Credential Theft

What is Credential Theft?

In Information Technology, or simply the field of IT, as most of you would call it, the term Credential is used to refer to certain authentication details, or data that is often required to specify user identity, authenticate, and grant access to a network system. In this sense, credentials, therefore, stands for secret codes such as user IDs, passwords, or questions required to access an online account.

As valuable as these pieces of information are to their owners, cybercriminals are often targeting vulnerable accounts to steal such credentials to gain full access to a system’s database. All that it takes is for a criminal to succeed in stealing one very useful credential to access, and jeopardise a company’s infrastructure, and cause havoc.

Hackers can steal credentials in various tactics and methods. The compromised data has significant uses for potential identity thieves. It can be used to breach organisations, or individual privacy and steal more sensitive information like bank details, for example. But there is sufficient evidence that cyber threat intelligence like, say, Guardio, can safeguard and mitigate impacts of a credential theft attack.

Simply put, credential theft, in IT, is a cybercrime that involves stealing one’s proof of online identity. If a thief succeeds in stealing your credentials, they will enjoy the same account privileges as you. Also, credential theft is often the first stage in an identity theft-based attack.

Moreover, stolen credentials can allow hackers to reset your password, lock you out of your account, download any data, access other computers using the same network, wipe all data and backups.

Additionally, it is often easier for hackers to gain full remote access to networks by using legit passwords to login into third-party services. These services may include DocuSign, Microsoft Office365, or Dropbox among others which are used in everyday business operations.

Organisations, big or small, as well as individuals should prioritise the addressing of credential thefts, and subsequent suspicious logins. Actually, stolen credentials have been behind some of the biggest, and most expensive data breaches such as the hacks on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Equifax, and Yahoo, for example.

Credential Theft and the Dark Web

Now that we know what credential theft means, where does this info go once stolen? That’s where underground markets, or the dark web comes in. Once your credentials have been stolen, it is often taken to the dark web and sold to other potential hackers who don’t really care a thing about the owner.

What is the Dark Web?

Briefly, the Dark web is an encrypted part of the internet or global web content that only exists on darknets. Think of it like overlay networks that are still using the internet except, you need a special configuration, software, or authorization to gain access.

On the dark web, sometimes confused with the deep web (a portion of the internet not indexed by search engines), private networks can anonymously communicate, and do business without disclosing identity info like location, for instance.

In addition, there are certain useful sites like Have I Been Pwned (HIBP) that are particularly helpful. They allow you to search and find out if your passwords, or emails have been compromised by data breaches.

What Are the Types of Credential Phishing?

Hackers will often try to lure victims to their almost legit but fake websites to steal their credentials. To help you stay in the know, we have put together comprehensive info on credential phishing ways a thief is likely going to use to trick you.

Social Media Hacks Criminals hack genuine profiles or create identical social media accounts to send private messages across social platforms. They send you messages pretending they are reputable companies, or people you know. These messages often have a page login link. The content on the message may look more or less like this:

  • Sharing good discounts, coupons, or great deals.
  • Pretending to inform you about some new or great Netflix shows.
  • Warning about some kind of unauthorised access, or account deactivation.
  • Anything else that looks too good to ignore, that builds enough curiosity to lure you into the trap.

Email Credential Hacks

These are the most basic steps for information phishing that is often deployed through emails. Here’s how it works.

  • Identifying a target. A criminal will do some research to learn about an organisation, a bank, or a website, for example, that is most relative to you. They also research those who are connected to you like your kin, friends, boss, or work colleagues.
  • Sending targeted phishing emails with links that prompts for action. Usually, an email could be about a service warning from some web hosting organisation, a warning about some fake transaction that needs urgent attention, or a friend who’s only sharing some great online deals.
  • Emails with links that redirect you to a phishing website. Usually, the phishing site will mimic a genuine one. Something more or less like: http://confirm-index-id-12.biz.co.uk/account/recovery.
  • Get you to login with your details on a phishing site. As soon as you enter your login details, the data is transferred to the criminal’s backend database straightaway.
  • Logging into an original or legit website with your credentials. Sometimes criminals just get lucky with this. If, say, a hacker gets hold of your email credentials, they can use the “forgot password” to log into your site or other crucial network systems.

SMS Credential Hacks

SMS credential phishing works the same way as email hacks. Once a cybercriminal accesses your mobile number, they conduct some research about you. They send you a more targeted SMS phishing scam pretending to be from some legit entity. These texts are usually accompanied by links to a phishing site.

Moreover, an example of a phishing SMS is a short compelling text from, say, a__ fake amazon__ that talks about an offer that has been won, and you should follow a link to claim your offer.

How Can I Detect Credential Theft?

