SecurityBrief Asia logo
Asia's leading source of cybersecurity and cyber-attack news
Story image

The cybersecurity scourge of credentials theft

Thu 16 Mar 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Cybercriminals want your credentials and your employees’ credentials. When those hackers succeed in stealing that information, it can be bad for individuals – and even worse for corporations and other organizations. This is a scourge that’s bad, and it will remain bad.

Credentials come in two types. There are personal credentials, such as the login and password for an email account, bank and retirement accounts, credit-card numbers, airline membership program, online shopping and social media. When hackers manage to obtain those credentials, such as through phishing, they can steal money, order goods and services, and engage in identity theft. This can be extremely costly and inconvenient for victims, but the damage is generally contained to that one unfortunate individual.

Corporate digital credentials, on the other hand, are the keys to an organiation’s network. Consider a manager, executive or information-technology worker within a typical medium-size or larger-size business. Somewhere in the organisation is a database that describes that employee – and describes which digital assets that employee is authorized to use. If cybercriminals manage to steal the employee’s corporate digital credentials, the criminals can then access those same assets, without setting off any alarm bells. Why? Because they have valid credentials.

What might those assets be? Depending on the employee, it might range from everything to file servers that contain intellectual property, as pricing sheets, product blueprints, or patent applications. It might include email archives that describe business plans, or accounting servers that contain important financial information that could help competitors or allow for “insider trading.” It might be human resources data that can help the hackers attack other individuals or engage in identity theft or even blackmail. And if the stolen credentials are for individuals in the IT or information security department, the hackers can learn a great deal about the company’s technology infrastructure, perhaps including passwords to make changes to configurations, open up backdoors, or even disable security systems.

How do cybercriminals obtain those digital credentials? The most common way is to gain a foothold onto a device used by an employee and which is authorised to access the corporate network and company assets. The method of choice: General phishing emails, or highly targeted emails, called spear phishing.

“If somebody sends me an email from my favourite bank saying my account has been comprised and I happen to fall for it, enter in my user name, password, somebody is going to get my bank account. So they can do wire transfers et cetera. This is on a personal basis,” explained Kowsik Guruswamy, Chief Technology Officer at Menlo Security, whose cloud-based isolation platform protects users from malicious Internet content. “If I'm the CFO or the controller for some organization and that same thing happens to my corporate credentials, now all of the sudden it's a whole different ball game. Now they've got the company's bank account.” And if the phishing attempt installs malware on the CFO’s computer, they can do anything the CFO can do.

Phishing emails can be extremely personalized and hard to resist, added Roi Abutbul, CEO and founder of Javelin Networks, which sells solutions to protect the Active Directory from attack. “Let me ask you this. If you receive an email that appears to be from your CEO that says this is the link that you need to click in order to prepare for tomorrow’s important meeting, will you open it or not? Of course you will. One hundred percent of the time you will open it and you will do whatever the CEO said to do.” 

And that email link might take you to an external site that prompts you to give up your credentials – or open a file that installs malware onto your computer, which can then use your digital identity to assess the corporate network.

Scott Scheferman, Director of Consulting of Cylance, which sells endpoint security software, agreed. “Credentials are the choke point common to every single breach. An attacker would prefer to have legitimate credentials. So once they get to the credential part of that kill chain if you will, they're off and running and they're able to use whitelisted tools and other type of normal authentication, whatever it might be, and there is no more malware so they can evade your detection systems.”

If it’s successful phishing, is it a breach?

Your CFO receives an email. He clicks the link, which opens up a website that looks like it’s the corporate bank. He types in his username and password. The cybertheft website displays an error message and redirects to the legitimate bank website. The CEO tries again, and gets into the account – and meanwhile, hackers have his username and password. Have you been breached?

“It's not really a breach,” maintains Menlo’s Guruswamy. “He just typed in his user name and password. Nobody got hacked. There wasn't this big zero day. Nothing happened. He just happened to enter the password and willingly hand the keys to somebody. There was no malware or anything involved.”

What is true is that an otherwise intelligent and highly trained individual fell for a spear phishing email, Guruswamy continued. “It's really about personalizing that information, knowing some context around whether this person is going to read it or not. So personally, I just delete all my emails that I get from people that I don't know. But every email that I take more than five seconds to read, I treasure them because they've got me. They've got my attention.”

Information and security overload

Credentials theft, both on the personal and business front, is a huge issue, and it’s one that’s never going to go away, at least not in the foreseeable future. Many companies, including Cylance, Javelin Networks, Menlo Security, and SecureLink, seek to help companies solve the problem on behalf of their employees, shareholders, and customers. However, as long as there are big corporate data breaches, and as long as people click on links from insecure websites, credentials theft will always be with us.

