What is Remote Access?

A complete guide to remote access technology, benefits, and security


Connections matter for every business and individual, including digital connections. At a time when remote and hybrid work predominates, and when people can work, shop, stream entertainment, and do almost everything else from anywhere from any device, remote access has never been more important for running a business. This guide explains everything you need to know about how remote access enables digital and human connection.


Woman using GoTo Resolve’s remote access and management software on laptop.

What is remote access, exactly?

Remote access (sometimes referred to as “remote desktop” or "remote desktop connection") is simply the ability to access a device from another device, at any time, and from anywhere. With remote access, a user can control all the files and applications on another device as if the user was actually sitting in front of it. Remote access can be used across devices to enable remote PC access, remote Mac access, remote iPhone access, and more.

Two common examples

  • Using a computer to connect to an end user’s (employee or customer) device in order to provide remote IT management and support.
  • Using a PC in your home office to connect to your office computer or company network. You wouldn't need to travel to your company’s office in order to access company resources.

Why is remote access important?

Computing doesn’t just happen at work or at home anymore but can happen from anywhere on different devices with different operating systems. Remote access software makes computing more flexible in terms of where and when work and other digitally enabled activities can get done. For businesses that want to work flexibly (i.e., all businesses), it’s simply foundational to have software in place to enable remote access technologies such as:

Two use cases for remote access software

  • 1. IT support

    If your business has remote customers and/or employees, you’ll need to support them from where they are and on any device. For example, what happens when an online customer using a home desktop wants to buy from you, but confronts technical difficulties? Or an employee working from home can’t access a company system or customer data she needs to do her work? Lost sales and productivity costs money.

    In either scenario, remotely accessing the customer or employee’s computer gives your IT support team the ability to fix an issue and avoid financial losses to your business. Remote access tools thus enable business continuity, while driving both customer and employee experience.

  • 2. Personal use

    Employees need remote access too. Whether they’re working from home under a remote or hybrid work arrangement or traveling for business, employees must have the ability to access work systems to get work done remotely. Without remote desktop access, they’d only be able to work by showing up in the physical office, which may have been okay in 1998 but isn’t any longer in today’s more flexible, mobile business climate.

How does remote access work?

While not all the same, remote desktop solutions address the same function. Three aspects are involved:

  1. A device you’re connecting from (in front of)
  2. A remote access device you’re connecting to
  3. Remote access software that digitally connects the two devices

For most remote access technologies, you’ll need to have already downloaded and installed the remote access software/application onto any device you intend to remote to and onto any device you want to remote from. Once the software/apps are installed, you can just open the app on the device you’re remoting from (the device in front of you) and connect to the device you want to remote to (maybe a desktop in your far-away office). However, for ad hoc remote support use cases, some solutions (like GoTo Resolve) do not require any downloads on the end user’s device for a technician to remotely access that device. The entire process is web-based.

View of GoTo Resolve’s remote access console during an active session.

How does remote access work in real-world use cases?

Say Carol needs access to an important, customer-related file on her office desktop in Miami, but she’s representing her company at a technology conference in San Francisco. With remote computer access, Carol can just pull out her iPhone, open her remote access mobile app, and quickly connect to her office desktop in Miami to open the customer-related file. She can even edit, save, email, or transfer the file in question to the IPhone she’s remoting from. 

Now if Carol was on your IT support team, and she was attending the conference, we’d have a different use case. She could remotely access a user’s computer in the company’s main office (or the user’s home) in order to resolve the user’s pending IT issues. She could even gain unattended access remotely, meaning Carol could fix a user's issue even if the user isn't in front of their device. In all of these scenarios, Carol is efficiently and securely doing her work from a remote location using a device in front of her that can connect to another device.

GoTo Resolve’s remote control feature interface within the desktop application.

What are some common methods of remote access?

Let’s dig into the technologies that make remote access possible. There are three typically used types of remote access:

  • Direct remote access is the most common method: A computer or device connects directly to another computer or device via the internet.
  • Indirect remote access, as its name implies, involves an intermediary server, which could be a web-based email service, sitting in the middle of two devices and relaying messages between them.
  • Remote Access VPNs (virtual private networks) create an encrypted connection over the internet, allowing a device to join a private network securely. A VPN for remote access enables remote users to access resources on that network as if they were directly connected to it.
Man using GoTo Resolve’s remote control feature to provide remote support to an end-user.

