How to secure your business against password-stealing attacks

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A weak password is all hackers need to compromise apps or accounts and gain access to confidential files and data. Although password cracking is a very common cyberattack, the repercussions should not be taken lightly. From data theft to identity breach to operational downtime, stolen passwords can damage a company’s reputation and financial condition.

Sometimes hackers exploit human psychology; other times, systems are infected or infiltrated by malware. Moreover, hackers use off-the-shelf solutions or bad bots to exploit passwords. So, learning how hackers can steal passwords can help IT professionals raise awareness and protect their business against malicious cyber threats. Here are the four main techniques for stealing passwords.

Social engineering

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Social engineering is psychological manipulation that influences the target to perform unwanted activities. And phishing is one of the most common ways to take advantage of social engineering. Research shows that phishing was the #1 complaint for businesses and individuals and resulted in $1.8 billion in business losses.

By pretending to be someone you know (friends, family, or business partners), hackers can trick you into handing over sensitive information.

For example, hackers impersonate government officials or bank associates to encourage people to download a seemingly important document, complete their KYC by clicking a link, or change their passwords. This gives hackers backdoor access to users’ personal information or systems.

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The best way to prevent such attacks is to use multi-factor authentication. It is important to be wary of emails containing attachments and verify the sender before sharing sensitive data or opening links or attachments.

brute force attack

Brute force means that hackers use commonly known and used passwords to try to hack into your account. Such a crude attack is a dictionary attack where the hackers use a dictionary and test all the words. Another way is when hackers perform a data breach and gain access to the plain text password hash. (Hashing is the process of mapping data from any amount to a predetermined length using an algorithm.) In 2021, brute force attacks increased by 160% between May and mid-June.

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An example of such an attack would include hackers using a trial and error approach to break into someone’s account. The process becomes much easier and faster with the use of automation.

Using 16-character passwords with at least a few special characters can help prevent such attacks. Also, the other method is to use salts in your passwords. Salts are random data inserted in the beginning, middle or end of the password, so that hackers cannot crack simple passwords.

The Middle Man (MITM)

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As the name suggests, MITM is an attack where hackers position themselves between the user and the client, decrypt all the information and use it for malicious purposes. The attacker compromises servers, including HTTPS connections to websites, which allow them to eavesdrop on the conversation.
In such attacks, the hackers actively eavesdrop on the conversation by making contact with both parties and swapping their conversation, tricking them into believing that they are talking to each other. Instead, the attacker accesses the entire conversation by being in the “middle”.

Such attacks can be avoided using an SSL VPN, which can protect both users and customers and ensures that the conversation is encrypted and attackers cannot decrypt it.

Malware

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A quick glance at the malware landscape can tell you that attacks are decreasing year over year, as in 2021 malware fell 4% from last year. However, a closer look will tell you there’s more going on – August 2021 broke last year’s records by carrying out 537 million malware attacks.

Thus, the scenario tells us that at no time should IT teams let their guard down; instead, preventive measures and awareness programs must continue to operate to avoid falling into the trap of malicious actors.

Malware is malicious software inserted into a network or device. Hackers can use phishing emails as a way to inject malware.

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In such attacks, hackers can insert malware into user’s systems which can then be used to track user data and steal passwords through the technique of keylogging. In this technique, keystrokes can be traced to identify passwords and steal sensitive information like account details, passwords, email accounts etc.

Securing endpoints and deploying a robust security solution is key to identifying and preventing malware and other infections.

Passwords will continue to be used for the foreseeable future simply because they are easy to use and can be used anywhere. However, maintaining good passwords is not just the responsibility of the IT team, but of each individual. Therefore, the solution to prevention lies in raising employee awareness, having ongoing security programs in place to stay on top of the threat landscape, and using solutions like SSL VPN that can mitigate attacks like MITM and HTTPS spoofing.

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