Javelin Network’s Abutbul offered a sobering thought: “CISOs today are swamped. The security teams are overloaded with data and a lot of work that they need to do at the end of the day. Plus, they are understaffed and with limited budgets.”

Making it worse is that the battle against credentials theft is asymmetric, Abutbul concluded. ”Just look at the effort that attackers need to invest in order to penetrate and bring down an organization. Their investment in attacking the organization is small, and our investment as defending the organization is huge.”

That’s why the battle against the scourge of credentials theft will never, ever end.

Article by Alan Zeichich, principal analyst at Camden Associates. He specialises in enterprise networking, telecommunicatons and cybersecurity.

Related stories
Top stories
Story image
Ransomware
Ransomware hits 65% of organisations in Singapore
Next-generation cybersecurity firm Sophos has released its annual survey and review of real-world ransomware experiences in the State of Ransomware 2022.
Story image
ChildFund
ChildFund launches new campaign to protect children online
ChildFund says WEB Safe & Wise aims to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse online while also empowering them to become digitally savvy. 
Story image
Customer experience
Gartner recognises Okta for abilities in Access Management
Okta has announced it has been recognised as a Customers' Choice for the fourth time in a row in the Gartner Peer Insights "Voice of the Customer" report.
Story image
Data Protection
Barracuda launches new capabilities for API Protection
"Every business needs this type of critical protection against API vulnerabilities and automated bot attacks," Barracuda says.
Story image
Cybersecurity
The 'A-B-C' of effective application security
Software applications have been a key tool for businesses for decades, but the way they are designed and operated has changed during the past few years.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Noname Security partners with Netpoleon to target API issues
Specialist API security firm Noname Security has appointed Netpoleon as its distributor in Australia and New Zealand.
Story image
SaaS
Rubrik Security Cloud marks 'next frontier' in cybersecurity
"The next frontier in cybersecurity pairs the investments in infrastructure security with data security giving companies security from the point of data."
Story image
Cybersecurity
CyberArk launches $30M investment fund to advance security
CyberArk has announced the launch of CyberArk Ventures, a $30 million global investment fund dedicated to advancing the next generation of security disruptors.
Story image
Ivanti
Ivanti and Lookout bring zero trust security to hybrid work
Ivanti and Lookout have joined forces to help organisations accelerate cloud adoption and mature their zero trust security posture in the everywhere workplace.
Story image
Tech job moves
Tech job moves - Datacom, Micro Focus, SnapLogic and VMware
We round up all job appointments from May 6-12, 2022, in one place to keep you updated with the latest from across the tech industries.
Story image
Application Security
What are the DDoS attack trend predictions for 2022?
Mitigation and recovery are vital to ensuring brand reputation remains solid in the face of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack and that business growth and innovation can continue.
Story image
Malware
New vulnerabilities found in Nuspire’s Q1 2022 Threat Report
“Threat actors are quickly adjusting their tactics and these exploits tend to get industry attention, but the threat posed by older and attacks still persists."
Story image
BeyondTrust
BeyondTrust integrates Password Safe solution with SailPoint
BeyondTrust has announced the integration of BeyondTrust Password Safe with SailPoint identity security offerings.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Updates from Google Workspace set to ease hybrid working troubles
Google Workspace has announced a variety of new features which will utilise Google AI capabilities to help make hybrid working situations more efficient and effective.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
ForgeRock releases Autonomous Access solution powered by AI
ForgeRock has officially introduced ForgeRock Autonomous Access, a new solution that uses AI to prevent identity-based cyber attacks and fraud.
Story image
Sift
Sift shares crucial advice for preventing serious ATO breaches
Are you or your business struggling with Account Takeover Fraud (ATO)? One of the latest ebooks from Sift can provide readers with the tools and expertise to help launch them into the new era of account security.
Story image
Cybersecurity
ThoughtLab reveals 10 best practices for cybersecurity in 2022
The benchmarking study reveals best practices that can reduce the probability of a material breach and the time it takes to find and respond to those that happen.
Story image
Ransomware
Anniversaries remind us to review identity risks
World Password Day provides a timely reminder for ordinary citizens and organisations to stop and think about the risks associated with digital identities.
Story image
Malware
Use of malware, botnets and exploits expands in Q1 2022
"As zero-day attacks and other vulnerabilities among companies like Google and Microsoft come to light, threat actors are quickly adjusting their tactics."
Story image
Cybersecurity
Companies rushing to secure print infrastructure
