Today, remote work has become the norm for many organizations, and the reliance on technologies like Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) has surged. As more organizations come to use RDP, the number of security risks associated with remote access has also increased exponentially. By overlooking the dangers of remote workflows, many organizations unknowingly expose themselves to numerous cybersecurity risks. For example, RDPs can be the perfect vehicle for deploying malware or targeted ransomware campaigns.

How Does RDP Work?

Remote Desktop Protocol, commonly known as RDP, serves as the digital bridge between a user’s device and a remote computer or server. It’s the technology that allows you to access and control another computer from a distance. Think of it as a virtual connection that simulates sitting in front of the remote computer.

To make this possible, RDP relies on a few key components:

  • Client: This is your device — the one you’re using to access the remote system.
  • Host: This is the remote computer or server you want to connect to.
  • RDP Protocol: The set of rules and procedures that govern the communication between the client and the host.
  • Remote Desktop Services (RDS): The host-side software that manages incoming RDP connections.

Why Is RDP Vital for Modern Businesses?

The modern work landscape has shifted. Remote work, once considered a perk, has become a necessity for businesses worldwide. RDP plays a pivotal role in enabling remote work. It allows employees to access company resources, collaborate on projects, and troubleshoot issues on remote servers, all from the comfort of their home offices.

Scalability and Efficiency

RDP doesn’t just facilitate remote work; it makes it efficient and scalable. Businesses can scale their operations seamlessly by adding or removing remote users. This allows organizations to adapt quickly to changing business needs without costly infrastructure changes.

What Are the Security Risks of RDP?

Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a versatile tool, but like any technology, it has its vulnerabilities. Cybercriminals are highly skilled at identifying and exploiting these weaknesses. Below, we’ll delve into some of the most prevalent security threats associated with RDP:

Brute Force Attacks

Brute force attacks are akin to a digital guessing game. Attackers methodically try numerous combinations of usernames and passwords until they stumble upon the correct one. Essentially, it’s a trial-and-error approach that relies on the probability that, eventually, they will guess the right credentials. While this methodology may sound inefficient, quantum-enabled tools have drastically increased the potential effectiveness of brute-force attacks. 

Social Engineering and Credential Theft

Cybercriminals employ various methods to pilfer login credentials. These include (but are by no means limited to): 

  • Phishing Attacks: Attackers send deceptive emails or messages designed to trick recipients into revealing their login information.
  • Keyloggers: Malicious software silently records keystrokes, capturing usernames and passwords as users type them.
  • Credential Harvesting from Past Data Breaches: If a user’s credentials are compromised in a separate data breach, cybercriminals may employ these stolen credentials to gain unauthorized access to RDP services.

Software Vulnerabilities

Like any software, RDP software can have vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities may exist in the form of bugs, errors, or overlooked security gaps. Cybercriminals often target unpatched or outdated RDP software, as it may harbor known vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit to gain unauthorized access.

Case Study: The SamSam Ransomware Campaigns

RDP security threats aren’t just theoretical risks; they have real-world consequences. Take the SamSam ransomware attacks, for instance. While the initial incidents of this attack predate the remote work surge COVID-19 era, they vividly illustrate the tangible impact of RDP vulnerabilities, emphasizing the urgency of securing RDP access. 

The SamSam attacks focused on infecting internal networks to extract ransom payments from organizations that could not afford the time or risk it would take to recover their files without paying. Later analysis of the affected networks indicated that, among other means of gaining access, attackers had purchased stolen RDP credentials, which they used to grant themselves administrative access and plant the ransomware executable file. 

This malicious campaign resulted in significant financial losses, operational disruptions, and reputational damage to affected organizations. 

Responding to RDP Security Risks 

There are a number of standard methods used to reduce potential RDP vulnerabilities. First, using strong and unique passwords is essential to thwart potential attackers. Account lockout policies should also be implemented to counter brute force attacks, preventing unauthorized access attempts.

Keeping RDP software and systems up to date is equally vital, as it helps address known vulnerabilities. Furthermore, network segmentation can be employed to isolate RDP services from critical systems, effectively reducing the attack surface. 

Additionally, implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) serves as a significant security enhancement. MFA requires users to provide multiple forms of identification before granting access, ensuring that even if an attacker possesses the password, they cannot access the system without the additional authentication factor.

The Role of Zero-Trust and Self-Protecting-Data

While the above methods are helpful, they fail to address the most fundamental weaknesses of network access tools like RDP. Traditionally, organizational data has been hidden behind firewalls and is left vulnerable to those already inside the system. However, Sertainty has redefined how information is protected to ensure data privacy even where firewalls and other security measures fail. 

Unlike conventional cybersecurity methods, zero-trust network access does not depend on networks and devices remaining secure. Rather than relying on security perimeters with the assumption that users within a system have the right to access its information, zero-trust security demands continuous verification. Meanwhile, Self-Protecting-Data capabilities enable files to protect themselves when faced with unauthorized access or even unauthorized actions from legitimate users.

These protocols support conventional perimeter security measures, turning firewalls into the first layer of defense rather than the sole source of protection for your files. This means that, in addition to enhancing your network access security, Self-Protecting-Data also prevents insiders from creating chaos.

Sertainty Data Security

Sertainty leverages proprietary processes through its UXP Technology that enable data to govern, track, and defend itself — whether in flight, in a developer’s sandbox, or in storage. These UXP Technology protocols mean that even if systems are compromised by AI tools or accessed from the inside, all data stored in them remains secure. 

At Sertainty, we know that the ability to maintain secure files is the most valuable asset to your organization’s continued success. Our industry-leading Data Privacy Platform has pioneered what it means for data to be intelligent and actionable, helping companies move forward with a proven and sustainable approach to their cybersecurity needs. 

As the digital landscape evolves and networks become more widely accessible, Sertainty is committed to providing self-protecting data solutions that evolve and grow to defend sensitive data. With the proliferation of vulnerable remote systems, security breaches may be inevitable, but with Sertainty, privacy loss doesn’t have to be.