What are some common types of remote access connections?

Now let's get a little more specific. Here are some of the most commonly used types of remote access connections:

  • SSH (Secure Shell): An SSH is a cryptographic network protocol that provides secure access to a remote computer over an unsecured network, such as the internet. An SSH is typically used for remote administration and secure file transfers.
  • Cloud-Based Remote Access: To manage applications and data in the cloud, cloud-based services like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud Platform provide virtual machines and infrastructure that can be accessed remotely.
  • Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP): Enables one-to-one connections. Connects two routers directly without using a host or any other networking protocol. This connection runs over a telephone network or the internet.
  • Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet (PPPoE): Enables one-to-many connections. Connects users to a network of hosts through an access concentrator by combining PPP with the Ethernet link-layer protocol.
  • Serial Line Internet Protocol (SLIP): A simple protocol that uses TCP/IP to enable previously configured devices to communicate across serial ports and routers.
  • Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP): Creates a tunnel between two points, like a user’s computer to a VPNs; however PPTP is widely considered obsolete.
  • Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP): A Microsoft protocol used to access a desktop computer remotely.
GoTo Resolve’s secure ways to setup remote access connections.

Top remote access benefits for businesses

Any size business will benefit from having remote access capability. Here are half a dozen of the many benefits:

  • IT professional using GoTo Resolve remote access to support remote users and teams.

    1. Streamlined IT troubleshooting and support

    With remote access capability, IT support teams can easily access, manage, and troubleshoot remote user devices without sending technicians onsite, which is prohibitively expensive and labor-intensive for any IT team. By having remote access, an IT professional can quickly and efficiently resolve many more IT issues remotely. As more IT teams support more remote users, remote access becomes the bridge to IT’s operational efficiency and the operational success of the overall business.
  • Man using GoTo Resolve’s remote control feature to for a secure hybrid remote work experience.

    2. Enhanced flexibility and productivity for businesses and employees

    Remote access is mission-critical for modern businesses and people alike because it enables location-agnosticism and flexibility. People can work and do everything else from anywhere, from any device, and businesses can do business with, and support, them via secure remote access. There’d be no remote or hybrid work without remote control desktop, because an inability to access business resources remotely means an inability to work remotely.
  • Man using GoTo Resolve’s remote access features as means of secure IT team management.

    3. Improved access to business resources from anywhere with greater security

    Security and compliance efforts are always top priorities for IT teams, especially as cyberthreats grow in volume and sophistication. Having remote access with best-in-class security features, such as GoTo Resolve’s zero trust security, is therefore a key component of IT’s operational success, because privacy and compliance are mission-critical.
  • Woman using GoTo Resolve’s remote access features on mobile for flexible remote support at home.

    4. Facilitating remote work and telecommuting

    Employees, including IT support staff, can work flexibly from anywhere. In fact, keeping your IT people working flexibly and efficiently is essential for success. With secure remote access tools, your IT support reps can easily open remote sessions and troubleshoot on the go from their mobile phones. By giving your IT team the right tools, such as remote access, you give them the flexibility they need to do high-quality work from anywhere on any device, which helps drive their (and your) success. In turn, remote access tools let your IT people solve user IT problems so your entire workforce can get back to business.

Understanding remote access security

IT leaders like you already understand quite well the growing cyberthreats out there, as a recent IDG report makes clear:

  • Two thirds of IT leaders (67%) say their time spent mitigating cyberattacks has increased.
  • More than two thirds (68%) of IT leaders say their organizations are highly concerned about the possibility of a data breach.
  • More than eight in ten IT leaders (82%) consider it challenging to avoid cyber threats with current technology.

Potential damage and risk is high. It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of having secure remote access connections.

Detailed statistics on GoTo Resolve’s secure platform.

Importance of securing remote access connections

If malicious actors were able to access your remote connections, they could steal and compromise sensitive customer, employee, and proprietary data. Not only would this pose a significant, even existential, risk to your organization’s image, it would also subject you to extortion/ransomware attacks, regulatory penalties, and could destroy both your customer and employee experiences. That’s a lot of risk you need to mitigate.

Man using GoTo Resolve’s remote control feature to securely work from home.