Microsoft’s Defender ATP is a unified endpoint threat protection platform that uses various approaches to detect credential theft or credential dumping. While it surely gets the job done just like other security tools, corporate entities, and now, many individuals globally are opting for a more advanced approach.

The smarter ones have already subscribed to an even tougher net bodyguard. Many corporate companies have subscribed to the premium version of Guardio to reap maximum benefits. But there is a completely free version that keeps your browsers safe, and doesn’t only detect credential theft attempts, Guardio also stops it from happening, and scans the system to weed out all other potential hacks.

How to Prevent Credential Theft?

Your best bargain to protect yourself against credential stealing, and avoid the consequences that come with identity theft is to change your passwords regularly, and make use of multi-factor-authentication whenever you can. But you can also do these things to prevent such shortcomings.

  • Limit or reduce your corporate credentials to the approved applications only.
  • Regularly perform vulnerability checks.
  • Give your employees proper training on how to detect phishing, and create strong passwords.
  • Closely observe or follow PAM (the privileged access management) best practices.
  • Restrict or block usage from unknown sites or applications.
  • Use encryption, traffic monitoring and endpoint security tools.
  • Make use of advanced network or Chrome security extensions. Luckily for you, there’s a free premium trial of an advanced browser security extension that perks plenty of rewards.
  • Change the SFA (single-factor authentication) with 2FA (a two-factor authenticator) to make your accounts less vulnerable to phishing attempts.

By using these tips, you are sure to extinguish, or slow down credential theft on crucial infrastructure, and or keep your critical systems on lock down.

In addition to network or Chrome security extensions that protect against vast cyberattacks, one of the easiest ways to protect your privacy while surfing the web is to use the Chrome extension Guardio. This tool acts as the first line of defence for your browser. It automatically protects your data when you are online without sacrificing speed, or interfering with your browsing experience.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How are Credentials Stolen? Credentials can be exposed in various ways such as guessing “brute-force” or information leaks. But hackers also extract them in the form of tickets, hashes, or plaintext passwords.

To deceive you, the criminal may use phishing techniques, often very efficient, and a cheaper way to go. Phishing tactics are based on human interactions, and rely on Culverecurity defences.

What is a Credential Phishing Attack?

Credential phishing attack is when a cybercriminal is pretending to be an entity, or someone you trust. They often tend to trick you by playing a psychological game in a way you leave your guards and start trusting them enough to give up the valuable details.

Generally, criminals may create a mimic of a popular website using the same style, logo, theme, and even the same content. And all these are accompanied by a nearly identical domain address, only to deceive you. This act of fraud is called cybersquatting. Hackers will often add slight modifications like: facebooklive.xyz, or amazondeals.io, and so on to make it look more legit.

If you’re tempted and, say, you’re hooked to such sites and login with your details, those details go straight into the scammer’s database. The scammer can then log back in, and do these things:

  • Send spam or phishing emails to your contacts
  • Steal sensitive info that is stored in your account
  • Transfer your money into their accounts if they found your bank details.
  • Sometimes they will ask for a ransom in exchange for returning your account.
  • Borrow money in your name and cause impacts on your credit scores, etc.

How are Credentials Captured?

If you’re concerned about protecting your privacy, or maybe, a corporate account—staying informed on how criminals often take advantage of people is certainly a good idea. In today’s global internet life, unfortunately, it is easier than ever for a criminal to capture your credentials in just a single click.

Below are a few common methods a criminal is likely going to use to compromise your sensitive data.

  • Brute force
  • Phishing scams
  • Malware usage
  • Public WiFi
  • Data and site breaching

Brute Force Attack. Sometimes the type of passwords we’re using just aren’t the strongest out there. This means that most people are only making a potential criminal’s job look like a walk in the park.

Think of it like this: How many times have you ever forgotten a password, only to guess it right in a few trials? Sometimes guessing is what it takes for a hacker to crack your secret codes. Keep this in mind: It is not about a thief sitting behind their computer all day long trying to crack your passwords. Let me explain.

Criminals usually use some incredibly accessible and sophisticated programs that automatically guess your common passwords—thanks to technology. This process can often be completed within 24-hours.

Tip: Use passwords that are more difficult to guess. The kind that you almost need to write them down somewhere to refer back to whenever you want to use them for authentication. Use a combination of special characters (</#>@*%), numbers (0123…), and mixed letters (AbXyz), to make guessing your password look more like a wild goose chase to a potential hacker.

Phishing Scams. This is certainly the most common method of credential theft you’re probably aware of. It involves thieves taking advantage of your vulnerabilities and stealing the important data.

It happens when someone sends a message (SMS or email) along with a malicious link. Mostly, these messages look very legit until you click the link and deliver your credentials to the thief on a silver platter—then you realise you have just been hit by a hacker who then uses your info to bypass online security just like you would.

