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RDP is a menace – companies need SDP

Here’s what you need to know.

project manager laptop office
Image: StackSocial

Companies flocked to RDP in droves during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this decision has come back to haunt many of them. RDP’s many security issues make an understanding of what is SASE and SDP essential for any organization with a remote workforce.

Why Organizations are Suddenly Adopting RDP

COVID-19 changed the way that many companies did business. Within a matter of weeks, many organizations transitioned from an entirely on-site workforce to mostly or wholly remote.

With this shift to remote work, companies needed a way to allow employees to work from home. Few organizations had issued sufficient corporate laptops to allow a seamless transition, and the sudden surge in demand meant that many companies had to settle for employees working from personal devices.

Widespread remote work and use of personal devices for business spurred a surge in the use of RDP for several reasons, including:

  • Software and Licensing: Many employees use specialized software for their work, which can be challenging to install and expensive to license. With RDP, these employees can work from home by remotely controlling their corporate machines and using the software already installed on them.
  • Supported Systems: Employees may have a range of personal devices, including both computers with different OSs (Windows, Mac, Linux) and mobile devices. RDP solves the potential problem of necessary software not being available on these devices.
  • Data Security: Downloading sensitive data to personal devices and accessing it over insecure networks can cause data security and regulatory compliance issues. With RDP, there is no need for the actual data to leave the enterprise network.

These and other factors spurred widespread usage of RDP in 2020 and into 2021. However, RDP is not a perfect solution for remote work.

The Security Issues of RDP

RDP is capable of supporting a remote workforce with minimal changes to an organization’s existing IT infrastructure. However, it also can create significant security problems for an organization, including:

  • Account Takeover: RDP is a common attack vector for cybercriminals looking to gain access to an organization’s environment. Since RDP exposes an authentication portal to the public Internet, cybercriminals can perform credential stuffing or brute force password guessing attacks to take advantage of weak employee credentials. A successful attack provides access to the employee’s corporate computer and the enterprise network.
  • Malware Infections: The ability to perform account takeover attacks using RDP has made it a favorite infection vector for ransomware gangs. Once they gain access to a corporate environment, these groups can plant and execute their malware directly rather than trying to achieve code execution by exploiting an unpatched vulnerability.
  • Lateral Movement: Initial access is not the only reason that cybercriminals love RDP. Last year, 69% of security incidents involved the use of RDP for lateral movement within an organization’s environment. This allows attackers to expand their access from an initial foothold to high-value resources within an organization’s infrastructure.

These are only some of the security issues associated with RDP. While it is a useful tool, it can also be a severe security liability for an organization.

SDP Enables Truly Secure Remote Access

The primary issue with RDP is that it does not implement strong access management, and legacy security solutions do not solve this problem. Legacy remote access security solutions, such as virtual private networks (VPNs), are designed to secure communications between the remote worker and the corporate network but provide unrestricted access to enterprise resources to legitimate users. When deployed in front of RDP, they can help to restrict access to the RDP system but do nothing to limit how it is used.

The fact that RDP is commonly being used for lateral movement demonstrates the inability of legacy, perimeter-based security solutions to protect against its abuse. When an attacker is performing lateral movement, they are already inside the network, where these solutions are blind and powerless.

SDP, also known as zero-trust network access (ZTNA), provides a genuinely secure option for remote access. Unlike VPNs, which have no access restrictions, SDP/ZTNA provides access to corporate resources on a case-by-case basis. These access decisions are made based on role-based access control (RBAC), enabling an organization to effectively implement a zero-trust security strategy.

RDP provides the functionality that employees need to do their jobs from anywhere, but it lacks a necessary level of security. With its support for zero-trust security, SDP provides a more secure means of supporting a remote workforce.

SASE Enables SDP Deployment at Scale

Like any corporate networking or security solution, the main challenge with SDP is implementing it at scale across the entire enterprise network. This is where SASE enters the picture.

SASE is a cloud-based solution that combines the network optimization of SD-WAN with a full security stack. With a network of SASE points of presence (PoPs), an organization can implement a secure, optimized corporate WAN without the need for standalone network security appliances.

An invaluable feature of SASE is the fact that it incorporates SDP/ZTNA as one of the built-in functions of its integrated security stack. By making the switch to SASE, an organization both improves the security of its remote workforce and also streamlines and optimizes the performance and security of the corporate WAN.

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Chris has been blogging since the early days of the internet. He primarily focuses on topics related to tech, business, marketing, and pretty much anything else that revolves around tech. When he's not writing, you can find him noodling around on a guitar or cooking up a mean storm for friends and family.

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