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Credential stuffing is a cyber threat that accesses online user accounts using stolen usernames and passwords. As a form of brute force attack, credential stuffing involves cyber-attackers using automation to attempt various combinations of usernames and passwords until they pinpoint a successful pairing.
Particularly prevalent across financial services accounts, credential stuffing attacks have become a preferred cyber-attack among threat actors. According to Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report, over 80% of hacking-related breaches involve using lost or stolen credentials. Not only is credential stuffing one of the most common causes of data breaches, but data from SpyCloud indicates that 64% of people reuse the same password on multiple accounts, making them especially vulnerable to such attacks.
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How Does Credential Stuffing Work?
In a credential stuffing attack, threat actors utilise stolen or leaked usernames and passwords obtained through data breaches or purchased on the dark web. They simultaneously employ automated tools to test these credentials on multiple websites, banking on people’s propensity to reuse their login details across different platforms.
Automation plays a crucial role in credential stuffing attacks. Cybercriminals utilise botnets, which are networks of compromised computers, to automate testing username-password combinations on targeted websites. This approach enables them to rapidly assess a large number of credentials over a brief time period.
Credential stuffing attacks typically involve two phases: validation and exploitation. In the validation phase, botnets test the stolen username-password pairs to identify successful matches. Once a successful match is found, the attacker proceeds to the exploitation phase.
In the exploitation phase, the validated credentials are used for various malicious purposes. This can include identity theft, fraudulent transactions, or selling compromised accounts on darknet markets. The actions taken depend on the type of account breached, whether a personal email account or a corporate system.
While both credential stuffing and brute force attacks have similar intentions, they differ in their methodology, scalability, and prevention measures. In turn, organisations must understand the differences between these attacks and implement the appropriate security measures to prevent them.
Impact of Credential Stuffing
Credential stuffing is a cyber-attack with severe implications for organisations. Given credential stuffing attacks employ stolen login info, the outcome can result in considerable financial loss, harm to an organisation’s reputation, and possible legal repercussions. Many of these effects can have overlapped implications.
Compromised Accounts and Data Breaches
One of the most critical impacts of credential stuffing attacks is the compromise of user accounts. Malicious actors exploit reused or weak credentials to gain unauthorised access to individual accounts. This can lead to sensitive data and information falling into the wrong hands, potentially exposing personal and financial details. Such data breaches erode trust in the affected businesses and can lead to severe repercussions for both the company and its customers.
Account Lockouts and User Frustration
Credential stuffing attacks bombard authentication systems with large volumes of login attempts. As a result, legitimate users may face frequent account lockouts due to multiple incorrect login attempts. The effect causes inconvenience and can frustrate the user, leaving them with a negative user experience. Long-lasting account lockouts can mean customers seeking alternative services, impacting the business’s reputation and bottom line.
Ransomware Threats and Extortion
In some instances, credential stuffing attacks may serve as a gateway for more devastating cyber threats. Once attackers gain access to a system, they may deploy ransomware, encrypting critical data and demanding a ransom for its release. Falling victim to such extortion can be financially crippling for businesses, as they must decide between paying the ransom or losing access to crucial data or having it exposed or misused in some other way.
Credential stuffing attacks can lead to substantial financial losses for organisations. When attackers gain unauthorised access to user accounts, they can exploit them for various purposes, such as making fraudulent purchases, draining bank accounts, or conducting identity theft. The financial impact can be devastating, with businesses facing direct financial losses and potential liabilities for failing to protect their users’ accounts. In 2020 alone, the financial services sector suffered $3.4 billion in losses due to such attacks.
Credential stuffing attacks can severely damage a company’s reputation. Compromised user accounts erode trust in an organisation’s ability to protect sensitive information. Customers may be uncertain of the firm’s safety measures and opt to take their business elsewhere. Additionally, news of a credential stuffing attack can spread quickly, further tarnishing the company’s reputation and making it difficult to regain trust.