Tip: If you’re a corporate body, educate your team thoroughly about these things to save your company from the nightmare. Because they’re often the targets of these fascinating phishing attempts. Encouraging them about not clicking malicious links, or filling suspicious forms will keep your business safe.

Malware Usage. Malware, also known as spyware, is a variety of malicious programs, and formats that cybercriminals use to steal the data. Usually, it happens when you’re surfing the web unsecurely and a malware program sneaks in, and instals itself on your device without your consent.

The problem starts when the unwanted program has successfully installed itself on your device. The spyware can log your special keystrokes, and even remember your browsing history. It can also develop some nefarious pop-up ads that can capture your login credentials, or even crash the whole system.

Tip. Make use of VPN(s) and modern network security extensions to safeguard your online activities. Such tools like Guardio have gone the extra mile to establish an advanced Chrome security extension that can tip you whenever something is up, and even get rid of all threats on site. The tool has a sharp eye to detect and eliminate even the most difficult backdoor Trojans.

Public WiFi. In today’s economic world, chances are, you don’t just do all the work from an executive work office setting. Working from remote, home, cyber, or any other place, perks plenty of rewards that can make us almost forget real internet security threats.

What’s the case in point, here? The sharp sword of a public WiFi, of course. Although it is obviously amazingly convenient, a public WiFi can pose real threats to your credentials. When someone connects to a public WiFi on their work computer, there is a high chance that something can, or does happen.

If, let’s say, you or your work colleagues login with their passwords while using a public WiFi, these details can easily be captured or compromised by criminals who are often fishing for potential victims, thanks to the process called traffic monitoring. Hackers are usually armed to the teeth. They deploy certain programs that often keep an eye on public networks.

Tip. Keep away from public networks whenever possible because the thief is always on the watch. Their creepy malicious apps will always notify them of a potential login, and that is how your nightmare begins.

Data and Site Breaching. Anyone who lives and breathes internet is certainly doing this. It is not a new thing to give out our information to websites of interest. Some of which are secure sites but some others are, well, let’s just say, not secured enough.

Further, it is quite common to sign up on Facebook, or order take-outs online. However, it helps if we also understand what might happen if, say, the data we are sharing with other sites is breached. Typically, an identity thief can get into popular sites and steal this valuable piece of information.

This can happen in a dozen ways. One way is through remote file inclusion (SQL injections). Once a criminal has a grip on your sensitive data, they can share it to other phishing websites, or take it to the underground markets (the dark web) where this kind of info is a goldrush.

Tip. Don’t use weak passwords on any online accounts. And don’t use one password fits all. Use different passwords on different accounts. Because if, say, a criminal gets hold of one of your passwords, they probably have all your accounts to feast on.

How are Credentials Compromised?

Criminals are always using various tactics to gain unauthorised access to valid or genuine credentials on a network. Once they get this info, they have a way of creating perseverance on the network. They move around covertly, and they start escalating privileges and cause havoc to your organisation.

For this reason, extra attention is paid to safeguard user credentials. However, this is more often said than done. Despite the idea of rotating passwords and information security training, many people are still likely to reuse their old passwords, or create weak ones. Some are still likely to even fall prey to phishing scams.

There are many tricks and tactics criminals use to compromise your credentials. Table 1.1. shows some common ones.

Common Methods Criminals Use to Compromise Credentials

Type of AttackDescription
Brute Force AttackThe criminal tries to authenticate by iterating through a list of secret codes or passwords, and hope that one would work.
Credential StuffingThis is when a criminal uses stolen account names with a combination of passwords that have been stolen from other databases, and hopes for a success.
Social EngineeringCriminals often use trickery tactics that are so convincing in a way you can almost be tricked into delivering your network credentials on a silver platter.
Password SprayingPassword spraying is an act of trying to login with a recognised username, and trying out commonly used weak or unsafe passwords.
KeyloggersThese are malicious programs which, if sneaked and installed in your network, can capture your logs through keystrokes and pass the info to the hacker. The hacker then uses these details to create a duplicate account.
Phishing and spear-phishingThis one here is quite popular. It involves scam messages that contain malicious links. Criminals can trick you to enter valid passwords on malicious pages.

What is Credential Abuse?

Credential abuse is the use of jeopardised passwords or secret codes to authenticate applications with an intention of stealing information. Credential abuse happens or starts when a malicious bot, or a cybercriminal fools you and steals your account login details.

What Do Hackers Do With Stolen Credentials?

Just as the identity theft scam is explained on TRENDMICRO.COM, credential theft is surely a gold mine for hackers. And people are already aware that it can happen in any fashion due to high recorded cases. Technically, the dark web is where your stolen information often gets. The stolen info is then sold for profits to other criminals who would commit various frauds with such details.

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