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How Account Takeover Damages Your Brand

Online fraud is growing increasingly sophisticated. Cybercriminals are always devising new ways of staying a step ahead of fraud solutions and tools. Businesses and brands are now at a higher risk of being exposed to these threats. One particular danger is an account takeover

No brand, company, or organization is immune to fraudulent account attacks. They will inevitably happen. So having this in mind is the first step to protecting your brand against attacks.

What Is An Account Takeover?

Account theft is a form of identity theft. It’s when a cybercriminal gains access to a user’s account credentials. The cybercriminal can then pose as the real user and change the account details. What follows is the theft of financial information or other sensitive data.

The fraudster can also send out phishing emails and even compromise the security infrastructure. The cybercriminal uses this information to access other accounts within the organization.

Most cybercriminals will target individual-specific departments. These include IT, human resources, finance, customer care, and higher-level management. These are the departments that are most at risk of account fraud.

Account Theft and Your Brand

Gaining access to your account is just the beginning. What happens after they gain access is what you should be worried about. Some of the ramifications of a successful account hacking to your brand can include:

  1. Financial fraud – Once a cybercriminal accesses an account, they can use this information to commit financial fraud. They can make withdrawals from your brand’s bank accounts or even make fraudulent purchases using the credit or debit cards on file. This can result in significant financial losses.
  2. Credential sale – A cybercriminal can also sell login credentials in the black market. This may open your brand up to even more account hacking attacks in the future, with you being none the wiser.
  3. Reputation damage – An account hacking can target multiple brand-loyal customers. They may end up losing money, or their personal information may also be put at risk. This will cause long-term damage to your reputation, which may be hard to recover from.
  4. Theft of proprietary information – A cybercriminal can steal sensitive information that relates to your business operations. They can sell this information to competitors or other companies.
  5. Security compromise – A cybercriminal can use account fraud to disable the security systems that are in place. This will negatively affect the security of your brand and expose it to even more attacks.
  6. Phishing campaigns – Some attackers may use a hacked account to launch phishing campaigns that will go undetected.
  7. Loss of customer trust – Account fraud attacks can expose personal information, which is often onsold. If this happens, you will lose the trust of your customers.

All in all, these are severe impacts of account hacking attacks. So it’s essential to have measures in place to identify and prevent these crimes.

Long-Term Risks

The level of trust that people have in your brand impacts your reputation. You invested a lot of time and resources in building your brand name. Through an account takeover, your customers are left vulnerable to identity theft, and the blame will be placed on your business. 

Your customer’s stolen information places them at significant risk. Not only will they end up losing money, but their sensitive personal data may also be revealed. Hacking doesn’t just target one customer. Multiple customers are targeted to increase the hit rate.  

So, the most significant fallout with account fraud is your customers. This is terrible news for your brand name. The mistrust of customers is like a death-knell to your business. 

This crime can also affect the trust of your partner businesses. In a situation where your brand suffers a malicious infiltration, other companies you may be working with will likely end all relations.

These businesses fear their vulnerability will also be exploited. So you end up losing business, your brand gets tarnished, and getting future business is compromised. Therefore, it is crucial to be able to identify and prevent such threats.

Account takeover is even more dangerous for small businesses. Most small businesses do not survive a data breach. The sad reality is that many enterprises consider security costs as deadweight costs. However, it is, in fact, the opposite of a dead weight since every single business experiences a data breach at one point or another. Hence, if you are not ready to defend your brand and everyone’s data, you will most definitely go under, and there is a very high chance that you might lose the business altogether.

How Account Theft Works

The truth is that in recent years, cybercriminals have intensified their efforts. It’s relatively easy for them to take over accounts. An account that is not secure can be taken over in a matter of minutes without the victim being aware.

So how exactly does it happen?

Cybercriminals don’t need sensitive information to gain access to an account. They only have to seek out and work from the easiest entry point. Other times, they only need to acquire personal login data, such as date of birth or full name.

This info can be found with minimal research. Once the hacker gains access to this account, they can change everything the account gives them access to.

There are several techniques that cybercriminals can use to gain entry into a secure account. These include:

  1. Hacking – They use a brute force attack to churn through password combinations and generate successful login keys.
  2. Phishing – They send phishing emails that give the criminals access to sensitive information when opened.
  3. Botnets – Hackers can deploy bots that can hack into accounts and perform rapid attacks. They can take over the maximum number of accounts. These bots deploy from multiple locations making it hard to identify them.
  4. Credential stuffing – Credentials that have been stolen, leaked from various businesses, or purchased from the dark web can be useful to cybercriminals. They test these credentials against multiple websites in the hopes of catching an unsuspecting victim.  
  5. Social engineering – Cybercriminals can spend time researching open databases and social media for pertinent information. This includes names, locations, or phone numbers. Basically, anything that will help them guess the account password.

From the preceding, it’s clear that cybercriminals can quickly gain access to your accounts and compromise your brand if you are not careful.

Your Protection Against Hackers

We’ve discussed in detail how to account theft can be harmful to your brand. So it only makes sense that we look at how you can protect your brand from such attacks. Most well-intentioned IT personnel think they have data security under lock and key. The truth, however, is that a lot more needs to be done. 

Some of these security tips include:

  1. Tracking devices – Tracking and showing login locations will help you identify suspicious activity. A login that occurs 200 miles away from the user can automatically signal your IT team that a hacker has access. The account should then be frozen.
  2. Use Multi-Factor Authentication – This is an authentication method that requires users to provide two or more verifications to gain access to an account. In addition to the password, the user is required to provide additional information to log in. MFA is a useful tool in preventing account hacking since only the user can provide this additional information.
  3. Use security questions – After providing the password, users will be required to answer a predetermined question that only they have the answer to. While it’s a basic form of increased security, it can be beneficial.
  4. Blacklisting and blocking IPs – Incoming login attempts from one IP can be a red flag. By blacklisting and blocking these IPs, such attacks can be mitigated.
  5. Setting login attempt limits – A finite amount of login attempts can be provided for secure accounts. This will ensure that cybercriminals have a limited number of trials to get the password right. This is especially effective against bot spamming, which originates from different IP addresses.
  6. Sandboxing suspicious accounts – There should be a function to deter further compromise if an account has been hacked. A suspicious account can be sandboxed so that all malicious activity is tracked and stopped.
  7. Using a robust WAF configuration- A web application firewall (WAF) can be configured to identify and mitigate hacking attempts. This can be done through targeted policies that can identify stolen credentials, signs of brute force hacking, or botnet probing.
  8. Using AI detection – Traditional WAFs aren’t always effective in identifying more sophisticated cyber attacks. Recent developments in AI technology can be leveraged to detect suspicious activity and identify complex cyber-fraud techniques.
  9. Setting strong passwords – The passwords that are used to log into accounts should be strong enough such that even a brute force attack cannot bypass them. They should include a minimum of 10 characters, with a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols.

Conclusion

Any business that provides credential-protected accounts is exposed to the risk of account fraud. It doesn’t discriminate against companies based on their size, location, or industry. So this requires extra vigilance and proactive measures to protect your brand. It’s also important to note that you can report an account takeover to the FTC

Guest Submission by David Lukić; information privacy, security, and compliance consultant at IDstrong. Opinions are of the author.

Written by Abhijeet Pratap

Abhijeet has been blogging on educational topics and business research since 2016. He graduated with a Hons. in English literature from BRABU and an MBA from the Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, New Delhi. He likes to blog and share his knowledge and research in business management, marketing, literature and other areas with his readers.

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