Credential stuffing: getting to know a cyber attack

Credential stuffing: getting to know a cyber attack

Everyone who works with the Internet today exposes themselves to various dangers, including the capture of credentials by attackers. This is a kind of form of online identity theft by third parties. Experts refer to such an action as a brute force attack. By gaining access to user accounts, an attacker can change this data at his own discretion, steal funds, make purchases on behalf of this person, or use the obtained data to gain access to other accounts. If we talk about all the cybersecurity threats that exist today for both companies , and for individuals, brute force attacks can be considered one of the most serious today. According to statistics, over the past year the damage they caused to both individuals and legal entities exceeded $5 billion. And according to many experts, this problem will worsen further.

Now let's look in more detail at how to recognize a brute force attack in principle. We'll show you how to understand what type of account takeover you are facing at one time or another. Let's take a closer look at such a cyber attack as credential stuffing and suggest the most effective ways to help prevent it.

Recognizing a brute force attack yourself

Not every user who is subjected to a brute force attack will be able to understand exactly what problem he is facing. The fact is that identifying such hacks – This is a rather difficult task, because attackers can use various methods and sources to implement it. Their goals may also be different. But there are still a number of general signs that will help you understand that your account is under attack even before significant damage is caused. Every person can notice them on their own, even without any special deep knowledge and skills. Here are the main points:

  • Having multiple failed login attempts. If you receive corresponding notifications, this may indicate attempts to guess your password. This means that attackers are most likely using brute force tools or scripts. To prevent this from happening, you need to regularly review event logs to monitor the frequency, origin of usernames and passwords behind such attempts.
  • Increased network traffic. A noticeable and sudden increase in network traffic that goes to a specific destination or from the same source — this is another sign of a brute force attack. Such anomalies in network activity will indicate the transfer of large amounts of data, which, among other things, can also include encryption keys and passwords, which go either to or from your system, network. Therefore, it is necessary to control the throughput of your own network, immediately responding to its unexpected and noticeable overloads.
  • Reduced performance. In any case, unauthorized access, which can also include hacking, will place a significant load on all network resources. As a result, you will definitely notice a decrease in the speed and performance of your system. It turns out that the resources of your processor, disk space, memory, and network bandwidth will be consumed at an accelerated pace. As a result, system performance will decrease. And every user can notice this, including those who do not have specialized knowledge and skills.
  • Anomaly appears in log files. This will give you information about current attacks. You need to monitor the log files, paying attention to failures when logging into the system, which were repeated repeatedly, multiple login attempts, both from the same and from different IP addresses, connection times that are atypical for you, the presence of consecutive passwords or names users. You should also be wary of dictionary words or common passwords.
  • Receive an alert from security software. This is a tool that will automatically monitor all possible connections to your device, immediately sending you a warning if any malicious actions are detected in relation to your network or system. Thus, an intrusion detection system will analyze network traffic and identify intrusion attempts by comparing current activity with behavior that is characteristic of you as a user. That is, unusual patterns, signatures, anomalies will be immediately noticed. But a modern intrusion prevention system can not only detect such malicious attempts, but also prevent them. It intercepts packets and blocks or discards them before they reach their destination. It is noteworthy that both of these systems operate in real time and are capable of automatically blocking sources or IP-addresses from which There is a connection in progress that poses a potential threat.

All this suggests that if you pay due attention when browsing the Internet, if you use additional software designed to provide a higher level of protection against unauthorized access, then you will be able to notice the actions of an attacker before they cause serious harm. harm to your system. But still, in any case, you need to understand what problem you encountered at one time or another. Thanks to this, your actions will be more targeted and effective.

Determining the type of account takeover attack

Despite the fact that Internet technologies today are constantly developing and that specialists are working hard on issues related to increasing the level of security, the number of hacker attacks aimed at capturing accounts is increasingly increasing. The victims of such actions by criminals are mainly representatives of the banking sector, tourism, e-commerce, retail trade, and insurance. Private individuals often suffer from such actions. And the fact that you will be able to correctly recognize what kind of brute force attack aimed at taking over accounts you are facing at a given moment in time — will already provide significant assistance in preventing serious consequences.

