarily being directed toward data centers, traffic is increasingly routed toward internet and cloud-based services.

Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) has emerged as a solution to ensure continuous, secure access for remote workers. SASE combines the functionality of a wide area network (WAN) with robust, enterprise-grade security measures to form an integrated, cloud-native service. This approach effectively merges an organization's networking, security protocols, and operational procedures into one streamlined system.

SASE represents a significant shift where security fragmentation is concerned. It moves away from the traditional model of multiple, on-premises security solutions from various vendors, focusing instead on a unified cloud-based network security structure. This architecture not only enhances security but provides the adaptability to integrate diverse security services.

Remote Access VPN FAQs

Remote access VPNs can present risks such as limited scalability, potential security vulnerabilities, and increased complexity in managing access control.
A VPN creates a secure tunnel for data transmission, while a remote connection refers generally to any access to a network from a non-local source.
A remote access VPN connects a user to a corporate network, while a personal VPN protects a user’s internet connection.
To set up a VPN for remote access, one configures a secure connection between a device and a network, often involving software installation and network configuration. The exact setup process varies depending on the VPN service.
A VPN should not be used when a secure, scalable, and simplified solution is required, or when an organization's policy advises against it.
A VPN solution is needed for remote access to ensure data is transmitted securely over untrusted networks.
The primary alternatives to remote access VPNs include Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), and Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN).
Three drawbacks of VPNs are: they can slow down internet speeds, they may not support all applications, and they can be complex to manage.
Remote access may be considered more secure than a VPN when using modern solutions like SASE that provide integrated security features.
Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) provides better security than traditional VPNs by combining networking and security functions within a cloud-native service.
A client-to-site VPN, also known as a remote access VPN, allows a device to connect securely to a remote network through encrypted tunnels over the internet. This setup enables users to access network resources as if they were physically on the same local network.
A client-to-site VPN, sometimes referred to as a remote access VPN, works by establishing a secure connection from a user's device to a VPN server, creating an encrypted tunnel for data. This process authenticates the remote user and encrypts data exchanged between the device and the network, ensuring secure access to resources.
A client-to-site VPN connects individual devices to a network over the internet, using encryption for data to be secured. A site-to-site VPN, in contrast, links entire networks to each other, allowing for secure communications between sites without encrypting traffic on each end-user device.