What is RPC?

RPC stands for Remote Procedure Call. It's a protocol that one program can use to request a service from a program located on another computer in a network. RPC is used to facilitate communication between software components in a distributed computing environment, making it possible for these components to interact seamlessly despite being located on different machines.

Key aspects of RPC include:

  1. Function Call Abstraction: RPC abstracts the function call mechanism over a network, allowing a local system to call functions on a remote system as if they were local functions.
  2. Client-Server Model: Typically, RPC operates on a client-server model where the client initiates the request and the server provides the service or response.
  3. Transparency: From the programmer's perspective, RPC is designed to appear as a regular local function call. The complexity of the network communication is hidden from the developer.
  4. Communication Protocols: RPC can be implemented over various transport protocols, such as TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) or UDP (User Datagram Protocol).
  5. Procedure Stubs: In RPC, 'stubs' are used to handle the communication details. The client-side stub sends the procedure request over the network and the server-side stub receives this request and invokes the procedure locally.
  6. Serialization: Data sent over the network via RPC is serialized (converted into a stream of bytes) for transmission and then deserialized at the receiving end.
  7. Use in Distributed Systems: RPC is a fundamental technology in distributed computing and is used in various applications, including networked services and distributed file systems.

RPC has evolved over time, and there are different versions and implementations, such as XML-RPC, JSON-RPC, and gRPC (developed by Google). Each comes with its own standards and is suited for different use cases and environments.

Why attackers use RPC for reconnaissance

Attackers often use RPC for reconnaissance due to its integral role in network communication and system management in many IT environments. Here's why RPC is a target for reconnaissance activities:

  1. Network Mapping: RPC can reveal valuable information about network configurations, including details about networked devices, services running on these devices, and their operating systems. This information helps attackers map the network's structure.
  2. Identifying Vulnerable Services: RPC services, if not properly secured, can be vulnerabilities themselves. Attackers scan for open RPC ports to find unsecured or misconfigured services that can be exploited.
  3. Gaining System Information: RPC calls can provide detailed system information, including user accounts, shared resources, and system configurations. This information can be used to plan targeted attacks.
  4. Sidestepping Security Measures: In some networks, RPC traffic is considered legitimate and may not be as closely monitored by security systems. Attackers exploit this to discreetly gather information without raising alarms.
  5. Lateral Movement: Once inside a network, attackers use RPC to communicate with other systems and spread their reach within the network, often leveraging RPC services to execute code remotely.
  6. Exploiting Vulnerabilities: Some versions of RPC have known vulnerabilities. Attackers probe these services to exploit known weaknesses, such as buffer overflows or authentication bypasses.
  7. Credential Harvesting: RPC can sometimes be used to extract authentication information or exploit trust relationships between machines, allowing for credential theft or escalation of privileges.
  8. Automating Attacks: RPC's programmable nature allows attackers to automate their reconnaissance processes, systematically gathering information from multiple systems quickly and efficiently.

Given these factors, it's crucial for organizations to monitor and secure RPC services, implement robust access controls, keep systems patched and updated, and maintain vigilant network monitoring to detect any unauthorized RPC activities.

This illustration provides an abstract depiction of RPC (Remote Procedure Call) reconnaissance within a digital network environment, emphasizing the dynamics of cybersecurity threats and network interactions.

How to detect RPC reconnaissance

Recognizing signs of RPC reconnaissance is crucial in detecting potential cybersecurity threats. Attackers using RPC for reconnaissance typically leave traces that can be detected through vigilant monitoring and analysis. Here are some key signs:

  1. Unusual RPC Traffic Patterns: Sudden spikes or unusual patterns in RPC traffic, especially from unknown or external sources, can be indicative of reconnaissance activities.
  2. Repeated Access Attempts: Multiple failed attempts to access RPC services, often from the same IP address or a range of IP addresses, can signal an attempt to find vulnerabilities or misconfigurations in the RPC setup.
  3. Excessive System Information Requests: An abnormally high number of requests for system information (such as network configurations, user details, and shared resources) over RPC can be a red flag.
  4. Unexpected RPC Port Traffic: Traffic on ports commonly associated with RPC services (like port 135 in Windows environments) from unfamiliar sources should be scrutinized.
  5. Unknown RPC Clients: Connections to RPC services from unknown or untrusted clients can be a sign of unauthorized reconnaissance.
  6. Use of Known Vulnerable RPC Services: Attempts to interact with RPC services known for vulnerabilities might indicate reconnaissance aimed at identifying exploitable weaknesses.
  7. Unusual Times of Activity: RPC activity during off-hours, inconsistent with normal operational patterns, might suggest a reconnaissance effort.
  8. Alerts from Security Tools: Intrusion detection systems, firewalls, or security information and event management (SIEM) systems may trigger alerts based on suspicious RPC activities.
  9. Geographic Irregularities: RPC requests from geographic locations that are unusual for the organization can also suggest reconnaissance activities.
  10. Cross-Protocol Interactions: Unusual patterns where RPC traffic is combined with other protocols in a way that's atypical for normal network operations can be a sign of an advanced reconnaissance technique.

