Advanced SOC Operations / CSOC , DDoS Protection , Incident & Breach Response

xDedic: What to Do If Your RDP Server Was Pwned

Advice on Guarding Against Stolen Credentials Misuse and Related Risks
xDedic: What to Do If Your RDP Server Was Pwned

As many as 250,000 credentials for Remote Desktop Protocol servers around the world may have been offered for sale on the now-shuttered xDedic cybercrime marketplace. If an organization suspects credentials to servers may have been traded by cybercriminals, what can they do to mitigate related risks and avoid a major network intrusion?

See Also: Building Security from Within: Empowering Software Teams for Resilience

Security experts advise information security professionals to take several important steps that go far beyond simply changing credentials. For example, it's urgent that they scan all public listed IPs for any open RDP or SSH ports and block them, in addition to carefully monitoring for unusual behavior on their networks.

Kaspersky Lab described the credential exposure in a June 15 blog. In a followup June 20 blog, the security firm explained why the amount of credentials exposed could be higher than originally estimated (see: Compromised RDP Server Tally From xDedic May Be Higher).

Kaspersky is advising organizations to check with their local CERT for information on whether their credentials were exposed on xDedic.

Even though the xDedic marketplace has been shut down, many criminals could still have access to the credentials that were offered for sale for as little as $6 each, says Vitaly Kamluk, Kaspersky Lab's principal security researcher for APAC. And that means thousands of organizations could be vulnerable to hacker attacks.

Implications of Stolen Credentials

If attackers have access to an RDP server credential, they could try to use it to quickly establish a foothold in the network and compromise additional servers, establishing a "beachhead" before these credentials get revoked.

Even if credentials for just one server from an organization were listed on xDedic, it's likely that nearly every server in that organization's DMZ network could be compromised by hackers using those credentials, says K.K. Mookhey, founder and principal consultant at NII Consulting in India. That's because in typical setups, security controls exist between network segments and not within each segment.

Deeper penetration is also likely where the DMZ barrier can be crossed through the traffic allowed between the DMZ and the internal server segment, Mookhey says. "There is really no practical purpose to allow an RDP port to be accessible on a public IP address, and my first step would be to scan for and close public facing RDP & SSH ports," he says.

Sahir Hidayatullah, CEO of the Mumbai-based security firm Smokescreen, says such lateral movement is indeed, a major concern. "The attackers will move laterally off the compromised system extremely quickly and try to establish multiple command-and-control channels as they know they will likely lose the initial access," he says.

Detecting this lateral movement is difficult if the attackers don't move between network segments because the IDS/IPS sensors that are located between segments won't get triggered, Hidayatullah explains.

Attackers also may make attempts to escalate privileges, which means any other accounts that logged into the system should also be considered at risk, he adds.

Even worse, just de-authorizing the compromised credentials or cutting off access could signal to the attackers that they've been discovered. Then they might attempt to operate in stealth mode, making them harder to detect. Or they might even avoid the environment for a time, returning after the security team believes the breach has been resolved, Hidayatullah says.

In the meantime, the attackers may try to sniff out other credentials that will enable them to return via a legitimate channel and ditch the RDP route altogether - VPN for instance - and the organization then has very little hope of pin pointing them, Hidayatullah says.

RDP & SSH brute force attacks have been prevalent for the last 18 months, largely due to poor passwords and failure to restrict RDP services, says Shomiron Das Gupta, founder at Indian security services firm Netmonastery. Such attacks can permit the intruders to install backdoors and complete code drops for APT-style attacks, he says.

Remediating RDP-driven Compromises

Experts say organizations can take several steps to remediate the risk stemming from stolen RDP credentials. In addition to closing RDP and SSH ports, organizations should:

  • Monitor for unusual behavior. Attacker movement can be difficult to pinpoint, even with the right tools. Look for unusual behavior and strange access patterns - out of office hours use, for instance, Hidayatullah advises. Also, look for newly created accounts on other systems on the same network segment and any other areas the attackers may have accessed (see: Role Based Behavior Analytics - Patterns and Anomalies in User Behavior as Indicators of Attack).
  • Mandate two-factor authentication. Remote access should be via VPN and require two-factor authentication. If organizations complying with PCI DSS, this is mandatory in any case, Mookhey notes.
  • Adopt strong password policies. Monitor for weak passwords and password reuse. This is one of the major causes for these kinds of attacks today, Das Gupta says.
  • Implement privileged ID management.This can help prevent one server compromise from leading to other compromises through the shared administrator/root account credentials.
  • Use deception and decoys. Deception technology and commercial honeypot systems are effective in picking up intruders' activities, Hidayatullah says. "The attacker hits the decoy systems both during the brute force process and in the lateral movement phase. Deploying decoys in DMZ networks have shown so much value that it's pretty much the first thing we recommend now," he says. Decoy credentials, which can be left on systems around the network to be discovered by attackers, are also helpful. "This way, when an attacker compromises a system and then tries to escalate privileges, they encounter the decoy credentials that trigger when used," Hidayatullah explains.

Pinpointing attacker movement in the initial phases of such attacks is essential, and honeypots and other sensors are becoming an increasingly valuable source of intel, experts says. Mookhey also recommends the use of open-source big data setups such as ELK (Elasticsearch, Logstash, Kibana) to visualize and analyze raw data and mine it for security intelligence. And he suggests that organizations run red team attacks on their environments at least annually to help determine if they can detect when a privileged ID is being misused.

About the Author

Varun Haran

Varun Haran

Managing Director, Asia & Middle East, ISMG

Haran has been a technology journalist in the Indian market for over six years, covering the enterprise technology segment and specializing in information security. He has driven multiple industry events such as the India Computer Security Conferences (ICSC) and the first edition of the Ground Zero Summit 2013 during his stint at UBM. Prior to joining ISMG, Haran was first a reporter with TechTarget writing for SearchSecurity and SearchCIO; and later, correspondent with InformationWeek, where he covered enterprise technology-related topics for the CIO and IT practitioner.

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