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Over a two-week period, the computer networks at more than half of the Fortune 500 left a remote access protocol dangerously exposed to the internet, something many experts warn should never happen, according to new research by the security firm Expanse and 451 research.

Why it matters: According to Coveware, more than 60% of ransomware is installed via a Windows remote access feature called Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). It's a protocol that's fine in secure environments but once exposed to the open internet can, at its best, allow attackers to disrupt access and, at its worst, be vulnerable to hacking itself.

What is RDP: RDP is a way of offering virtual access to a single computer. It allows, for example, an IT staffer in one office to provide tech support for a baffled user in a different office.

  • But RDP is best used over a secured network rather than over the open internet.
  • "We compare exposed RDP to leaving a computer attached to your network out on your lawn," Matt Kraning, co-founder and CTO of Expanse, told Axios.
  • It's an opinion shared by experts at McAfee and Sophos, who note that in the absence of multifactor authentication, the protocol can often be hacked into with only a few hours guessing common passwords.
  • Even in ideal circumstances, when passwords are strong, a malicious actor could overwhelm an RDP connection with traffic (known as a DDoS attack).

What they found: The Expanse/451 study found that 53.4% of Fortune 500 companies had an RDP exposure over a two-week period scanning for open RDP ports.

  • The technical sophistication of the companies didn't seem to have much impact on RDP exposures. For example, around 80% of hospitality industry companies and just under 80% of defense and aerospace companies had at least one exposure, even though defense and aerospace are among the most security-conscious sectors.
  • Cybersecurity budget, either as a percentage of the annual budget or total spending, also had no consistent effect on exposure. By percentage of budget, 43% of companies in the lowest-spending quartile had exposures, compared to 53% of those in the top spending quartile.

The bottom line: The threat of RDP exposures often fly under the radar. "IT staffs are really good at looking at what they know about, but not at what they don’t," said Kraning.

  • "If Fortune 500 companies have exposures, what chance do smaller companies have," he added.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

4 hours ago - Health

Fauci: Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned on Sunday that the COVID-19 Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in the United States.

Driving the news: Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that U.S. officials will meet with colleagues from South Africa later on Sunday to try to determine the severity of the cases, as countries scramble to learn more about the variant.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Dems fear supply-chain blame

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As supply-chain kinks drive up prices and disrupt holiday shopping, Democrats are scrambling to show action and deflect blame.

Why it matters: With their party controlling both the White House and Capitol, vulnerable Democrats worry supply-chain snafus will hurt them in next year's midterms.

6 hours ago - World

Scoop: Germany urges Congress not to sanction Putin’s pipeline

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The German government has urged members of Congress not to sanction the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, arguing that doing so will "weaken" U.S. credibility and "ultimately damage transatlantic unity," according to documents obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: At a time when roughly 100,000 Russian troops are massing at its border, Ukraine views Nord Stream 2 as an existential threat to its security. The pipeline would circumvent Ukrainian transit infrastructure and deliver Russian gas directly to Germany, eliminating one of the last deterrents Ukraine has against an invasion.

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