Credential Stuffing: Everything You Need To Know

by | Nov 3, 2023

Cybercriminals aren’t always finding success in simply guessing passwords, as businesses embrace new approaches to protect users better. As digital protection improves, cyberattack strategies also change, with credential stuffing becoming increasingly common. Instead of relying on the targets to use easy-to-guess passwords, many threat actors are stealing login credentials directly and trying them on all of their target’s accounts. With over 80% of data breaches related to weak, stolen, or reused passwords, account security remains an ongoing challenge.

What Is Credential Stuffing?

Credential stuffing is a type of brute force cyberattack that uses automated tools to insert stolen login details to gain unauthorized access to accounts. This attack takes advantage of people who reuse passwords across multiple platforms. If someone isn’t using unique passwords across all their personal and work accounts, if one is breached, then all of them are vulnerable.

Even Strong Passwords Can Be Stolen

Cybersecurity experts always recommend using a strong password. If it’s impossible to guess, and many modern account systems have methods to prevent bulk password guessing, it’s easy to assume the account will be safe. While that’s mostly true, even strong passwords can be stolen in a data breach. Once an attacker knows it, it can be used to try accessing every account by the targeted user.

The Technology Behind Credential Stuffing Attacks

Many credential stuffing attacks use botnets, networks of infected computers that launch automated attempts to log into various services using stolen credentials. These botnets use scripts to imitate how humans log in, trying lots of usernames and passwords on different websites. They often get their data from the dark web. These scripts are very hard to find because they can get around security measures.

Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have further refined these attacks. Certain AI systems can bypass CAPTCHAs, a common security measure. Meanwhile, ML algorithms analyze data breach patterns to find probable login credentials. While these technologies can make cyberattacks worse, they can also help detect unusual activity.

How To Detect a Credential Stuffing Attack

When it comes to safeguarding your personal information online, awareness is key. Recognizing the signs of a credential stuffing attack can be the difference between a secured or a compromised account. Here are the tell-tale signs that you might be the target of such an attack:

  1. Unexpected Login Notifications: If you get unexpected messages about someone trying to log in to your accounts from unfamiliar devices or places, it may mean someone is trying to use your login information from somewhere else. Most online services now provide alerts if there is a login from a new device or location.
  2. Account Lockouts: If you’re often locked out of your online accounts without explanation, it could mean someone is trying to get in. When someone tries to log in multiple times without success, their account can get locked. This can happen if a bot is using stolen usernames and passwords.
  3. Unfamiliar Account Activities: A typical red flag is if you notice actions or transactions that you don’t recognize. Credential stuffing may allow attackers to bypass security checks, leading to unauthorized actions within your accounts.
  4. Spam from Your Accounts: If your friends or colleagues receive strange messages from your email or social media, it may mean that someone has taken over your accounts to send malware or scams.
  5. Increased Number of Breach Notifications: If the services you use have been hacked and you’re told about a possible breach, your login information might be used in other stuffing attacks.

If you encounter any of these warning signs, it’s crucial to act immediately. Start by changing your passwords, enabling multi-factor authentication, and checking for unauthorized activity. To protect your account, review your security settings regularly to prevent credential stuffing.

What To Do if an Account Has Been Breached

If you discover that one of your accounts has been breached, it’s critical to act swiftly to reduce potential damage. Change the password for the compromised account. Ensure the new password is strong and unique, such as combining letters, numbers, and special characters. If any accounts share the same password, all of those passwords must also be changed, preferably to a unique one for each account.

After securing your accounts with new passwords, watch for signs of unauthorized actions. If your account was breached and had financial information or was used for purchases, check your bank statements and report anything suspicious. If someone accesses sensitive information, like a social security number, it’s helpful to get free credit reports. These reports can help monitor for any unusual activity. A credit freeze can prevent some actions, such as an attacker opening a new credit card under the target’s name.

Key Steps To Protect Yourself From Credential Stuffing

Protecting yourself from credential stuffing starts with understanding that your online habits have a direct impact on your vulnerability to attacks. Here are some key steps you can take to secure your online presence:

Use Unique Passwords for Every Account: Avoid using the same password across multiple sites. Each account should have a unique, complex password. This way, if one password is compromised, your other accounts remain secure.

Employ a Password Manager: To manage the complexity of having numerous unique passwords, use a reliable password manager. These services not only store your passwords securely but also help generate strong, random passwords that are tough to crack.

Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Wherever possible, activate MFA or 2FA. That adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of verification, such as a code sent to your phone or generated by an authenticator app.