Fines Under GDPR
If your organisation operates within Europe or handles European citizens’ data, note that GDPR (European Union General Data Protection Regulation) violations may incur hefty fines depending on the severity and nature of the non-compliance. Non-compliance with the GDPR, including inadequate protection of user accounts from credential stuffing attacks, can lead to significant financial penalties. These fines are based on the severity and nature of the non-compliance, emphasising the importance of maintaining robust password hygiene practices and implementing strong security measures to prevent credential stuffing.
Other jurisdictions have similar rules and related fines.
The impacts of credential stuffing attacks can be severe and far-reaching. Organisations must understand the implications of credential stuffing and take proactive steps to protect their digital assets and infrastructure. By implementing multi-factor authentication, monitoring for suspicious activities, and educating users about password security, businesses can mitigate the risks associated with credential stuffing and safeguard their reputation and financial well-being.
Overall, preventing credential stuffing attacks requires a combination of technical and non-technical measures. By implementing the proper cybersecurity measures, organisations can minimise the chances of becoming credential stuffing attack victims.
How to Detect Credential Stuffing Attacks
While prevention is critical for any entity or account, detection is especially crucial for organisations aiming to mitigate credential stuffing attacks. It’s a matter of vigilance and the right tools.
Monitoring Login Attempts
The initial step towards identifying credential stuffing attacks involves closely observing login attempts. A sudden spike in failed logins from one or multiple IP addresses may signal an ongoing attack. It’s crucial to scrutinise patterns such as rapid-fire login attempts or simultaneous logins using different credentials.
Analysing Traffic Origin
Cybercriminals often employ proxy networks or VPNs to hide their location during credential stuffing campaigns. Consequently, analysing traffic origin is essential to spot these threats. Excessive traffic originating from countries where you have no customers could indicate an imminent attack.
User and Entity Behaviour Analytics
User and entity behaviour analytics (UEBA) also play a significant role in detecting credential stuffing attacks. This includes studying typical user behaviours like usual login times, device types used for access, and frequency of password changes and flagging any deviations from these norms as potentially suspicious activities.
Recognising common signs can aid in early detection, which is vital for minimising potential damage.
How Proofpoint Can Help
Proofpoint provides several cybersecurity solutions to help protect against credential stuffing attacks. Some of the most powerful include:
- Security Awareness Training: Through cybersecurity education and security awareness training solutions, Proofpoint emphasises the importance of password security and encourages users to avoid reusing passwords across different sites. Using unique passwords for each site can significantly reduce the risk of credential stuffing attacks.
- Cloud Account Defense: Proofpoint Cloud Account Defense uses advanced threat intelligence and machine learning to detect suspicious login attempts and other signs of account compromise. When a suspicious login attempt is detected, Cloud Account Defense provides detailed information about the attack, including the source IP address, the type of attack, and the targeted user account.
- Email Security and Protection: The Proofpoint Aegis email security platform uses multilayered detection techniques, including reputation and content analysis, to help defend against constantly evolving threats. Powered by NexusAI, Proofpoint's Email Protection solution accurately classifies various types of email and detects and blocks threats that don't involve malicious payload, such as business email compromise (BEC).
- Data Loss Prevention: Proofpoint Enterprise Data Loss Prevention (DLP) solutions use advanced content analysis to identify sensitive data, such as personally identifiable information (PII), financial data, and intellectual property. It monitors data movement across various channels, including email, cloud, endpoint, and web, to detect and prevent unauthorised data exfiltration. Equipped with real-time alerts, DLP solutions also enforce policies to prevent unauthorised data access and use, such as blocking the transmission of sensitive data outside the organisation or encrypting sensitive data in transit.
While Proofpoint does not offer a direct solution specifically tailored for credential stuffing attacks, its range of cybersecurity solutions can collectively contribute to mitigating the risks associated with them. For more information, contact Proofpoint.