What Is Account Takeover?

on September 24, 2021

Learn about account takeover fraud, including how it happens, methodology, and how to prevent account takeover.

  • Account Takeover Definition
  • What Is Email Account Takeover?
  • How Account Takeover Happens
  • The Goals of Account Takeover
  • Methods of Account Takeovers
  • How to Prevent Account Takeover
  • Account Takeover Definition

    Account takeover is identity theft or fraud that happens when a malicious third-party user gains access to your account credentials.

    What Is Email Account Takeover?

    Email account takeover refers to the fraudulent activity through which cybercriminals gain access to your legitimate email account credentials. Attackers often pose as a credible business and create phishing emails, including fraudulent links to take users to a fake login page. As soon as the user enters the necessary details, such as login credentials and password, the attackers steal the information and misuse it. Such phishing campaigns target large email lists with thousands of recipients. 

    Email account takeover attacks can be more complicated when cybercriminals use your credentials for cross-account takeover. In this type of attack, your account credentials are hacked from a compromised financial account.

    Another practical phishing approach commonly used by attackers is email spear phishing. This is a targeted attempt that uses social engineering and background sleuthing to steal sensitive user information, including account details, personal information, and financial information credentials, for malicious reasons.

    How Account Takeover Happens

    Cyberattackers target sensitive information such as usernames and passwords, bank accounts, and phone numbers. As IT teams handle several departments such as technical infrastructure, security, data management, and their crucial information, they become prone to account takeover attacks. Moreover, higher authorities have access to significant parts of the organizations, due to which their accounts become more vulnerable to these attacks.

    The Goals of Account Takeover

    Once cybercriminals gain access to your organization’s sensitive information, they can misuse it and can cause harm to employees and organizations in various ways.

    • Business Email Compromise: Business email compromise refers when attackers hack corporate email credentials and accounts and impersonate a legitimate owner to launch an attack or set up a fraudulent transaction or transfer of funds.
    • Phishing Campaigns: Phishing campaigns are email scams designed to steal personal or financial information from legitimate users. They can misuse your credentials to launch phishing campaigns or cross-account takeovers as trustworthy organizations or reputable people in email communication. 
    • Reputation Damage: Account hackers can misuse your sensitive information to target multiple end users, causing reputation damage and harm to a business’s security and data privacy.

    Methods of Account Takeovers

    • Credential Stuffing:  Cyberattackers use the dark web to buy a list of stolen email credentials. This information includes email addresses and their corresponding passwords extracted from a data breach. Credential stuffing attacks use automated scripts and bots to hack legitimate user accounts. Once the attackers gain login credentials, they can quickly gain unauthorized access to multiple accounts with the same username and password. Reusing credentials across multiple online accounts can make it easier for cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to user accounts in one go. It’s essential for organizations and financial institutions to set up multi-factor authentication such as One-Time Password (OTP) and fingerprint to prevent credential stuffing.
    • Credential Cracking: Credential cracking is an account takeover attack method in which attackers have access to the list of login credentials such as email ID or usernames. However, they don’t have the passwords to hack the account and use other tactics like dictionary attacks, brute-force attacks, and phishing to identify valid account credentials.Detecting such a threat involves monitoring different scenarios, such as a high number of failed login attempts from a user’s account, spikes in account locks, and end-user complaints about hijacking accounts.
    • Call Center Fraud: Attackers use this method of account takeover attack to access personal and corporate bank accounts. Cybercriminals have a list of leaked or stolen credentials such as login name, passwords, and contact information, through which they can easily hack accounts as a call center employee and contact the owner to verify multi-factor authentication tests, security questions, and PINs.  
    • Malware or Replay Attacks: Malware is a group of several malicious software variants like ransomware, spyware, and more. These are tricky to detect and difficult to prevent. Malware includes code designed by cyberattackers to cause extensive damage to data and systems or gain unauthorized access to a network. Attackers use replay attacks to detect data transmission that’s maliciously repeated or delayed. These account takeovers are used to steal user credentials, capture HTTP data or business-critical information sent from the user to the organization or financial entities, manipulate the data, and retransmit it. Recognizing these types of events requires monitoring of unauthorized funds movement, valid user sessions conducting an unauthorized activity, latency in data transmission, and multiple logins from various geolocations in short proximity.
    • Man-in-the-Middle Attacks: Man-in-the-middle attacks use two techniques to hack authentic user accounts. In the first technique, attackers steal credentials and customer data by communicating with a legitimate entity such as banks or financial institutes and divert the user to a page controlled by cybercriminals. The second technique involves compromising a user session, taking over the controls, and acting on the user’s behalf without their consent. These attacks often require three threat actors, including the victim, the entity, and a hacker. Moreover, these types of takeovers are more likely for users who connect through an unsecured network. You can identify these types of attacks based on certain factors such as parallel sessions, multiple DNS, HTTP, TCP or IP anomalies, latency, or mismatching TCP and HTTP signatures in a session.
    • Social Engineering Attacks: Social engineering works by manipulating victims to steal their confidential information, account data, and more. With this method, attackers pretend to be a legitimate entity and initiate account takeover fraud communications with the victim. To prevent social engineering account takeovers, you need to monitor emails, text messages from a business requesting payment information, or transaction details.

