The Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is one of the top tools utilized by cyber attackers to move laterally and exfiltrate data from a network before introducing their malicious software to perform internal reconnaissance, according to a new Vectra 2019 Spotlight Report on RDP.

RDP is used by IT system administrators to centrally control their remote systems with the same functionality as if they were local, and RDP is an even more vital tool for managed service providers (MSPs) in their management of hundreds of client networks and systems, notes the report. Three major attack scenarios in 2019  – an Iranian cyber-espionage group; a Chinese state sponsored actor; and a healthcare ransomware extortion scheme –  leveraged RDP as part of the broader campaign, says the report. 

In September 2018, the FBI warned that the malicious use of RDP “has been on the rise since mid-late 2016," says the report. The FBI also reported that several high-profile ransomware attacks, such as Samsam and CrySiS, utilized RDP to laterally move inside of networks. Data from the report shows that 90 percent of the organizations exhibited some form of malicious RDP behaviors between January-June 2019.

Additional findings from the report include:

  • From January-June 2019, 26,800 suspicious RDP behaviors in more than 350 deployments were detected. 
  • Manufacturing and finance organizations have the highest rate of RDP detections at 10 and eight detections per 10,000 workloads and devices, respectively.
  • The top five at-risk industries are manufacturing, finance and insurance, retail, government and healthcare. The top three industries – manufacturing, finance and insurance, and retail – together account for almost half (49.8 percent) of all RDP detections.
  • Within the manufacturing industry, mid-sized organizations had the highest rate of RDP detections at a rate of 20 per 10,000 workloads or devices, which is 82 percent higher than medium-sized retail and 100 percent higher than small finance and insurance organizations.