Virtual Network Computing, or VNC, allows one device to remotely control another through a network. Using a Graphic User Interface (GUI), you can connect from a client computer to a VPN server. The foundation of this was initially based on the Remote Frame Buffer (RFB) protocol.
First developed in the 1990s as open source, VNC technology was later branched into several applications. Today, multiple brands of VNC exist ranging from standalone to the ones embedded as part of larger systems.
How VNC Works
VNC connections are based on the Client/Server model. The server is the device which is intended to be remotely controlled. In order to do this, it needs to have the VNC service running and waiting for a connection.
To connect to it, you can launch a VNC Client application and connect to the specific device running the VPN Server. The connection is configured in two parts, one of each side. The server side is responsible for authorization against a list of allowable credentials.
The Client needs to provide those credentials during a connection. At the same time, the Client also needs to pass along parameters that will define the boundaries of the connection, such as display size, colour settings, and more.
Once the connection is established, you can use the remote device from your client machine almost exactly as if you were sitting in front of it.
Why Use VNC?
In the context of most households, VNC technology can seem a little unnecessary to use. However, looking beyond those borders there are many scenarios in which it might be useful. The capability of working over networks is part of the reason why.
Networks are defined as interconnected devices. Thanks to extensive infrastructure and technology advancements, the world has literally become one massive network. This means you can literally connect to a device on the other side of the world from your home.
As an example of this, consider the following scenario: If you were in another country for work, you could bring along a relatively weak client device and connect to your powerful computer at work and use the resources there.
VNC Security: Is it Safe to Use?
When it comes to remote connections and network use, security is often one of the first things on many people’s minds. Anything which allows remote access carries elements of risk. This is compounded by the fact that RFB itself is by default not a secure protocol.
Even though credentials like usernames and passwords aren’t sent completely in plain text, they can still be discovered through certain means. Because of this, your choice of VNC Client/Server application can be important – and of course your password selection.
One of the most popular brands of VNC, UltraVNC, allows you to use additional plugins which can increase security. Elements like this bring additional factors to the table such as complete end-to-end encryption and increased authentication requirements.
Unfortunately, the increased security capability extensions are often only found on commercial versions of VNC applications. These come at extra cost; for example, RealVNC offers a professional version of their service which starts at $3.34/mo.
While the price may not seem to be that high in cases like this, remember that the fee is for the VNC alone and limited in utility. This seems a little silly since you can easily make use of a very capable free VNC connection and opt to use it with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) instead.
VPN vs VNC
Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, are not related to VNCs even though they are similar in acronym.
VPNs are services specifically designed to help you increase your digital privacy and security. Because of this wide scope of duty, they can often be combined with VNCs for maximum benefit.
Compare paying for a premium VNC with better security against the combined use of a free VNC and reputable VPN service. The former may cost as little as a few dollars per month, but all you’re getting is a secure connection to control your remote device.
When using a VPN and VNC, you essentially get the same thing. In many cases, a VPN subscription will not cost all that much more than what you will pay for a commercial VNC.
If this sounds to be not much of a difference to you, consider also that the VPN isn’t restricted to protecting your VNC connection. VPNs are meant to protect all the data that gets sent in or out of your devices. Some benefits VPNs bring to the table, include:
- High-grade encryption
- Geo-restricted content unblocking
- Tracker detection and blocking
- Bypassing bandwidth throttling
VNC technology is great and I’d be one of the first to admit it. In fact, I use it to help me administer my home network (Using Windows Remote Desktop, since I mostly run Windows Professional).
However, in most real world applications I simply don’t think a commercial license for a VNC is worth the money. For potentially a lower cost, you can combine a VNC and VPN to reap the benefits of both worlds.