So, today the following account takeover scenarios are most often used:

  1. Credential hacking. It is assumed that in this case the attacker will find out the user's login or email address. In principle, implement something like this — This is not a problem, because employees of a particular company actively use their email. In addition, they access different resources under the same name. It turns out that an attacker can simply use bots, which will only have to choose various combinations of numbers and symbols that can be used in passwords or common phrases. Looking ahead a little, we note that the simpler your password turns out to be in practice, the more opportunities you give attackers to hack your account.
  2. Password selection. Let us immediately note that such a hacker attack is not aimed at famous people, but at ordinary users. And it works quite simply — this is just an attempt to bypass all the standard measures that a regular user takes to prevent account takeover. Initially, the hacker targets specific Internet resources. Next, several login attempts are made using the most common passwords. If the attempt is unsuccessful, then he moves on to another account. They clearly understand that after 3, maximum 5 unsuccessful attempts to enter a password, access to the account will be completely blocked, so they behave as carefully as possible.
  3. SIM card replacement. In this case, the so-called sociotechnical methods are used. We are talking about replacing a user's SIM card in a completely legal way. Once access to the number is gained, attackers will be able to intercept authentication codes, independently confirming their transactions with user funds.
  4. Credential substitution. This is one of the most common hacker attacks today. It is used almost everywhere. And this is quite understandable, because if everything works out as the attackers planned, they will gain access to a huge number of user logins and passwords. Using a bot attack, they automate the verification of all these parameters, immediately substituting them on various Internet sites. The situation here is similar to account hacking in that employees often use the same passwords when logging into different sites. As practice shows, the success of such attempts is quite high. What will hackers do once they gain access to your account? Whatever they want, from using your points accumulated through loyalty programs to transferring personal funds to other accounts, making purchases, etc.

Now let’s look in more detail at the latest type of hacker attack, since it really is in high demand among attackers today. If you wish, we also suggest that you read what brut of accounts is and how to prevent such an attack.

Learn more about what a credential stuffing attack is

Above we have already presented the most common types of hacker attacks that network users face today. At the same time, if we talk in general about unauthorized access and theft of personal parameters, then the vectors of cyber attacks can be very diverse, ranging from quite simple to truly complex and multi-level.

The simplest ones are called social engineering attacks. In this case, we are talking about the fact that attackers simply take advantage of people’s gullibility, masterfully using communication skills. As a result, they actually manage to gain access to user credentials and other confidential information. In contrast, more complex hacker attacks involve bypassing a multi-layered security system in order to gain access to data and its subsequent processing. Often the processing process itself involves quite painstaking work: working with huge databases of logins, email addresses and passwords associated with them. It is this process that will be the first stage of launching a hacker attack, which is called Credential stuffing. This is a credential stuffing attack.

A clear example will help you understand how all this works in practice. Let's assume that you have dozens of accounts on certain services. A similar picture is, in principle, characteristic of absolutely any modern person. We are accustomed to using the Internet without restrictions, finding there not only interesting and useful information, but also real help in solving various problems. So, as an example, almost every person has a set of really important logins and passwords. That is, those that have high value. These include indicators of email, banking services, insurance companies, etc. Along with them, there are also accounts with low value. So, as an example, you can be registered on a service that you use to order food or clothing, or a site to receive discount coupons. It could also be a travel forum to which you have been subscribed for many years and go to it in order to find an interesting location for future travel.

But at the same time, you must understand that the system of a bank, insurance or social service, or email often has a fairly high level of cyber protection, but the tourism forum is unlikely to take care of this. This is quite logical and understandable both for the users themselves and for attackers aimed at stealing personal data. Therefore, we can draw an unambiguous conclusion: the likelihood that a cybercriminal will hack the system of a well-protected service, thereby gaining access to all passwords, is very, very small. But to say the same about the services of the so-called “low value” obviously not possible.

Here is the answer to how attackers gain access to user logins and passwords: they look for the least valuable and weakly protected resources and work with them. And you can be sure that if they target your account, then with a very high degree of probability their idea will be successful.

Credential stuffing and password spraying: is there a difference?

Another variant of a hacker attack, which we did not mention above — This is a password spray attack. Both of these options belong to the category of attacks using the selection method and, due to their fairly high similarity, many confuse them or mistake them for the same thing. But in fact, they have a number of differences, and quite fundamental ones: credential stuffing assumes that the attacker already has a fairly impressive and verified set of credentials, while when spraying passwords, the hacker does not have such information. It simply tries to match the login and those passwords that are most often used on the network today, resulting in a ready-made set of credentials.

An attack that is carried out by substituting credentials shows how dangerous it can be in practice to use the same password when accessing different services. That is, it turns out that if a hacker has just one set of so-called compromised credentials in his hands, he will be able to use them all in order to gain access to absolutely all accounts in various applications or sites. The situation is extremely and extremely unpleasant.