Regularly Update Your Passwords: Change your passwords periodically, especially after hearing about a data breach. Regular updates can minimize the window of opportunity for an attacker to use stolen credentials.

Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Credential stuffing can be combined with phishing attempts. Be cautious with emails or messages requesting your login information, especially if they claim to be your boss, and never click on suspicious links.

Monitor Your Accounts: Regularly check your bank statements, credit reports, and online accounts for unauthorized activity. If you notice anything unusual, investigate it immediately.

Educate Yourself: Stay informed about the latest security threats and best practices. The more you know, the better you can prepare and respond to potential risks. If you routinely read our blog, you’re already a step ahead.

Take Action After a Breach: If you learn that a service you use has been compromised, change your password for that service right away. Also, change passwords on other accounts where you may have reused login credentials.

By adding these practices into your digital routine, you not only reduce the risk of falling victim to credential stuffing but also enhance your overall cybersecurity posture.

The Cost of Credential Stuffing on Businesses

Credential stuffing attacks pose a significant financial threat to businesses, which can lead to losses through fraudulent activity. A successful attack can also lead to service slowdowns or outages, which create more IT expenses. The average annual cost of a successful credential stuffing attack is $1.7 million in downtime costs and $1.6 in IT expenses. As a result, the time and cost of managing these issues can take away valuable resources from other parts of a business.

A company’s reputation can be greatly harmed by a credential stuffing incident, which can also decrease customer trust. This loss of confidence can reduce sales and cause people to move to competitors, with customer losses costing an average of $2.7 million annually. After an attack, businesses often spend more money on cybersecurity to protect themselves.

Additionally, businesses could be fined for not following data protection rules after an attack. They might also have to pay for legal actions taken by affected customers. Customer support departments also encounter increased demand as they assist customers in securing their accounts, incurring elevated operational costs. Long-term effects may include risks to competitiveness, especially if employee accounts are compromised.

How Businesses Can Guard Users From Credential Stuffing

While there is a lot a user can do to reduce their risk, cybersecurity is often a shared burden. That means businesses can also take extra steps to protect their customers and employees better. Here are some common strategies used:

Make authentication Mandatory: Introducing multi-factor authentication (MFA) can add an extra layer of security, making it significantly harder for attackers to gain unauthorized access even if they have the correct credentials.

Leverage Advanced Security Solutions: Employing security measures like reCAPTCHA, credential hashing, bot detection, continuous authentication, and other tactics can counter automated login attempts.

Educate Users About Security Best Practices: Businesses should actively educate their customers about the importance of using unique passwords for different services and the dangers of password reuse. Educational campaigns can be conducted through regular communications, such as newsletters or alerts.

Monitor for Suspicious Activity: Continuously monitoring for patterns that indicate a credential stuffing attack, such as a high number of failed login attempts, can help in quickly identifying and responding to threats.

Password Hygiene Enforcement: Encourage or enforce password changes regularly and after any breaches. Additionally, implement policies that require complex passwords that are more resistant to brute-force attacks.

Prompt Breach Notification: If a breach occurs, promptly notify affected users and guide them through the process of securing their accounts, which includes resetting their passwords.

Use Threat Intelligence: Sharing information about breaches and threat intelligence can help businesses stay ahead of attackers. By understanding the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) of cybercriminals, companies can better anticipate and counteract attacks.

Data Encryption: Storing user data, especially passwords, using strong encryption can ensure that even if data is breached, it remains unusable to the attackers.

By integrating these proactive measures into their security framework, businesses can create a more challenging environment for credential stuffing and better protect their users’ sensitive information.

Preventing Credential Stuffing Is Easier Than You Think

Credential stuffing represents a less obvious threat where even those with strong passwords may still be vulnerable. Avoiding most of the risk comes down to not reusing passwords. However, for some, it can be difficult to remember too many different ones. That’s why we always recommend using a password manager, which can store every password, no matter how complex. In turn, users only must remember one “master password” to gain access to their secure vault.

Beyond that, using 2FA is another simple way to improve the security of any account significantly. It not only protects users from credential stuffing but can greatly decrease the chance of any cyberattack from working. Regardless of the approach used, being proactive is a key part of any successful cybersecurity strategy. If you wait until after an attack to make positive changes, the damage will already be done.

Does your business need help to stay safe against cyber threats like credential stuffing? Reach out to one of our IT security consultants via our contact form or call us at: +1 (800) 297-8293

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