As the pandemic prioritised communication channels and the shift to remote work, IT departments fell behind in updating the security of print and IT infrastructure.
Story image
Qualys
Qualys updates Cloud Platform solution with rapid remediation
The new update is designed to enable organisations to fix asset misconfigurations, patch OS and third-party applications, and deploy custom software.
Story image
Ransomware
Zerto unveils updates to ransomware recovery capabilities
"Organisations face increased risks from the volume and sophistication of ransomware attacks prevalent today."
Story image
Cybersecurity
A10 Networks finds over 15 million DDoS weapons in 2021
A10 Networks notes that in the 2H 2021 reporting period, its security research team tracked more than 15.4 million Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) weapons.
Story image
Ransomware
A third of companies paying ransom don’t recover data - report
Veeam's report finds 76% of businesses who are victims of cyberattacks paid the ransom to recover data, but a third were still unable to get their information back.
Story image
Supply chain
Jetstack promotes better security with supply chain toolkit
The web-based resource is designed to help organisations evaluate and plan the crucial steps they need to establish effective software supply chain security.
Story image
Nozomi Networks
Nozomi Networks, Siemens reveal software integration
Nozomi Networks and Siemens have extended their partnership by embedding Nozomi Networks’ software into the Siemens Scalance LPE local processing engine.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Video: 10 Minute IT Jams - An update from IronNet
Michael Ehrlich joins us today to discuss the history of IronNet and the crucial role the company plays in the cyber defence space.
SonicWall
Find out how you and your business can prevent being caught out by everything from ransomware to cryptojacking.
Link image
Story image
Cybersecurity
Hard numbers: Why ambiguity in cybersecurity no longer adds up
As cybersecurity costs and risks continue to escalate, CEOs continue to struggle with what their investment in cyber protection buys. Getting rid of ambiguity becomes necessary.
Story image
Amazon Web Services / AWS
RedShield leverages AWS to scale cybersecurity services
"Working with AWS gives RedShield the ability to mitigate significant application layer DDoS attacks, helping leaders adopt best practices and security architectures."
Story image
Remote Working
How zero trust and SD-WANs can support productive remote working
The way people connect with applications and data has changed, users are remotely accessing resources that could be stored anywhere from a corporate data center to the cloud.
Story image
Hyperscale
SpaceDC partners with Aofei for data center sales in Asia
SpaceDC has partnered with Aofei Data International to sell Aofei's data centers, CDN and SDN in China.
Story image
VPN
Palo Alto Networks says ZTNA 1.0 not secure enough
Palo Alto Networks is urging the industry to move to Zero Trust Network Access 2.0 because previous versions have major gaps in security protection.
Story image
Phishing
Google reveals new safety and security measures for users
Google's new measures include automatic two step verification, virtual cards and making it easier to remove contact information on Google Search results.
Story image
Data Protection
Managed Service Providers key to customer data protection
Frequent cyberattacks in the ASEAN region drive the demand for MSPs that can deliver purpose-built security solutions for SME customers.
Story image
Cybersecurity
HackerOne launches Attack Resistance Management solution
HackerOne has launched Attack Resistance Management - a new category of security solution that targets the root causes of the attack resistance gap. 
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
AI-based email security platform Abnormal Security valued at $4B
"A new breed of cybersecurity solutions that leverage AI is required to change the game and stop the rising threat of sophisticated and targeted email attacks."
Story image
Digital Transformation
How to modernise legacy apps without compromising security
At a time when digital transformation has become central to business, even the most important applications come with a ‘use-by’ date.
Story image
Ransomware
Cybersecurity starts with education
In 2021, 80% of Australian organisations responding to the Sophos State of Ransomware study reported being hit by ransomware. 
Story image
Cloud Security
Aqua Security createa unified scanner for cloud native security
“By integrating more cloud native scanning targets into Trivy, such as Kubernetes, we are simplifying cloud native security."
Story image
Phishing
KnowBe4 celebrates reaching 50,000 customers worldwide
KnowBe4 has reached the milestone of 50,000 customers, adding nearly 2,500 in the first quarter of 2022 alone.
Story image
Training
Fortinet training edges toward closing cybersecurity gap
The Fortinet Training Institute has made significant progress in closing the cybersecurity skills gap, on track to train one million people by 2026.
Story image
Apricorn
Data backup plans inadequate, data still at risk - study
The Apricorn 2022 Global IT Security Survey revealed that while the majority organisations have data backup plans in place, data for many are at risk.
Story image
Workato
Workato unveils enhancements to enterprise automation platform
"The extra layer of protection with EKM, zero-logging, and hourly key rotation gives customers a lot more visibility and control over more sensitive data."