Monitoring for these signs and implementing appropriate security measures, such as firewalls, intrusion detection/prevention systems, and regular network audits, can help organizations detect and respond to RPC reconnaissance attempts, enhancing their overall cybersecurity posture.

Business Impact of a RPC Recon

An RPC recon can have significant and diverse impacts on a business. These impacts often extend beyond immediate security concerns, affecting various aspects of the organization:

  1. Security Breaches: Successful RPC reconnaissance can lead to unauthorized access to sensitive systems and data, resulting in security breaches. This can expose confidential information, including customer data, financial records, and intellectual property.
  2. Operational Disruption: Attackers may use information gained from RPC recon to launch targeted attacks that disrupt business operations. This can lead to downtime, loss of productivity, and in some cases, complete shutdown of critical services.
  3. Financial Losses: The cost of responding to a security incident, including forensic investigations, system repairs, and increased cybersecurity measures, can be substantial. Additionally, there may be financial losses due to operational disruptions and potential fines for regulatory non-compliance.
  4. Reputational Damage: A security breach that stems from a successful RPC reconnaissance can damage a company's reputation. Loss of customer trust and negative public perception can have long-term impacts on business prospects and market position.
  5. Legal and Regulatory Consequences: Data breaches can result in legal actions, especially if sensitive customer data is exposed. Businesses may face lawsuits or hefty fines for failing to comply with data protection regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, etc.
  6. Resource Drain: Dealing with the aftermath of an RPC recon can consume significant internal resources. IT teams may need to divert their focus from strategic initiatives to address security concerns, leading to delayed project timelines and opportunity costs.
  7. Increased Insurance Premiums: Companies that experience security breaches, including those resulting from RPC recon, may face higher premiums for cyber insurance policies.
  8. Loss of Intellectual Property: Information gathered during RPC reconnaissance can be used to steal proprietary information, leading to a loss of competitive advantage in the market.
  9. Extortion and Ransom Demands: In some cases, attackers may use the access gained through RPC recon to install ransomware or engage in other forms of extortion.
  10. Compromised Customer and Partner Relationships: The implications of a security breach can extend to customer and business partner relationships, affecting contracts, partnerships, and business opportunities.

Given these potential impacts, it's crucial for businesses to take proactive measures to secure their RPC services, monitor network activity, and educate employees about cybersecurity risks.

How to Investigate a RPC Recon

Investigating a Remote Procedure Call (RPC) reconnaissance involves several steps to accurately identify the scope of the incident and mitigate any potential threats. Here's a structured approach to conducting such an investigation:

Initial Analysis

  • Review Alerts: Start by examining alerts from firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), or security information and event management (SIEM) systems that indicate suspicious RPC activities.
  • Identify Patterns: Look for patterns in the RPC traffic, such as high volumes of requests, unusual request types, or traffic at odd hours.

Traffic Analysis

  • Examine Logs: Analyze network logs to identify unusual RPC traffic patterns. Pay attention to source and destination IP addresses, timestamps, and frequency of requests.
  • Correlate Data: Correlate RPC activity with other network data to understand if the reconnaissance is part of a larger attack campaign.

Endpoint Review

  • Check Affected Systems: Investigate the systems involved in the RPC activity to check for signs of compromise or unauthorized changes.
  • Malware Scans: Run malware scans on potentially affected systems to ensure no malicious software has been installed.

Source Tracing

  • Identify Source IPs: Trace the IP addresses involved in the reconnaissance to determine their origin and whether they are known malicious actors.
  • Network Segmentation: Verify if these IPs have interacted with other parts of the network.

User Account Analysis

  • Review Account Activity: Check for unusual account activity, especially administrative accounts that might have been targeted for privilege escalation.

Vulnerability Assessment

  • Check for Exploits: Determine if known vulnerabilities in RPC services were exploited.
  • Patch Management: Ensure that all systems are updated with the latest security patches, particularly for RPC-related services.

Enhance Monitoring and Controls

  • Update IDS/IPS Signatures: Adjust intrusion detection/prevention systems to better detect similar reconnaissance activities in the future.
  • Refine Firewall Rules: Modify firewall rules to restrict unnecessary RPC traffic.

Documentation and Reporting

  • Document Findings: Keep detailed records of the investigation process, findings, and remediation steps.
  • Report Incident: If necessary, report the incident to relevant stakeholders, including management, legal, or regulatory bodies.

Post-Incident Analysis

  • Root Cause Analysis: Conduct a thorough analysis to identify the root cause and prevent similar incidents.
  • Lessons Learned: Review the incident to identify improvements in security posture and incident response processes.

Investigating RPC reconnaissance requires a combination of technical analysis, cybersecurity knowledge, and a thorough understanding of the network environment. It's crucial to act promptly and methodically to mitigate any potential damage and strengthen defenses against future incidents.

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Understanding Vectra AI

Vectra AI is a leading AI-driven threat detection and response platform. It uses machine learning to analyze network traffic and other data to identify and prioritize real threats.

This document provides a comprehensive guide to Vectra detections, including:

  • What Vectra detections are and how they work
  • Specific detections that Vectra can identify
  • How to interpret and respond to Vectra detections