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Account Takeovers: What Are They and How Can You Upgrade Your Account Takeover Prevention?

33 billion accounts will be breached in 2023. Account takeovers are occurring at an unprecedented rate and devastating unprepared organizations. Unfortunately, most business owners are woefully unequipped for this growing threat.

Concerned about your organization’s cybersecurity but don’t know how to boost your account takeover fraud detection and defense? In this blog, we’ll break down everything you need to know to prevent account takeovers and keep your organization locked down.

What Are Account Takeovers?

An account takeover (ATO) is when an unauthorized individual logs into an account that isn’t theirs. Also known as account hacking, these are an increasingly common occurrence.

Where cybercriminals used to prioritize high-value targets like Fortune 500 organizations or international businesses, they’ve pivoted to smaller or mid-sized organizations unequipped to defend against them.

How Do Account Takeovers Work?

There are many types of ATOs. How an ATO is classified depends on the attack vector that a cybercriminal exploits. Account takeovers can be categorized into five broad categories:

  1. Opportunistic Takeovers: This type occurs when a criminal finds an individual’s login information. This often happens due to phishing campaigns, poor password practices, brute force attacks, or malware.
  2. Bought Credential Takeovers: This attack vector is the result of account details being sold en masse after a massive data breach. This confidential information is typically traded on the dark web and is the source of many account takeovers.
  3. Credential Stuffing Takeovers: Credential stuffing is similar to bought credential takeovers, but it automates attacks with a software, script, or bot to try leaked login details until one works.
  4. Security Vulnerability Takeovers: These occur when there are open security vulnerabilities in an organization’s network.
  5. Targeted Attack Takeovers: Targeted ATO attacks occur when cybercriminals identify specific high-value accounts they’d like to target. This could be a specific public figure or unique social media account.

How Much Damage Can Account Takeovers Do?

The damage an ATO attack does is highly dependent on your organization. However, in 2021 alone, account takeovers cost $11.4 billion. While specific costs will vary depending on your organization, ATO attacks can seriously disrupt your business and force you to cease operations.

To best understand how much damage an account takeover could cost, ask yourself what it would cost if a cybercriminal compromised your organization’s financial information, client data, and operations. Many businesses don’t survive—60% of small businesses that are victims of a cyberattack go out of business within six months of the attack.

Why Takeover Accounts?

There are a wide array of reasons why fraudsters breach into accounts:

  • They want additional data about your organization: After breaching into an account, fraudsters have access to a range of information. They can use this information to get deeper access to data like phone numbers, credit card information, and more. This could be especially dangerous if your business has sensitive client data that must be protected according to your industry’s compliance standards.
  • They’re looking for financial access: Whether a cybercriminal is looking to access your organization’s bank account information or customers’ credit card details, most ATO attacks center around financial gain.
  • They want to engage in promotional abuse: If an organization offers a sign-up or referral bonus, some hackers will take control of certain accounts to try to maximize their gains. Cheap and petty? Yes. A threat to your organization? Absolutely.
  • They want to use it for spam purposes: Instead of creating fake accounts, some hackers will access legitimate accounts for spam purposes, making them harder to delist. They’ll use accounts to create fake reviews, fraudulently sell goods, or create fake listings to deceive people into sharing their card details.
  • They’re sophisticated phishers: Breaching into a real account gives a phishing attempt an extreme amount of credibility. This makes it very likely for victims to give up their sensitive information.

Who’s at Risk?

Account takeovers should concern every business owner. Criminals have begun lasering in on small and mid-sized businesses because they usually have poor cybersecurity practices and can be breached without difficulty. Unfortunately, just about every organization is at risk today if it handles sensitive data.

  • Accept credit cards? You’re at risk.
  • Have private client or customer information in your systems? You’re at risk.
  • Communicate through digital channels? You’re at risk.

If your business has an online presence, you need to consider account takeover prevention.

How to Prevent Account Takeover Fraud

Our Guide to Account Takeover Prevention

Now that you’re better informed on account takeovers and what they look like, let’s jump into account takeover prevention strategies. Follow these tips to minimize the chance that your organization falls prey to ATO attacks.

Simple Security Tips to Prevent Account Takeover

Let’s start by reviewing the most simple account takeover solutions most business owners can implement. While these won’t make your company immune to ATO attacks, they’ll put you a huge step ahead of the many organizations lacking adequate cybersecurity strategies.

Get started with these easy account takeover prevention strategies:

  • Beef up your password policies: Your security is only as strong as your weakest password. There are a few best practices to greatly improve your password security. Start by forcing your employees to use passwords that combine numbers and symbols and meet a specific character length. After that, make them regularly change their passwords every 3–6 months.
  • Implement password software: Many businesses put off tightening password security because they’re worried about it interfering with productivity or disrupting operations when an employee forgets a password. Avoid this issue entirely by using a password manager. A password manager can securely store all of your passwords in case you forget one while keeping your organization secure.
  • Train employees on links and URLs: Training is everything when it comes to cybersecurity—studies show that 82% of data breaches are the result of human error. The best way to prevent massive cybersecurity mistakes is by properly training your employees. Start by educating yourself on cybersecurity and then pass along the lessons to your team in some kind of structured meeting.
  • Use multi-factor authentication: If you don’t have multi-factor authentication (MFA) enabled, you need to change that today. MFA is the easiest way to upgrade your cybersecurity. MFA requires you to confirm a new login to an account on a secondary device, adding an enormous hurdle for cybercriminals.
  • Tokenize sensitive data: in your accounts, you probably store sensitive data (credit card information, personal information, health information or other) – make sure to tokenize the sensitive data with a tokenization service provider. The rule of thumb is that if you do not have anything to steal, you are less of a target.

Comprehensive Account Takeover Solutions

Now that we’ve reviewed some of the simplest ways to boost your cybersecurity, let’s jump into some more extensive account takeover solutions:

Leverage 3D Secure

3D Secure (3DS) credit card authentication is an advanced security protocol that protects card-not-present transactions. 3DS verification forces customers to complete an extra authentication step, verifying they’re a cardholder before processing a transaction. Think of 3DS as multi-factor authentication for card-not-present transactions.

Data tokenization

Tokenizing your sensitive data is a simple and easy way to keep storing data but without the security risk. Similar to a bank storing your hard earned money, let a security professional store all your sensitive data.

Want to Learn More About 3DS?

Learn more about 3DS models and their benefits in our recent blog!

Implement a Zero Trust Security Model

There’s no foolproof account takeover solution. However, implementing a zero-trust security model will keep your business as secure as possible. One of the best ways to work towards zero trust in your organization is with tokenization. Tokenization solutions replace the sensitive data in your processes with dummy figures. This lets you keep all of your processes organized and intact without leaving any of your data exposed. In fact, some tokenization models can move all sensitive information out of your operation entirely, simplifying compliance and boosting your security.

Find Your Tokenization Solution With PCI Booking

Interested in implementing tokenization? Lock down your company’s security by partnering with PCI Booking today. Whether you’re looking to stay compliant, tighten security, or streamline processes, our technology experts will customize a solution for you.