Hackers have many ways of taking over accounts of all kinds, from personal email addresses to accounts for employees at businesses.
If hackers break into accounts, they can steal credit card information, commit identity theft, or harass a person or company into paying ransom to the hackers.
How do Criminals Pull off Account Takeovers?
Some hackers use very simply, low-tech, unsophisticated tricks to break into accounts and security systems. For example, a hacker might simply call someone at your company on the phone and ask for a password while pretending to be someone that should be allowed to have it.
They might have a story and pretend that they need the password urgently, so whoever they call doesn’t have time to think about it. They do not always use their programming skills to hack into accounts – many of them do, but many of them use much simpler methods.
A hacker might know personal information about you or someone at your company. If they have a name, address, e-mail, phone number, birthday, or other information, they may be able to break into an account.
They might pretend to have forgotten a password and use this information to get a new password. If someone trying to hack into your accounts has access to your computer or phone, it is easier for them to do this. If they have access to any computers that use passwords for a company, it is easier for them to hack into it.
Criminals Look For Physical Items
A criminal might steal a wallet, a bank statement, a piece of mail, or anything else that has any sensitive information on it.
If someone forgets one of their own passwords, they can usually get it back if they can provide enough personal information. Hackers can exploit this by pretending to be the account owner needing their password back.
People who are trying to break into accounts, use other people’s credit cards, or commit identity theft do anything they can to get the right personal information.
Hackers can buy Personal Information Online
The dark web is full of places where hackers can buy information. If hackers succeed at a major data breach, they often end up with many passwords to many accounts, plus credit card numbers and other information.
Hackers do not always exploit this information themselves. Instead, they might sell it on the dark web. You might have already had some of your information compromised in this way, and people might illegally buy it to hack into your personal or company accounts.
We imagine that hackers mostly use computer programs to steal information. Sometimes, this is true – they can intercept unsecured WiFi and collect usernames and passwords this way. Thieves have many higher-tech tricks, including credit card scanners that they hide in ATM machines and use to steal credit card numbers.
Botnets and Brute Force Attacks
Hackers can also use botnets to take over accounts. Bots will attempt to hack into as many accounts as possible by guessing passwords.
With enough attempts, they can take over many accounts. These are known as “brute force attacks” because they rely on making a huge number of login attempts to work.
It is not always very easy to prevent this – a sophisticated botnet might have millions of IP addresses to choose from, so banning a few addresses might not save you.
Basic security systems can deal with simple botnets, but not more advanced botnets that are harder to detect. A good security system can detect and stop a bot attack even if the botnet is sophisticated.
How do hackers profit from these attacks?
Hackers can profit from stolen accounts by using the accounts to find other information, especially credit card information. The first thing that cybercriminals are looking for is credit card numbers, plus the card holder’s names, security codes, PIN numbers, and addresses.
Fraudsters can also apply for loans under another person’s name if they steal information. They can also use stolen accounts for illegal purposes, such as money laundering.
They can also use stolen accounts to send spam messages to other people, with the spam getting through spam filters because it comes from an actively used account. They use these spam messages to scam people with fraudulent offers.
Some hackers also try to shut down businesses and lock people out of their accounts. Skilled hackers can make businesses unable to function. They then demand money in return for opening the accounts back up again and are likely to demand more money if anyone takes their offer.
Account Takeover Prevention
There are many ways to do this, some of which are very basic. Choose decent passwords. If a website lets you choose a weak password, you should still use a stronger one.
Making your password the same as your username, for example, is a bad idea. That is a very weak password. A lot of the time, a website won’t even let you sign up if your password is too weak.
Using good passwords is not enough to stop skilled hackers. You should use more advanced methods to protect yourself against hackers.
With Single-Factor authentication, a person only needs to do a single thing – such as enter a PIN number or password – to access an account.
With Two-Factor authentication, they need to know both a password and something else to get access. For example, they might need to both know a password and have physical access to a phone or computer associated with the account. If you tie logging in to physical devices, hackers won’t be able to break in without possessing people’s computers or phones.
Multi-Factor authentication may require two, three, or more factors. There are also face scans, fingerprint scanners, and security questions. Merely asking for a small piece of information, such as a phone number, can defeat many hackers.
Sometimes, you aren’t entirely sure whether or not you have a problem with hackers. If you think there is a hacker trying to steal from you, you can use software to monitor an account’s activity. If the account is active when you are not using it, the account has been compromised.
Firewalls can block traffic from certain locations or with certain characteristics. For example, if people trying to break into your company are all in a certain city, you can block all traffic from that location. This can prevent hackers from getting into your accounts through repeated attempts.
Educate Your Employees
Teach your employees a little bit about how malicious people get into accounts. Tell them that your company will never call them and ask for their account names and passwords. Teach them to watch out for suspicious behavior.
AI-Based Botnet Detection
Sometimes, you need a powerful AI-based account takeover protection system to defeat hackers. Powerful AI can tell the difference between legitimate attempts to log in to your company’s accounts and login attempts from botnets.
Hackers who work on botnets are always in an arms race with people who work on security systems. While newer botnets can mimic human behavior and defeat older security software, the best new security software can defeat newer bots.