July 19, 2018 By David Bisson 2 min read

Cybercriminals have been selling remote desktop protocol (RDP) access to compromised machines on business networks through Dark Web marketplaces, according to July 2018 research from McAfee. Bad actors can do a lot with this access, including committing other acts of fraud and facilitating data breaches.

Given the widespread use of the protocol, organizations should implement basic security measures and password hygiene practices to protect themselves from this threat.

Dark Web Shops Offer Cheap Access to Breached Systems

While analyzing underground web marketplaces, the McAfee Advanced Threat Research team came across several “RDP shops” selling access to vulnerable systems. Some of these shops offered access to more than a dozen connections. Others, most notably the Ultimate Anonymity Service (UAS), had more than 40,000 links up for sale.

Most of these systems consisted of computers running Windows XP through Windows 10, with Windows 2008 and 2012 Server the most prevalent at 11,000 and 6,500 links, respectively. Access to those systems ranged in value from $3 to $19, with dozens of connections linked to healthcare institutions. McAfee’s most significant find was an offering that promised access to the security and building automation systems of a major international airport for just $10.

RDP Access: A Versatile Threat

Flashpoint cybercrime analyst Olivia Rowley explained that RDP access is such a hot commodity because attackers can use it to facilitate a wide variety of crimes.

“For some cybercriminals, it may be more advantageous to use a compromised RDP as a staging ground for conducting other fraud, such as making a fraudulent purchase,” Rowley said, as quoted by Dark Reading in November 2017. “Cybercriminals may also find that the compromised RDP contains sensitive files or other proprietary information, thus making the RDP a tool for conducting data breaches.”

A proprietary protocol from Microsoft, the RDP potentially leaves enterprises exposed to attackers because it allows users to control computers over a network remotely. While it’s designed to help simplify administrative tasks for businesses, attackers can abuse the protocol to remotely access computers on an internal network, including those containing sensitive information. They can then either steal that information or conduct a Samsam ransomware attack to extort payments from victims.

How Can Companies Thwart RDP Attacks?

To minimize the threat of RDP attacks, according to the McAfee report, organizations should disallow RDP connections over the open web, restrict the number of failed login attempts before an account is locked and use multifactor authentication (MFA) to make brute-force attacks more difficult.

Perhaps most importantly, security leaders should work to increase cyber awareness among employees — especially as it relates to password hygiene — through continuous training and education.

More from

ONCD releases 2024 Report on the Cybersecurity Posture of the U.S.

4 min read - On May 7, the Office of the National Cyber Director (ONCD) released the 2024 Report on the Cybersecurity Posture of the United States. This new document is a report card on how well cyber policy followed the guidelines set by the National Cybersecurity Strategy, introduced in March 2023. Here’s what you need to know about the newly released report. Fundamental shifts in cyber roles Over the past year, the U.S. national cybersecurity posture was driven by the 2023 National Cybersecurity…

CISA wants private industry to publicly commit to Secure by Design

4 min read - The tech industry has the power to protect the world from nation-state threat attacks, cyber crime and those wanting to compromise data and manipulate critical infrastructure. But with this power comes great responsibility, which, to be honest, the tech industry has not been that interested in holding. But at the RSA Conference (RSAC) in San Francisco, the cybersecurity and tech communities took steps to exert some power and take responsibility. They took the Secure by Design pledge, a promise to…

Change Healthcare discloses $22M ransomware payment

3 min read - UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty found himself answering questions in front of Congress on May 1 regarding the Change Healthcare ransomware attack that occurred in February. During the hearing, he admitted that his organization paid the attacker's ransomware request. It has been reported that the hacker organization BlackCat, also known as ALPHV, received a payment of $22 million via Bitcoin.Even though they made the ransomware payment, Witty shared that Change Healthcare did not get its data back. This is a…

Topic updates

Get email updates and stay ahead of the latest threats to the security landscape, thought leadership and research.
Subscribe today