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Desktop applications are software programs designed to run on standalone computers or desktops, as opposed to web apps that you access via a browser. By installing them locally on a computer they are available at all times, but they present many challenges for IT professionals, especially when you need to provide remote access. These issues include: 

  1. IT Friction: To enable workers to use desktop apps, you need to ship a device, deploy the desktop app and then keep the device and desktop app patched. Given the sheer number of devices and versions, it is often difficult to upgrade to a new version of the desktop app, forcing users to continue with an older, more vulnerable version. Many users are now also used to the ease of modern SaaS apps and expect this experience with all software. Some legacy desktop apps are very difficult for users to understand intuitively, leading to reduced productivity and increased need for IT to step in and walk them through it.  
  2. Compatibility: Different operating systems, versions, and configurations can make it difficult to provide a seamless remote access experience. Compatibility issues may arise that require additional effort to resolve.
  3. Licensing and Compliance: Many desktop apps are subject to licensing agreements and compliance requirements. Managing these licenses and ensuring compliance when providing remote access can be a logistical challenge.
  4. Network Configuration: Setting up secure remote access often requires complex network configurations. You need to ensure that your network infrastructure can handle the increased traffic, and you may need to implement security measures to protect against unauthorized access.
  5. Security Concerns: When you allow remote access to desktop apps, you're essentially opening a door into your organization's network. This can expose your systems to potential threats like hacking, malware, and data breaches. In addition when workers use desktop apps, data is left on many devices making them susceptible to data breaches. 
  6. Data Encryption: Data transmitted between the desktop application and the servers needs to be encrypted to prevent interception by malicious actors. Implementing strong encryption protocols can be complex and resource-intensive.
  7. Authentication and Authorization: Ensuring that only authorized users can access the desktop apps is crucial. You need a robust authentication and authorization system in place to verify users' identities and control their access permissions effectively.
  8. User Training: Some desktop apps can be very difficult to use, particularly legacy applications and/or applications that have been customized over the years for a particular organization's needs. This creates a need for additional user training and IT support to help address issues that users have and lost productivity as the user struggles to understand how to use the software. Poor user practices can introduce security vulnerabilities and require an organization to run additional user training sessions. 
  9. Monitoring and Logging: Effective monitoring and logging of remote access sessions are essential for security and auditing purposes. Implementing robust monitoring and logging systems can be complex and expensive. 
  10. Cost: Setting up secure remote access solutions often requires investments in hardware, software, and IT resources. The cost of implementing and maintaining these solutions can be a barrier for some organizations.

To address these challenges, organizations often turn to specialized remote access solutions, including virtual private networks (VPNs), remote desktop protocols (RDP), virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), desktop as a service (DaaS) and secure remote access gateways.  However, these legacy solutions also present many challenges. They are often difficult to set up and maintain, requiring users to install agents on their devices. Users that are unfamiliar with these types of remote access solutions often need additional training and support to use them. They lack robust security and observability features and often require additional point solutions to be used in conjunction with the access solutions to provide the robust security that most organizations need today. 

New secure remote access solutions like Enterprise Browsers lack the ability to provide access to desktop apps, meaning to provide secure access users would need two different systems - one for web apps, and one for desktop apps - which is a painful experience for the end-user and a maintenance nightmare for IT teams. To enhance the digital employee experience (DEX), you need a single place for users to access web apps, desktop apps and servers all in one place, with a native user experience that makes remote access simple and easy for everyone. 

How to provide secure remote access to desktop apps

Sonet.io allows organizations to provide secure remote access to web apps, desktop apps and servers, all from one workspace that can be accessed from any browser, on any device. By centralizing access to every tool that a person needs to do their job, IT can streamline the setup and maintenance, implement security quickly and have full observability across the remote workforce. To provide access to desktop apps, admin deploys the desktop apps that remote workers need to access in Sonet.io cloud. Sonet.io then streams these apps to all users. This means that admins only need to deploy once, and can scale as needed. Any upgrades can also be done once in Sonet.io cloud, instead of needing to complete upgrades across many different machines.

The desktop app is effectively converted to a web app, that means that access, security and visibility can be managed in the same way as other web apps. Sonet.io also reduces the need to rely on network configurations to provide remote access. The internet effectively becomes the network, which makes it very easy for any user to access the applications they need. Authentication can be managed through SSO solutions integrated with Sonet.io - users login in once, and then have access to desktop apps in their Sonet.io browser-based workspace. 

Applying Security Policies to Desktop Apps

Once added to the Sonet.io workspace, admins can easily add security policies to control the way users interact with the application. For example, you can apply the same content inspection policies that you have set up for web apps, so that confidential information can’t be downloaded, uploaded or even copied or pasted. You can also apply watermarks to the desktop apps user interface to deter screenshots being taken. 

Security policies for all web apps, desktop apps and servers are centrally managed through the Sonet.io admin portal. This reduces the amount of time spent managing policies across different tools, ensures consistency in security policies and reduces the risk of certain apps not having robust security policies applied. 

Visibility for Desktop Apps 

Visibility allows you to see exactly what’s happening across the remote workforce. As Sonet.io allows you to apply visibility capabilities across web apps, desktop apps and servers, you can get a true 360 degree view of how users are interacting with the different tools they need to do their job. 

Real-time notifications and alerts can help you respond to incidents as they happen, instead of after the fact. Data analysis on user activity can help you determine if the applications are being used as intended, if there are training issues that need to be addressed, and proactively manage any issues with the applications instead of being reactive. Session recordings can allow admins to replay exactly what actions a user took, and provide detailed forensics. These recordings can also be used to troubleshoot and train more effectively when workers are using difficult, legacy applications as IT can see exactly where the user is getting stuck. 

By using a simple and easy to deploy workspace for desktop apps, as well as web applications and servers, IT can streamline how they enable remote workers access to the tools they need. IT can easily onboard, manage and offboard workers in any location giving them access to all the tools they need instantly, with security and observability built in.