Aug 24 2012

Are Thin Clients More Secure Than Physical Desktops?

Increased security benefits might be a compelling reason for IT workers to consider thin clients.

Even though technology has been moving toward thinner, lighter end-user devices, the era of the thick client is still going strong. Thin clients, also called dumb clients, are beneficial to IT workers because they centralize and unify device management, as opposed to physical clients which require maintenance for each end unit.

Because the bulk of the computer processing is done on the server side and not on the client side, as is the case with thick clients, many thin clients can’t keep up, from a GPU perspective.

In the view of many IT workers, increased security is an advantage thin clients have over thick clients. But Shawn Bass, an IT professional and writer, recently caused some debate when he claimed that thin clients aren’t anymore secure than thick or physical clients.

Gunnar Berger, a research director with Gartner, pushed back in a blog post, asserting that virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), or thin clients, are inherently more secure than their thick client counterparts:

In a SBC/SHVD world, the data doesn’t cross the network except in the datacenter. What is sent to the end point is just screen updates, which could be argued has data (but it’s going to be very limited) compared to say an ODBC query running across a VPN, in that scenario the data that is sent over the link is a full queried response (IE real data). But to Shawn’s credit, he does say that SHVD/SBC “may” improve this, I would just go a step farther and say it “does” improve it.

The trends in computing seem to favor the thin client and a cloud computing model, so ensuring security is important to fueling this trend further.

But the ultimate truth, as we’ve learned from many successful hacks, is that regardless of whether someone is using a thin client or a thick client, users — not devices — are often the biggest security vulnerability.