A comprehensive approach to detecting RDP login failures

Syspeace’s way of detecting Windows logon failures is based on using the audit events produced by Windows. This is reliable and non-invasive, but in some cases there are oddities.

When a login succeeds or fails during Remote Desktop/Terminal Services authentication during authentication with the TLS/Negotiate layer (a newer way of authenticating), the event is logged, but there is no reference to the IP address of the remote computer. Without this, Syspeace would not know who to block in case the login failure is part of a pattern that would be blocked. There are workarounds like using the RDP Security Layer (an older way of authenticating) to force Windows to use another piece of code that will include the IP address information, but our customers are finding that they don’t wish to use this.

Syspeace 2.7.0, available today, brings a comprehensive solution to this problem.

In Windows Server 2003, only RDP Security Layer (the older way of authenticating) is available, and therefore the problem does not occur. In Windows Server 2016, the oddity has been fixed – the event does include the IP address once again, and therefore the problem does not occur.

In Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2, the oddity can be fairly easily corrected due to the fact that the missing information is present in different logs. Syspeace has all the information it needs by reading supplemental events. Our algorithm for doing this is improved in Syspeace 2.7.0.

This leaves Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2, where there are no supplemental events. What are we to do?

There is a solution that is very roundabout, but that nevertheless provides us with the hints we need to be able to supply the IP address. That solution is to open a network socket and literally listen to all the incoming packets, filter down to just the packets on the RDP port and extract the information about the relevant IP address out of the structural header information.

So starting with Syspeace 2.7.0, Syspeace will be capable of using the strategy above with these caveats:

  • You must opt in by turning on a setting called “Traffic-based Remote Desktop/Terminal Services IP detection”. You must turn this level of protection on for yourself. It is not turned on by default.
  • The code that does this runs in another process, Syspeace.SpecialRdpDetector.exe, both for isolation and performance reasons. If you turn off the setting, the process shuts down. If you turn on the setting, it starts back up again. It is there to do this one job. If you so wish or deem necessary, you can delete this executable and prevent it from ever being used. (If you do, the setting will naturally be disabled.)
  • Syspeace.SpecialRdpDetector.exe is not obfuscated. If you so wish or deem necessary, you are able to verify that the code does what we say it does.
  • In fact, the code for Syspeace.SpecialRdpDetector.exe is available upon request.

This is our way of being pragmatic about this issue while tending to the needs of our customers. As a security product, we will need to do things that require administrative privileges and having deep access to our customers’ systems. But we are always careful to be as non-invasive as possible and to never help ourselves to information that does not directly advance the cause of protection. We aim to do the minimum possible work to get the job done and we aim to treat our customers and their servers with respect, and provide the product that behaves in the way that we, as customers, would like it to behave.

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