We have been vulnerable to cybercrime since the minute we joined internet platforms. As cyber security tightens its grip on our accounts and devices, criminals continue to find ways to carry out malicious acts online. It has reached a point where no human input is required to hack, but rather a program designed by attackers themselves aids in a faster takeover of the crime, simulating how an actual human would hack. These clever agents gain what they want by laying out personal information online, regardless of how discreetly we do it, and attack in ways like hacking, phishing, piracy, and identity theft. In this article, we shall consider account takeover as a form of identity theft, how this happens, its targets, types, and most importantly, how to protect your account and prevent this kind of attack.
Table of Contents
What is Account Takeover?
Account takeover (ATO), also called account compromise, is a form of identity theft wherein a cyber attacker takes illegal entry to an account online belonging to someone else. Once they take control, these criminals may use your accounts to commit fraud, unauthorised purchases, sell important information and other stored value of some kind. The result of this type of attack is very alarming, given that it can destroy a user’s reputation, a company, or an organisation’s image, operations, and bottom line.
What are the Forms of Account Takeovers?
Account takeover usually happens because of the attacker’s ulterior motive. Depending on the attacker’s objective, resources, and scale, it can also occur differently. They may be classified as follows:
- Credential Stuffing is a cybercrime attack that uses automated injections of a stolen combination of username and password (or credentials) usually purchased from the dark web that is priced according to accuracy and quality. Chances are high with this attack since some users utilise insecurity and reuse passwords.
- Credential Cracking is almost the same as credential stuffing; however, only usernames are given, and attackers try various passwords to access your account. They also use tactics or bots to generate many password combinations or brute-force attacks and phishing.
- Phishing is a cybercrime where attackers trick their victims into giving up their log-in information. They can happen in the form of SMS, email, fraudulent websites, chat conversations, malicious phone apps, phone calls, and more. This targets an extensive list with thousands of recipients. Still, spear-phishing, a well-researched variation of phishing that combines social engineering and background sleuthing to target people, is a more individualised approach form of phishing.
- Fraudulent Purchases– some online accounts are connected with credit cards to make purchases online. Users, especially with bank transactions, are usually susceptible to this attack. They can make use of your account by making purchases using your banking details or gift certificate data.
How Does an Account Takeover Take Place?
The foundation of a successful account takeover is through accessing the user’s account details. They do this through specific forms of attack that may remain unnoticed by users. Once they get account log-in information, they will test these on target websites. Attackers usually have bots to do the username and password combination, which has a high chance of 8% of successfully cracking accounts. From there, malicious actions will occur, such as withdrawing funds, making purchases, phishing more information of possible targets from your contact list, reselling the validated credentials to others for exploitation, and many more. Each validated credential increases the profitability of the attacker and most probably will use the combined credentials across different platforms.
Who is being targeted?
Historically, the most vulnerable sector for account takeover is the financial institutions. In research done by security.org, about one-third of account takeovers are for banking accounts. Although they are the most guarded industries because of these attacks, account takeovers still happen.
Other industries that have also embraced digital transformation that might have increased online presence to generate sales or maintain user accounts are the ones that are targeted as well. A rise in attacks in hospitality, healthcare, retail, media and entertainment, and education has been recorded already.
How to Avoid Account Takeover?
In data gathered by security.org, most account takeover cases are from social media accounts, with over 51% of all cases recorded. 80% of which are personal accounts which means that individuals should apply heavier security. With that in mind, we listed five things to help you prevent account takeover fraud:
- Check password strength– it’s strongly recommended to use a combination of big and small letters, numbers, and punctuation marks in creating your passwords. Some platforms have detectors to show how strong the password you have created is. Don’t use the same password over your multiple accounts. This makes you an easy target for attackers. It might be a simple task, but most online users neglect to follow this step.
- Apply multilayer protection strategies– install fraud detection tools or antivirus software in your devices to block virus and malware attacks. Apply secondary security processes such as security questions and two-step authentication. The tighter your security tools are, the harder it is for fraudsters to attack you.
- User education– the earlier you learn about detection, antivirus software, and any signs of account takeover, the better you can protect your account.
- Be vigilant online– you can install a device tracking tool to detect malicious activity whenever your account is logged in to a device you don’t know. You can immediately take action if something like this happens.
- Login attempt limits– setting a limit when logging in can keep a cybercriminal from spamming log-in attempts in your account. This is effective with bot spamming, which usually uses different IP addresses.
Online fraud is on the rise. Because of how fast and intelligent attackers work, it’s still complicated to catch them at once. For now, what you can do is protect your accounts from possible account takeovers. Be vigilant and install the right software and latest application versions for tighter account security. If you have been a victim of these fraud acts, you might already know how prevention benefits users. It will help if you have learned from past mistakes. As they always say, preventing and protecting is always better than repenting and repairing.
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