Among all the cyber attack techniques gaining prominence, account takeover (ATO) attacks are perhaps the most unnerving for businesses. Even though financial institutions seem like an obvious target, e-commerce storefronts and online entertainment platforms are also becoming popular targets.

For example, online betting website DraftKings fell victim to an ATO attack in 2022, where the perpetrators made off with $300,000. At the time of the attack against DraftKings, its chief rival FanDuel said it had also noticed a spike in ATO attempts.

Incidents such as those (and many others) are prompting other businesses to evaluate their risk of ATOs, and how to prevent such threats. Let’s look at the telltale signs of ATO attacks and how businesses can fight back and assure business continuity.

What Is an Account Takeover (ATO) Attack?

An account takeover attack occurs when bad actors gain access to a legitimate user’s account credentials and exploit them for criminal activities. Essentially, the attacker poses as the legitimate user, and plunders the user’s account of money or whatever else might be of value.

Fraudsters can obtain compromised credentials in various ways, such as:

Cyber phishing and malware attacks

Attackers can gain access to login credentials through email or messaging phishing scams or by installing malware on business equipment or mobile apps. Although other forms of social engineering are out there too, phishing attacks are the most common method.

Cyber data breaches

In this attack, hackers gain access to lists of stolen credentials by orchestrating a data breach or accessing data breach documents available on the dark web such as credit card information or identity numbers.

Brute force attacks and credential stuffing

Attackers might try to access an account by bombarding it with various password combinations until finding one that works. Once the attacker finds a viable user ID and password combination, he or she tries using that same combination on many applications, known as “credential stuffing.” Credential stuffing works well because many individuals reuse the same credentials across other systems or apps.

ATO attacks can severely damage a company’s financials and harm its brand reputation. Since these attacks victimize the customer whose account credentials are at risk, they also end up damaging customer trust in your organization.

How Can You Preempt ATO Attacks?

The early warning signs mentioned in the next section would serve as a ready reckoner.

What Are the Signs of an Account Takeover Attack?

Regardless of how credentials are accessed, most ATO attacks follow a basic path. The following telltale signs should give cybersecurity and IT teams early warning that an attack is afoot

  • Company applications and systems see unusual surges in endpoint traffic for the time of day or week.
  • Storefronts might have a huge order transaction volume that follows a distinct ordering pattern.
  • Customers might experience a sudden surge of gift cards or other promotions associated with loyalty programs, looking uncannily similar to your formal email communications.
  • Behavioral patterns for an app or system usage could happen across various IP addresses and several apps simultaneously.

Any of the above should put your cybersecurity team on alert.

So how do you prevent ATO attacks from wreaking havoc across your IT infrastructure? Consider the strategies below.

Strategies to Prevent ATO Attacks

Preventing account takeover fraud attacks might seem challenging, but a concerted effort that deploys defenses at every level of the organization will go a long way to victory. In addition, maintaining a comprehensive cybersecurity posture would help you build a formidable approach to preventing these attacks.

Let’s review the various defense mechanisms IT and cybersecurity teams could implement to stop such attacks in their tracks.

Monitor and filter suspicious endpoint traffic

Use a combination of endpoint protection mechanisms such as hardware tokens and web application firewalls (WAF) to protect critical apps and API services within your company infrastructure. Specifically work to thwart bot-based traffic, which is designed to login automatically from different IP addresses.

Deploy multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Provide an additional layer of authentication for user accounts, especially for public-facing applications such as social media. Adding a captcha layer could also help you distinguish genuine customer access from bot-based systems trying to find their way into your infrastructure.

Use behavioral usage analysis techniques

Analyzing customer usage patterns using AI for unusual behavior in real-time – for example, massive data exports from elevated access mechanisms on CRM systems – can be an excellent way to monitor and alert your IT team quickly to isolate such attacks.

Monitor for unusual access using fingerprinting

Digital “fingerprinting’ techniques allow IT and cybersecurity teams to identify company-approved devices and equipment and alert teams to deviant behavior from bots or hackers using automation techniques.

Keep Your Accounts Safe With the ZenGRC

To thwart ATO attacks, you need a blent of strong security posture and excellent cyber hygiene from employees and customers. To understand how to build such a practical cybersecurity approach, look no further than the ZenGRC.

RiskOptics can help you move from ad hoc security and compliance management to real-time compliance, enabling teams to stay compliant with security protocols and reduce risk.

To understand what a tremendous cyber risk management platform is that brings your organization’s top risk priorities together, schedule a ZenGRC demo today.