Common security risks and threats

Cyberthreats are increasing. You’ve likely read about many of the most common security risks and threats in the media, including ransomware attacks, denial-of-service attacks, malicious actors hacking into remote support sessions, theft of sensitive and/or financial data, and worse. Cyberthreats just keep growing in sophistication, especially as malicious actors have easy access to emerging technologies such as AI. As hackers up their game, your IT team needs to up its cybersecurity defense, including securing remote access connections.

Team using GoTo Resolve’s remote access functionality.

What are some best practices for securing remote access?

Fortunately, great security tools currently exist for securing remote access, and here are some of them:

  • Encryption and Data Protection: Data encryption using government-approved 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) is a key ingredient of data protection, as is permission-based support that allows administrators to pre-set who gets to see and manage what information/data.
  • Identity-based Access Control: identity-based access control offers an added layer of security for your managed devices and remote access sessions. Controls like GoTo Resolve’s zero trust security mean that only your agents are authorized to access the session via their unique signature key, keeping malicious actors out.
  • IMulti-Factor Authentication: MFA adds another level of security for your remote access capability in order to make credential attacks by malicious actors even more difficult.
  • INetwork Security Measures: Tools and technologies like firewalls and Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) added to any network to help ensure the security of stored or transmitted data. Again, and like the other tools listed here, they help “harden” your infrastructure as a potential target of malicious actors.
GoTo Resolve's security checkpoints.

What are best practices for implementing and managing remote access?

Let’s look at the top remote access best practices that can help you optimize the technology for your organization:

  • Provide Remote Access Training and Guidelines

    Simply by reading this guide, you’re already way ahead of most IT people in understanding how remote access works. Like any technology, remote access must be widely adopted and learned by your people to gain its maximum benefits. It is the role of the organization and its leadership team to make necessary investments in training and ensuring that people are using remote access efficiently. 

    You can’t just introduce remote access without training and guidelines to ensure it’s been used well (see below for more on this).

  • Monitor and Audit Remote Access Activities

    Once training and guidelines are in place, you’re far from finished. You’ll need to measure and monitor how your people are actually using their remote access capabilities. Any missteps, especially around security, can sacrifice the benefits. Set up structures to monitor and review how your people are using remote access and make any necessary adjustments in training or guidelines based on this incoming performance data.

    By the way, tools like remote access with GoTo Resolve give administrators easy access to this kind of performance data.

  • Conduct Regular Security Assessments

    Security will always be a top priority when it comes to remote access capabilities. By having the remote access security features we described in detail above, especially zero trust security, you’re in a better position to avoid and mitigate potential security threats.

    Just as security is a special focus of your training efforts and guidelines around remote access, it should also be an independent focus of your performance monitoring efforts. Set up structured security audits, analyze the results, and make necessary adjustments. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

  • Develop Remote Access Policies

    It’s important to be intentional about how your people use remote access capabilities. Your organization should develop a formalized approach in writing to remote access, describing exactly who can do what and when as well as detailing who can see what information/data and for what purposes. Share this policy with your people, train them on it, and when you make necessary policy adjustments, update your training and communications too.

How important is remote access for small and midsize businesses in particular?

Remote access solutions ensure business continuity and employee productivity for small and midsized businesses. Since these organizations don’t have the unlimited resources of enterprise-sized companies and their massive IT budgets, remote access becomes an essential lever for SMBs to “do more with less.”

The benefits of remote access for small business, similar to the benefits for behemoth Fortune 500 enterprises, include enabling remote and hybrid work, better customer and employee experiences, improved IT support operations, increased data and digital security/compliance, cost efficiencies, and much more.

No matter how big or small the organization in question, customers and employees alike demand the flexibility that remote access empowers.

Man using GoTo Resolve’s remote access features on mobile for flexible remote support anywhere, anytime.

The bottom line on remote access

If you want to enable flexible ways of engagement with people (customers and employees), you need remote access technologies. Remote access capabilities can help increase business productivity and efficiency, especially for your IT team in supporting your users.

Implementing remote access securely and effectively requires working with an experienced partner who will tailor any remote access solution to the specific needs of your business. GoTo Resolve makes remote access easy, so you can quickly bridge the gap between where you are today and where you want to go with your remote access strategy.

View of GoTo Resolve’s remote access dashboard.