McAfee’s Advanced Threat Research team recently discovered that hackers have access to many organizations that have weak credentials when using Microsoft’s Remote Desktop component in Windows-based systems. Access to these organizations — whether it’s an airport, a hospital or the U.S. government — can be bought for little money through specific shops on the dark web.
Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) essentially allows you to connect and use a Windows-based PC from a remote location. When those login credentials are weak, hackers can use brute force attacks to gain the username and password for each connection. McAfee found connections up for sale across various RDP shops on the dark web ranging between a mere 15 to a staggering 40,000 connections.
“The advertised systems ranged from Windows XP through Windows 10,” says John Fokker, McAfee’sHead of Cyber Investigations. “Windows 2008 and 2012 Server were the most abundant systems, with around 11,000 and 6,500, respectively, for sale. Prices ranged from around $3 for a simple configuration to $19 for a high-bandwidth system that offered access with administrator rights.”
Among the list of devices, services and networks on the menu are multiple government systems on sale worldwide, including those linked to the United States. The team found connections to a variety of healthcare institutions including medical equipment shops, hospitals, and more. They even found access to security and building automation systems at a major international airport selling for a mere $10.
The problem doesn’t just revolve around desktops, laptops, and servers. Internet of Things devices based on Windows Embedded are also on the menu such as point-of-sale systems, kiosks, parking meters, thin client PCs and more. Many are overlooked and not updated, making them a quiet entryway for hackers.
Black market sellers gain RDP credentials by scanning the internet for systems that accept RDP connections, and then use tools like Hydra, NLBrute and RDP Forcer to attack the login using stolen credentials and password dictionaries. Once they successfully log into the remote PC, they don’t do anything but put the connection details up for sale.
After hackers pay for a connection, they can bring a corporation down to its knees. For instance, a hacker could pay a mere $10 for a connection, infiltrate the network to encrypt the files of every PC, and demand a $40,000 ransom. Compromised PCs can also be used to deliver spam, misdirect illegal activity and mine cryptocurrency. Access is also good for stealing personal information and company trade secrets.
“We found a newly posted Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard machine on the UAS Shop,” Fokker writes. “According to the shop details, it belonged to a city in the United States and for a mere $10 we could get administrator rights to this system. UAS Shop hides the last two octets the of the IP addresses of the systems it offers for sale and charges a small fee for the complete address.”
The solution, according to McAfee, is that organizations need to do a better job at checking all their virtual “doors and windows” so hackers can’t sneak in. Remote access should be secure and not easily exploitable.