Also, password spraying assumes that an attacker has found one common password and begins matching it with all users in the hope of gaining access to a particular account. As soon as a match is identified for one of the frequently used passwords, he will immediately move on to another, systematically trying them one after another. That is, if it turns out that this or that person uses very weak or easily predictable passwords for their accounts, then they risk being hacked.

And now a little about what will happen if this or that site or service is hacked and the hacker gets access to all the user data that is currently available on it?

What happens if a hacker obtains all user data from the site?

If the attacker’s plan works and he gains access to the login, email and password of a particular user, he will integrate the received data into special automated systems. After this, a process of login attempts will be launched on hundreds, and often even thousands of services in order to understand which credentials are used for which sites. That is why using the same logins, passwords, email addresses when registering on various services — this is a very, very bad decision. In the event that a data leak occurs on some forum that you have completely forgotten, one that you have not used for several years, then an attacker will have access to truly valuable services. But access to them will have much more serious consequences for you personally.

Again, let's go back to the example so you can understand how serious a problem like this can really be. Let's assume that you have one universal key with which you open absolutely all doors. What happens if you lose it or someone gets access to it and can make a copy? Everything is quite simple: this person can easily enter your home, office, open a car or a safe, and even a banal locker in the gym. This is why no one in the real world uses such universal keys. So why has this become, if not the norm, then a fairly common occurrence when registering on certain Internet pages? Think about this today so it won't be too late tomorrow.

Top 5 ways to ensure reliable protection against credential stuffing

But, in fact, not everything is as sad as it might seem at first glance. Account stuffing, although a very common and easy-to-use cyber attack, can still be defended against, and quite easily. This means that each of you can take care of this on your own. To do this, you just need to allocate a few minutes of time and use a number of simple recommendations:

  1. Use exclusively unique and complex access passwords. Above, we have repeatedly talked about how many problems you expose yourself to by using the same passwords in practice to gain access to different sites. That is, you need to get rid of the universal key problem. Make it a habit to have a separate key for each door, even those that you use very, very rarely. In addition, it is recommended to change passwords at certain intervals. Ideally, at least every six months. At the same time, pay special attention to the password itself. It should be really complex, contain uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, symbols.
  2. Use password managers. Create and remember dozens, or even hundreds of really complex passwords — This is not as simple a task as it might seem at first glance. But this is not a problem, because you can use special tools. In particular, you can create a password manager for yourself. In this case, you will need to create only one complex password, which you must remember in order to use it to access your account in this manager. Further, with its help you can generate an unlimited number of passwords and save them. Moreover, a good service will allow you to not only generate passwords, but also automatically insert them into the appropriate fields on sites for quick and easy access. Also, the functionality of a number of managers includes tracking passwords for leaks. As soon as this is detected, the system will immediately notify you and you will only have to update your password to prevent unauthorized access.
  3. Use multi-factor authentication. This is a fairly effective way to protect against various hacker attacks, but not everyone uses it. The thing is that every time you enter a particular site you have to perform several additional actions. But this must be perceived from a slightly different point of view. The fact is that two-factor authentication — this is what will allow you to install another additional layer of protection, thereby providing a higher level of security. It will work even if you use the same passwords when accessing different resources. In this case, you are guaranteed to be protected from attacks such as credential stuffing. Yes, an attacker can gain access to your username and password from the most vulnerable site, but he will not be able to use them to access an application or resource that uses multi-factor authentication. As an additional security measure, confirmation of your identity can be used by call, message, or some other tool that allows you to verify the authenticity of your identity.
  4. Do not keep accounts that you do not actually use. If you have not visited a particular resource for quite a long period of time, simply delete your account from it. This way you can significantly reduce the likelihood of hacking. In the event that you have forgotten your access password, which is quite reasonable, because you have not visited this resource for quite a long period of time, change your credentials through the password manager and log in. That is, if an attacker nevertheless gains access to the data available on this service, the maximum that you can lose is the generated complex password, which is not used on any other resource.
  5. Additionally enable the email alias service. Thanks to this, you can avoid registering your real email address when visiting a particular site. Thanks to the alias service, you will receive an unlimited number of third-party email addresses that are not directly related to you. This means that you can maintain the anonymity of your real address. But a high level of confidentiality — This is not the only advantage of using this service. Also, with its help, you can protect yourself from excessive spam, which fills almost every email box today. If it turns out that attackers gain access to your pseudo-account, they will not be able to take any further actions, since they will not be able to find out your real authentication parameters. And this is often your first and last name, year of birth.

As you can see, there is nothing complicated or impossible in the recommendations given. This means that you can easily and simply provide yourself with a truly high level of personal data protection and not become a victim of attackers.

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