With the virtual world increasingly depending on identity-based authorization, identity-based cyberattacks have become a growing menace. The newly released “2023 Trends in Securing Digital Identities” report by the Identity Defined Security Alliance (IDSA) revealed that a staggering 90% of organizations encountered at least one breach linked to digital identities within the past year.
Identity-based attacks specifically target and compromise the digital identities of individuals, organizations, or entities. Encompassing a variety of techniques and methods used by cybercriminals, these attacks exploit vulnerabilities related to identity and access management.
What Is An Identity-Based Attack?
Identity-based attacks aim to steal, manipulate, or misuse identity-related information, such as usernames, domain names, email addresses, passwords, personal data, or digital certificates. The primary goal is often to gain unauthorized access to systems, data, or resources, commit fraud, or conduct malicious activities while masquerading as legitimate users or entities. These attacks focus on exploiting vulnerabilities related to how identities are managed, verified, or authenticated in a computer or network environment.
Types of Identity-Based Attacks
They can take various forms and pose a significant threat to cybersecurity, privacy, and the integrity of online systems and services. The most common types include-
Identity-based Phishing Attacks
Phishing attacks often involve impersonating a trusted entity, such as a legitimate organization or individual, to trick users into revealing their sensitive information like usernames, passwords, or banking information. Phishing emails, websites, or messages are used to steal these credentials.
Credential stuffing or credential phishing takes advantage of the human psychology of using the same set of passwords for multiple platforms, as this eliminates the need to remember multiple passwords.
A popular example of this attack is the infamous 2013 Target data breach that was based on this malicious method.
This breach stands as one of history’s most significant identity-based attacks, as the attackers leveraged stolen login credentials to infiltrate a vendor’s system connected to Target’s network, ultimately compromising the personal and financial data of over 41 million consumers. Subsequently, malicious software was installed on Target’s point-of-sale (POS) systems, resulting in substantial financial losses that included the cost of investigation, cybersecurity enhancements, and legal settlements, totaling $18.5M.
Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks
MitM attacks intercept communication between two parties, allowing attackers to eavesdrop on or alter the data being transmitted. This can involve impersonating one of the communicating parties to gain access to sensitive information.
Social engineering attacks, known for leading to identity compromises, heavily rely on manipulating human psychology rather than technical exploits. Social engineers use ways like impersonation attacks to exploit human behavior, trust, and social norms to achieve their malicious goals.
Controlling this human element through technology alone can be a formidable challenge. This makes employee training and awareness programs crucial, even though they are not infallible.
Why Are Identity-Based Attacks a Threat?
Identity-based attacks can take various forms and are considered significant threats for several reasons.
1. The Value of Stolen Identities
Cybercriminals can profit from stolen identities by engaging in various malicious activities, such as financial fraud, tax fraud, or identity theft. Stolen identities also often provide access to sensitive data and resources. For instance, compromised employee identities can be used to gain unauthorized access to a company’s internal systems, confidential data, or trade secrets.
Individuals who fall victim to identity-based attacks can suffer significant financial losses due to fraudulent transactions, unauthorized access to bank accounts, or unauthorized use of credit lines. For organizations, a breach involving stolen identities can lead to severe damage to their reputation. Customers and partners may lose trust in the organization’s ability to safeguard sensitive information.
Consequently, businesses are proactively implementing measures to shield themselves from this menace. Based on a 2023 IDSA survey, more than 60% of companies have elevated the management and security of digital identities into their top three priorities. Furthermore, approximately half of these companies have made investments in cyber insurance to safeguard against identity-related incidents.
The Evolving Nature of Identity-Based Attacks
Identity-based attacks are continually evolving in sophistication. Attackers use advanced techniques to steal identities, such as phishing emails that closely mimic legitimate communications or leverage social engineering tactics to manipulate individuals into divulging their credentials.
Perpetrators often engage in targeted attacks, honing their focus on specific individuals or organizations. To create more elusive attacks that are harder to detect, they invest time gathering intelligence, tailoring their tactics to their chosen targets. These attackers employ a range of techniques and tools to obscure their activities, including routing their actions through multiple servers and utilizing anonymizing technologies like Tor. The stolen data is often monetized on the dark web, creating significant obstacles in disrupting the distribution and sharing chain, thereby complicating the attribution of attacks to specific individuals or groups.
Even after mitigating an identity-based attack, there remains a risk of subsequent attacks. Attackers may have acquired valuable information during the initial breach, which they can exploit in future attacks.
Litigations Due to Failing to Protect Customer Databases
Laws such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) impose strict requirements on organizations regarding the protection of personal data. Non-compliance can result in significant fines and legal actions. In addition to legal penalties, organizations may also face the costs associated with litigation, including attorney fees and settlements.
In a significant incident, Equifax was required to pay up to $575 million in restitution to affected consumers and a civil penalty of $175 million to the states due to a data breach. This breach resulted from the company’s failure to promptly address a known vulnerability in its systems.
How To Prevent Identity-Based Attacks
Preventing identity-based attacks requires a comprehensive and proactive security approach that includes both technical measures and user education. Here are some suggested measures-
Strong Password Practices
Emphasize Password Complexity
Encourage users to create strong passwords that include a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters. Avoid easily guessable passwords like “password123.”
Leverage Password Managers
Encourage using reputable password managers to generate and store complex passwords securely.
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
MFA requires users to provide two or more authentication factors, making it significantly harder for attackers to gain unauthorized access. Common MFA methods, in addition to a standard username and password practice, are OTPs, biometrics, or answers to personal questions.
Deploying DMARC is a critical step in fortifying your email security against the pervasive threats of email spoofing and phishing attacks. DMARC operates as a robust email authentication protocol designed to safeguard your domain’s integrity and reputation in the digital realm.
At its core, DMARC functions by enabling organizations to define a stringent email policy, clearly stating how to treat emails that fail authentication checks like SPF and/or DKIM. This policy is embodied in a DMARC record, which is published in the Domain Name System (DNS) for verification. By specifying the actions to take when unauthorized emails are encountered, DMARC helps ensure that only legitimate sources can use your domain name for sending emails.
Use our free DMARC generator to create a record for your domain.
Regular Software Updates and Patch Management
Keep all software, including operating systems and applications, up-to-date with the latest security patches to address known vulnerabilities that attackers might exploit.
Use of Security Solutions
- Install and regularly update antivirus and anti-malware software to detect and block known malware threats.
- Implement IDS to monitor network traffic for suspicious activities and potential breaches.
- Make use of email security methods and prevention strategies against email threats.
Encrypt sensitive data both in transit and at rest. Encryption helps protect data even if it falls into the wrong hands, making it difficult for attackers to access meaningful information.
Zero Trust Security Model
Adopt a Zero Trust security approach, where trust is never assumed, and strict access controls are applied based on continuous authentication and authorization. This model minimizes the attack surface and reduces the risk of identity-based attacks.
Get Rid of Legacy Systems
Phase out and replace outdated legacy systems that may have unpatched vulnerabilities or weak security controls. Legacy systems can be attractive targets for attackers.
You can significantly reduce the risk of identity-based attacks and enhance the overall security posture by implementing these preventive measures and fostering a cybersecurity-aware culture within your organization. It’s important to stay vigilant, adapt to emerging threats, and continuously educate both employees and stakeholders about the evolving cybersecurity landscape.
Get started with our DMARC Analyzer and strengthen your email defenses today — contact us to learn more!