Pagoda Blog

3 Ways to Access Work Files Remotely

December 3, 2020

If you have a computer, server, or other digital resources at your place of work that you need access to from home (or elsewhere), there are three primary ways to gain this access. First, you need to establish that you have a secure internet connection and then you can determine how to most efficiently and securely achieve remote access. Below are 3 options, each with an explanation of how they work and their level of security.  


VPN (Virtual Private Network) 

What is it?

A VPN or Virtual Private Network is an encrypted connection either between a physical router at your workplace or a third party cloud-based service and your device. A VPN provides security by making it nearly impossible for your ISP or unauthorized parties to track your online activity back to your device. This means your personal information remains anonymous and can’t be used to launch a data breach. When connected directly to a router at your workplace, it gives your home computer access to that network as if your computer were physically connected to it. This means full, fast access to all files and programs stored on the server. 


Is it secure?
Yes, as long as you select a VPN with the most up to date communication protocol. As of this writing, the most secure protocol is either OpenVPN or L2TP/IPsec.


Remote Control Software

What is it?
Remote control software gives direct access to a device in a different location as if you’re sitting at it. This means that you (or your IT support) can access a computer located at the office from the comfort of home. This type of remote access is most commonly used by IT to troubleshoot any tech issues or for training purposes, allowing the trainee to watch and mimic the instructor’s actions on the screen. Reputable examples of remote control software include TeamViewer, AnyDesk, GoToMyPC, LogMeIn, and SplashTop. 


Is it secure?

Yes, remote control softwares use multiple security protocols for data transfer, password exchange, etc. It’s still important, however, to always check out the company’s current policies and encryption to ensure they are following the most up to date standards. A benefit of remote control software is that it insulates the office network from malware that may reside on a home network. This makes it preferred over a VPN connection if the home network is not secure. (An example of an unsecured home network is one with out of date antivirus software, devices that aren’t patched, and devices that are also used by other family members for potentially risky activity, such as playing games.   More sophisticated VPN systems will actually prevent a connection from completing if the remote PC does not comply with patching and security software standards.


Cloud Storage

What is it?
Storing your data “in the cloud” means that your data, applications, and IT infrastructure (like email services) are transferred from physical servers to a cloud service provider like G Suite, Office 365 or Amazon Web Services (AWS). These cloud services offer easy access to your files from anywhere with a secure internet connection, as well as innovative online collaboration tools like Microsoft SharePoint/Teams and Google Drive.  Other ‘cloud’ services include hosted databases, CRMs, and accounting software like Quickbooks online. 


Cloud storage systems such as Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Dropbox also offer file sync as an additional way to access files remotely. Syncing files refers to the action of synchronizing the same, most recent data on two or more devices. Once the data is synced, it can be accessed remotely by anyone with permission from any device. 


An advantage of file sync is that you can work on documents offline and let them sync later. For security, however, it’s best to work through the web interface (such as a Google Doc in G Suite) to update documents. Microsoft has web apps for its programs like Word and Excel making it possible to work with OneDrive in the same way.  Microsoft's preferred way to work with cloud Office 365 documents now is via Teams. While convenient and easy to use, file sync is prone to errors and can quickly fill up the hard drive space. Syncing files to a home device also raises security concerns as most home devices aren’t adequately secured. 


In an effort to overcome these downsides, Google replaced file sync with filestream as the preferred method to work with files directly from Windows Explorer or Mac Finder.  The difference between file sync and file stream is like downloading a video versus  watching it through a streaming service like Netflix. This avoids the security and space issues with file sync but requires a fast internet connection.    

Is it secure?
Yes. The reputable cloud vendors use HTTPS to encrypt their data in order to increase security of the data transfer/access. As the administrator, you have control over users specific access permissions and can remove users or change the level of access at any time. Be cautious, however, if you choose to use file sync for the reasons stated above.  

Syncing softwares, like Dropbox, also have questionable privacy policies that give the company the right to access, store, and scan your data to resolve technical issues. 


What’s the best option for your business? 

You may choose to use more than one of the above remote access options, depending on your needs. We always recommend, for instance, to use a VPN for the most secure connection.  You may also need to utilize remote control software to allow your IT team to remotely access certain devices for preventive maintenance. Whatever option you choose, it’s imperative to always regularly backup your data using a reliable service with highly encrypted private data centers in multiple locations across the globe.  


Related reading:

9 Security Tips for Working Remotely 

How to Set Up a Disaster Recovery Plan for Your Business

Why You Need to Move Your Business Online (And How to Do It) 


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