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Remote Desktop Protocol

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] There are other implementations and third-party tools that provide graphical access Remote Services similar to RDS.

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]

Adversaries may also perform RDP session hijacking which involves stealing a legitimate user's remote session. Typically, a user is notified when someone else is trying to steal their session and prompted with a question. With System permissions and using Terminal Services Console, c:\windows\system32\tscon.exe [session number to be stolen], an adversary can hijack a session without the need for credentials or prompts to the user. [3] This can be done remotely or locally and with active or disconnected sessions. [4] It can also lead to Remote System Discovery and Privilege Escalation by stealing a Domain Admin or higher privileged account session. All of this can be done by using native Windows commands, but it has also been added as a feature in RedSnarf. [5]

ID: T1076
Tactic: Lateral Movement
Platform: 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: 31 May 2017
Last Modified: 18 July 2019

Procedure Examples

Name Description

The APT1 group is known to have used RDP during operations.[24]


APT3 enables the Remote Desktop Protocol for persistence.[23]


APT39 has been seen using RDP for lateral movement and persistence.[40]


APT41 used RDP for lateral movement.[43]


The Axiom group is known to have used RDP during operations.[38]


Carbanak enables concurrent Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP).[15]

Cobalt Group

Cobalt Group has used Remote Desktop Protocol to conduct lateral movement.[22]

Cobalt Strike

Cobalt Strike can start a VNC-based remote desktop server and tunnel the connection through the already established C2 channel.[12]


DarkComet can open an active screen of the victim’s machine and take control of the mouse and keyboard.[14]

Dragonfly 2.0

Dragonfly 2.0 moved laterally via RDP.[34][35]


FIN10 has used RDP to move laterally to systems in the victim environment.[36]


FIN6 used RDP to move laterally in victim networks.[25][26]


FIN8 has used RDP for Lateral Movement.[31]


jRAT can support RDP control.[17]


Koadic can enable remote desktop on the victim's machine.[10]

Lazarus Group

Lazarus Group malware SierraCharlie uses RDP for propagation.[27][28]


Leviathan has targeted RDP credentials and used it to move through the victim environment. [41]


menuPass has used RDP connections to move across the victim network.[32][33]


njRAT has a module for performing remote desktop access.[20]


OilRig has used Remote Desktop Protocol for lateral movement. The group has also used tunneling tools to tunnel RDP into the environment.[29][30]


Patchwork attempted to use RDP to move laterally.[37]


Pupy can enable/disable RDP connection and can start a remote desktop session using a browser web socket client.[11]


QuasarRAT has a module for performing remote desktop access.[8][9]

Revenge RAT

Revenge RAT has a plugin to perform RDP access.[18]


ServHelper has commands for adding a remote desktop user and sending RDP traffic to the attacker through a reverse SSH tunnel.[19]

Stolen Pencil

Stolen Pencil utilized RDP for direct remote point-and-click access.[39]


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


WannaCry enumerates current remote desktop sessions and tries to execute the malware on each session.[16]


zwShell has used RDP for lateral movement.[13]


ZxShell has remote desktop functionality. [21]


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.[7]

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.[6]

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.

Also, set up process monitoring for tscon.exe usage and monitor service creation that uses cmd.exe /k or cmd.exe /c in its arguments to prevent RDP session hijacking.


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  2. Alperovitch, D. (2014, October 31). Malware-Free Intrusions. Retrieved November 4, 2014.
  3. Korznikov, A. (2017, March 17). Passwordless RDP Session Hijacking Feature All Windows versions. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  4. Beaumont, K. (2017, March 19). RDP hijacking — how to hijack RDS and RemoteApp sessions transparently to move through an organisation. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  5. NCC Group PLC. (2016, November 1). Kali Redsnarf. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
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  7. Berkeley Security, University of California. (n.d.). Securing Remote Desktop for System Administrators. Retrieved November 4, 2014.
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  19. Schwarz, D. and Proofpoint Staff. (2019, January 9). ServHelper and FlawedGrace - New malware introduced by TA505. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  20. Fidelis Cybersecurity. (2013, June 28). Fidelis Threat Advisory #1009: "njRAT" Uncovered. Retrieved June 4, 2019.
  21. Allievi, A., et al. (2014, October 28). Threat Spotlight: Group 72, Opening the ZxShell. Retrieved September 24, 2019.
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  1. valsmith. (2012, September 21). More on APTSim. Retrieved September 28, 2017.
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  10. PwC and BAE Systems. (2017, April). Operation Cloud Hopper. Retrieved April 5, 2017.
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  17. ASERT team. (2018, December 5). STOLEN PENCIL Campaign Targets Academia. Retrieved February 5, 2019.
  18. Hawley et al. (2019, January 29). APT39: An Iranian Cyber Espionage Group Focused on Personal Information. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
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