June 13, 2024

    Understanding Account Takeover Attacks – The Ultimate Guide

    Account takeover attacks are rising, leaving businesses with costly financial and reputational losses. The attacks typically occur after a data breach or other leaks. Cybercriminals can find a wealth of information in these accounts, including login credentials, personal details and purchases. This allows them to commit fraud against both the business and their customers.

    What is an ATO?

    An ATO is a key component of the Information Systems Security Management Act (FISMA) and helps ensure that a new product is secure and complies with agency security requirements. But what is an account takeover attack, and how it affects business? ATOs occur when a cybercriminal gains unauthorized access to an online account, such as a business website or social media profile. Criminals steal account credentials by utilizing social engineering, malware or brute force attacks to get past businesses’ authentication methods to protect their users. These include password protection, multi-factor authentication and biometrics like a face ID or fingerprint scan. After stealing credentials, criminals can use the victims’ accounts to conduct account takeover fraud and abuse. They often target loyalty programs, monetizing their stolen information by redeeming earned rewards for products or services or using the victim’s private information to perpetrate identity theft. The most common way to conduct an ATO is through a data breach, where bad actors unlawfully gain access to corporate databases and search for user information. Other attack vectors include hacking into verification login pages on websites, mobile apps or native mobile application APIs, where they can use bots to execute credential stuffing and brute force attacks against user accounts. Businesses must have automated detection and response solutions to isolate and neutralize evolving threats. 

    How do ATOs work?

    Account takeover (ATO) fraud is a fast-growing digital menace that gives businesses and consumers sleepless nights. In a nutshell, it’s when bad actors use stolen login credentials to commit cyberattacks. Whether it’s theft of stored credit card numbers, loyalty points or even money, a single successful attack can net criminals millions quickly. While the specific methods and user accounts targeted vary, most ATO attacks follow a similar sequence: Data breaches: Bad actors gain access to large troves of personally identifiable information through third-party leaks, and often this information is used for account takeover. The combination of stolen credentials with known vulnerabilities makes it easy for fraudsters to crack into online business accounts. Phishing: Fraudsters trick customers into revealing their PII by posing as their legitimate bank or business. From there, they use the credentials to gain access to other accounts. Malware: From a remote location, hackers cloak themselves as benign file or program and infiltrate devices to spy on and steal data. Brute force attacks are a popular tool, with fraudsters relentlessly hammering away at login credentials until they succeed.

    These tactics can damage brands, erode customer trust, and result in chargebacks. A 2020 survey found that 6 in 10 consumers would stop using a brand after a data breach. To help prevent ATOs, a robust fraud prevention solution that utilizes a combination of machine learning and real-time user behavior monitoring can provide a powerful defense. For instance, if a user’s account shows signs of fraud—such as higher-than-normal transaction or chargeback velocity— IP risk capabilities can detect this anomaly and trigger enhanced security measures to protect the customer.

    Who is a target of an ATO?

    Account takeover attacks can be conducted against individuals, businesses and organizations. Typically, criminals gain access to personal accounts through stolen credentials – harvested from data breaches or purchased on the Dark Web. From there, they can use the report to carry out unauthorized transactions, including wire transfers, e-commerce and credit card fraud. Attackers can also use the compromised account to deplete stored credit cards and loyalty points, redeem airline miles, or make other unauthorized purchases. Additionally, attackers may try to change the victim’s contact information or two-factor authentication (2FA) settings to avoid detection and bypass security controls.

    Business account takeover is becoming increasingly popular as criminals seek to monetize rewards balances, steal corporate data and sell stolen credentials on the Dark Web. As a result, ATOs pose a significant threat to business-critical assets such as financial accounts, employee records and intellectual property. Attackers can access an organization’s accounts through various methods, such as phishing attacks, malware, credential guessing and even brute force. As a result, the attack cycle is complex and time-consuming to detect. However, continuous monitoring of user behavior can help identify abnormal activities and mitigate the risk of an ATO. This is particularly important for businesses that offer digital products to their customers, as a successful ATO will ruin the customer experience and lead to brand damage.

    What are the business impacts of an ATO?

    Account takeover, ATO, is an evolving digital menace giving businesses sleepless nights. As cybercriminals hone their skills, it’s more important than ever to understand the mechanics of this attack type and the tactics used to execute it.

    Threat actors’ motivations are diverse, but as the 2021 reports, the most common driver is financial. Whether by accessing the funds in an account, opening lines of credit in the victim’s name, or stealing cryptocurrency, fraudsters seek to profit. ATO attacks are prevalent across multiple industries, including gaming (particularly competition-based gaming accounts), streaming services, travel, e-commerce, and finance. Cybercriminals use stolen credentials to gain unauthorized access to an understanding and exploit it for their illicit purposes. Once a business knows an account has been compromised, it must quickly isolate the performance and prevent further damage. This could involve freezing a hacked account indefinitely or implementing access controls. Notifying the affected users is crucial, as this isn’t only a moral responsibility but is often required by regulations like GDPR and CCPA. To detect an ATO, businesses must monitor user logins, password resets, suspicious transactions, unusual network activity, and other weird behavior. They should also deploy advanced machine learning and predictive analytics to spot red flags in customer accounts that may indicate a breach is underway.


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