Windows RDP servers are abused to amplify DDoS attacks

Cybercrime gangs are abusing Windows Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) systems to bounce and amplify junk traffic as part of DDoS attacks, security firm Netscout said in a alert Tuesday.

Not all RDP servers can be misused, but only systems where RDP authentication is also enabled on UDP port 3389 in addition to standard TCP port 3389.

Netscout said attackers can send malformed UDP packets to the UDP ports of RDP servers that will reflect on the target of a DDoS attack, amplified in size, resulting in junk traffic hitting the target’s system.

This is what security researchers call a DDoS booster factor, and it allows attackers with access to limited resources to launch large-scale DDoS attacks by amplifying junk traffic with the help of systems exposed to the Internet.

In the case of RDP, Netscout said the amplification factor is 85.9, with attackers sending a few bytes and generating “attack packets” that are “consistently 1,260 bytes long”.

A factor of 85.9 places RDP at the top of DDoS amplification vectors, with Jenkins servers (~ 100), DNS (up to 179), WS-Discovery (300-500), NTP (~ 550), and Memcached (~ 50,000) .

RDP servers already abused for real-world attacks

But the bad news doesn’t end with the amplification factor. Netscout said threat actors also learned about this new vector, which is now being heavily abused.

“As is usually the case with the latest DDoS attack vectors, it appears that after an initial hiring period by advanced attackers with access to a bespoke DDoS attack infrastructure, RDP reflection / amplification has been armed and added to the arsenals of so-called DDoS-for-Hire booter / stressers, putting it within reach of the general attacker population, “the researchers said.

Netscout is now asking system administrators running RDP servers exposed on the Internet to take systems offline, pass them to the equivalent TCP port, or put RDP servers behind VPN to restrict who can interact with vulnerable systems.

Currently, Netscout said it is detecting more than 33,000 RDP servers exposed online and running on UDP port 3389.

Since December 2018, five new DDoS amplification sources have come to light. These include Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP), Web Services Dynamic Discovery (WS-DD), Apple Remote Management Service (ARMS), Jenkins servers, and Citrix gateways.

According to the FBI, the top four have been abused in real-world attacks.


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