What Is the Key Difference Between an Intranet & an Extranet?

by Julie Davoren; Updated September 26, 2017
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An intranet is strictly internal and its users are employees of the organizations. Conversely, organizations use extranets for business-to-business communications, and users. Any business associate that the organization grants authentication credentials can access the extranet. Extranet users must pass the authentication processes to gain access to any area of the extranet, but, intranet users may only be asked to present log on IDs and passwords for certain areas of the intranet because authentication purposes may already be fulfilled for general areas when the employee first logged on to the company’s network.

Function

An intranet is a local-area network developed to serve an institution, organization or group as a private network. Intranets use Internet protocols, but have restricted access and mostly come installed with security passwords, firewalls and protocols to bar outsiders and hackers. An extranet is an extended form of an intranet that uses Internet technology to share part of an organization, institution or group’s information and other operations with affiliates including clients, suppliers, vendors and other businesses.

Access Limitations

Intranets limit access to information and communication to authorized people within a certain perimeter – usually those employed by the organization. Any access from outside the organization is likely a form of hacking. On the other hand, an extranet is intended to serve external associates such as business partners and customers. The access that these external associates gain is usually limited to specific areas, such as marketing information or information directly related to the associate.

Security

Security measures and the security risk exposures that each platform experience are different. An intranet can either be hosted on a local-area network or secured behind a firewall. This platform is entirely internal, and while users may have access to the Internet via their company’s intranet, the organization’s firewalls block all external user attempts to connect to its intranet. Extranets are also protected by firewalls that restrict connection and access to the organization’s network, but invited extranet business associates receive access beyond the firewalls after passing authentication processes.

Purpose

In many cases, organizations use extranets to provide their business associates with direct access to the organization's network using Internet protocols. For example, extranets enable clients to place orders or review order histories and access help documents without having contact with the organization’s staff. Intranets, however, are used for communication and information sharing strictly within the organization. This may include payroll management, employee benefits information, internal recruiting and internal company updates.

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