    How to Prevent Account Takeover

    One of the best ways to prevent account takeover is to use third-party support solutions to detect and monitor credential exposure and implement several security measures. These solutions leverage human intelligence skills and applied research to identify and flag data breaches from various sources. The tools can remember compromised credentials associated with a monitored domain or email address and send instant alerts. Moreover, they can monitor IP addresses and employee email addresses to help prevent a data breach, and can record breach history with timelines and details.

    • Historic exposure check: Includes the details of identified historical events of credential exposure. 
    • Email domain watchlist: Identifies a new data breach by adding one or multiple domains to the watchlist and provides instant notifications.
    • Private email address monitoring: Monitoring tools allow you to add private addresses to the watchlist to identify, monitor, and prevent common phishing attacks.
    • Domain verification: Domain verification helps you verify domain ownership and protect your organization’s domain by limiting domain access.
    • Comprehensive breach database: These tools offer a comprehensive breach database to help prevent a data breach in an organization. It includes the information about malicious activities gathered from all around the deep web, dark web, and clear web.
    • IP address monitoring:  IPv4 Address or IPv4 Network CIDR can also be included in your watchlist for quick identity and data theft monitoring. 

    Additionally, there are several security measures you can take to help protect your business-critical information.

    • Two-factor authentication: Two-factor authentication works by connecting your account with two more separate accounts: alternate email address or One-Time Password (OTP). This helps limit unauthorized access to users, devices, and IP addresses even if they have the passwords.
    • Security questions: Asking security questions is one of the easiest ways to increase security and the likelihood of protection against malicious login attempts. In this type of security measure, the users need to fill in details and answer pre-determined questions after successfully providing a password.
    • Login attempt limits: Limiting login attempts helps in preventing account takeover issues. This method is efficient in preventing bot spamming that can originate from different IP addresses. 
    • IP block-listing: Multiple login attempts from one IP can be a sign of brute-force guess passwords to access accounts. Recognizing such accounts is crucial and can be done by maintaining a robust IP block list to mitigate the risks. 
    • Employee education: Educating employees to protect official accounts, business-critical information, data, and services is crucial. Conduct proper training to educate employees about how to identify a compromised account. Moreover, training tools must be provided to learn about account takeover interactions, phishing attacks, social engineering tricks, and the ways to protect online identity.
    • Sandboxing: Sandboxing is a strategy to isolate your account details, data, and critical information from external system resources and other programs. It provides an extra layer of security to help prevent malware or other attacks from affecting your system.

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