The underground economy of the initial access brokers (IABs) is more flourishing than ever. At least this is one of the conclusions of the recent report “Hi-Tech Crime Trends 2022/2023” released by Group-IB. Initial access brokers exploit vulnerabilities or misconfigurations to get hold of valid access credentials (typically VPN or RDP) and outsource or sell them to criminal gangs, including ransomware operators.
Between H2 2021 and H1 2022, the researchers detected 2,348 instances of corporate access put up for sale. This is approximately twice as much as during the previous period (1,099 access offers), for a total size of the market for selling access to corporate networks on the dark web of nearly $6.6M (down from the $7.2M of the previous period H2 2020-H1 2021). This is a decrease in consequence of both a wider offer (not a good sign) and a drop in the average price of a compromised access, about $2,800, which is more than half of the average price during the previous year ($6,500).
The analysis of the access types provides additional insights: overall, 70% of those put up for sale were RDP and VPN accounts (a result in line with the previous year.) Access to Citrix, various web panels (CMS, cloud solutions, etc.), and web shells on compromised servers were less common.
Needless to say, such a widespread availability of compromised credentials had an impact even on the techniques used by ransomware operators (the main customers of IABs) to gain the initial access. External remote access services, especially RDP and VPNs, were extensively used by ransomware affiliates, together with the exploitation of public-facing applications, and ahead of “more traditional” attack vectors such as phishing and drive-by compromise.
Mitigating the risk of vulnerable access services and public-facing applications
Netskope Private Access allows you to publish resources in a simple and secure manner, providing a Zero Trust alternative to legacy VPNs and remote access technologies, and preventing the direct exposure of services like RDP or SSH. It is possible to publish and segment virtually any application located in a local data center, as well as in a private or public cloud, without opening any inbound service that can be probed by threat actors, such as initial access brokers. There is no need for any on-prem hardware device to install, patch, and maintain, which avoids scalability issues and performance bottlenecks. Finally, a check on the security posture of the endpoint is enforced before accessing the target application.
A specific dashboard of Netskope Advanced Analytics allows real-time monitoring of the app utilization, providing actionable insights about user activity and which apps are the most accessed (and exposed), hence supporting the operation team to identify anomalies and maintain the security posture.