Remote Services: Remote Desktop Protocol

Adversaries may use Valid Accounts to log into a computer using the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). The adversary may then perform actions as the logged-on user.

Remote desktop is a common feature in operating systems. It allows a user to log into an interactive session with a system desktop graphical user interface on a remote system. Microsoft refers to its implementation of the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) as Remote Desktop Services (RDS).[1]

Adversaries may connect to a remote system over RDP/RDS to expand access if the service is enabled and allows access to accounts with known credentials. Adversaries will likely use Credential Access techniques to acquire credentials to use with RDP. Adversaries may also use RDP in conjunction with the Accessibility Features technique for Persistence.[2]

ID: T1021.001
Sub-technique of:  T1021
Tactic: Lateral Movement
Platforms: Windows
System Requirements: RDP service enabled, account in the Remote Desktop Users group
Permissions Required: Remote Desktop Users, User
Data Sources: Authentication logs, Netflow/Enclave netflow, Process monitoring
Contributors: Matthew Demaske, Adaptforward
Version: 1.0
Created: 11 February 2020
Last Modified: 25 February 2020

Procedure Examples

Name Description

The APT1 group is known to have used RDP during operations.[3]


APT3 enables the Remote Desktop Protocol for persistence.[4] APT3 has also interacted with compromised systems to browse and copy files through RDP sessions.[5]


APT39 has been seen using RDP for lateral movement and persistence, in some cases employing the rdpwinst tool for mangement of multiple sessions. [6][7]


APT41 used RDP for lateral movement.[8]


The Axiom group is known to have used RDP during operations.[9]

Blue Mockingbird

Blue Mockingbird has used Remote Desktop to log on to servers interactively and manually copy files to remote hosts.[10]


Carbanak enables concurrent Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) sessions.[11]


Chimera has used RDP to access targeted systems.[12]

Cobalt Group

Cobalt Group has used Remote Desktop Protocol to conduct lateral movement.[13]

Cobalt Strike

Cobalt Strike can start a VNC-based remote desktop server and tunnel the connection through the already established C2 channel.[14]


DarkComet can open an active screen of the victim’s machine and take control of the mouse and keyboard.[15]

Dragonfly 2.0

Dragonfly 2.0 moved laterally via RDP.[16][17]


FIN10 has used RDP to move laterally to systems in the victim environment.[18]


FIN6 used RDP to move laterally in victim networks.[19][20]


FIN8 has used RDP for Lateral Movement.[21]

Imminent Monitor

Imminent Monitor has a module for performing remote desktop access.[22]


jRAT can support RDP control.[23]


Koadic can enable remote desktop on the victim's machine.[24]

Lazarus Group

Lazarus Group malware SierraCharlie uses RDP for propagation.[25][26]


Leviathan has targeted RDP credentials and used it to move through the victim environment.[27]


menuPass has used RDP connections to move across the victim network.[28][29]


njRAT has a module for performing remote desktop access.[30]


OilRig has used Remote Desktop Protocol for lateral movement. The group has also used tunneling tools to tunnel RDP into the environment.[31][32]


Patchwork attempted to use RDP to move laterally.[33]


Pupy can enable/disable RDP connection and can start a remote desktop session using a browser web socket client.[34]


QuasarRAT has a module for performing remote desktop access.[35][36]

Revenge RAT

Revenge RAT has a plugin to perform RDP access.[37]


SDBot has the ability to use RDP to connect to victim's machines.[38]


ServHelper has commands for adding a remote desktop user and sending RDP traffic to the attacker through a reverse SSH tunnel.[39]


Silence has used RDP for lateral movement.[40]

Stolen Pencil

Stolen Pencil utilized RDP for direct remote point-and-click access. [41]


TEMP.Veles utilized RDP throughout an operation.[42]

Wizard Spider

Wizard Spider has used RDP for lateral movement.[43][44][45]


zwShell has used RDP for lateral movement.[46]


ZxShell has remote desktop functionality.[47]


Mitigation Description

Audit the Remote Desktop Users group membership regularly. Remove unnecessary accounts and groups from Remote Desktop Users groups.

Disable or Remove Feature or Program

Disable the RDP service if it is unnecessary.

Limit Access to Resource Over Network

Use remote desktop gateways.

Multi-factor Authentication

Use multi-factor authentication for remote logins.[48]

Network Segmentation

Do not leave RDP accessible from the internet. Enable firewall rules to block RDP traffic between network security zones within a network.

Operating System Configuration

Change GPOs to define shorter timeouts sessions and maximum amount of time any single session can be active. Change GPOs to specify the maximum amount of time that a disconnected session stays active on the RD session host server.[49]

Privileged Account Management

Consider removing the local Administrators group from the list of groups allowed to log in through RDP.

User Account Management

Limit remote user permissions if remote access is necessary.


Use of RDP may be legitimate, depending on the network environment and how it is used. Other factors, such as access patterns and activity that occurs after a remote login, may indicate suspicious or malicious behavior with RDP. Monitor for user accounts logged into systems they would not normally access or access patterns to multiple systems over a relatively short period of time.


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