What Is Account Takeover Prevention? Preventing ATO Fraud

Account takeover prevention actively reduces attack surfaces by which hackers can break into and use system accounts for malicious purposes.

What Is an Account Takeover Attack?

Account takeover (ATO) refers to identity theft, where an attacker gains access to a user’s account. This can be any account, including those associated with online banking or an enterprise platform.

Account takeover is often a lengthy process, following a few common steps:

  • Reconnaissance: The fraudster gathers the victim’s information through tactics like, such as phishing, credential stuffing, or purchasing the information on the dark web.
  • Unauthorized Access: Using this information, hackers will then take control of these accounts… including any access privileges that account and user enjoy.
  • Malicious Activity: The hacker may now carry out various malicious activities. This can include using email to send phishing emails (in what is known as a Business Email Compromise attack), stealing information from secure sources, changing roles and privileges, or simply monitoring networks or emails for more information about the organization.

Account takeovers are a severe security issue that can significantly impact the immediate and future sense.

How Do Attackers Launch Account Compromise Attacks?

Hackers can use several methods to execute account takeover attacks. More importantly, very few attacks utilize a single technique–sometimes single attacks are used to breach an account, but more often than not several forms of attack are strung together to trick users and gain access to their information.

Here are some common ones:

  • Phishing: In this method, hackers send fraudulent emails or messages posing as legitimate organizations to trick recipients into revealing credentials like usernames and passwords.
  • Credential Stuffing: This attack involves hackers using stolen usernames and passwords to “stuff” them into common platforms (with the understanding that many users will reuse passwords across different accounts).
  • Malware: This includes any viruses or spyware that can exploit vulnerabilities such that they may be embedded into systems to track user behavior, steal information, or break system usability.
  • Man-in-the-Middle Attacks (MitM): These attacks occur when hackers intercept network traffic to steal or manipulate communications.
  • Data Breaches: Database hacks can result in lost credentials and fuel additional attacks like credential stuffing or rainbow table attacks.

Not all of these attacks are the user’s fault (especially related to data breaches). Still, it is often the case that user behavior can be one of the most significant contributors to account takeover threats.

How Can My Organization Detect Account Takeovers?

Detecting account takeover can sometimes be challenging because perpetrators often try to hide their activities (and, in the case of advanced persistent threats, these efforts are very sophisticated). However, there are several tell-tale signals for account takeover.
Some of these signs include:

  • Unusual User Behavior: Uncommon or risky user behavior can signal an account takeover. In enterprise settings, this is much more sophisticated than detecting individual anomalies and falls under a discipline called User Behavior Analytics.
  • Account Activity Monitoring: A critical part of any behavior and threat analysis is monitoring. Regularly monitoring account activities can help detect suspicious behavior. Look for sudden changes in account details, unfamiliar transactions, unexpected password resets, or unanticipated email subscriptions.
  • AI and Machine Learning Systems: While traditional monitoring has contributed to mitigating fraud and account takeover, modern AI-driven tools can model risk and odd behavior with much more sophistication than those managed by humans. Advanced AI and machine learning systems can learn patterns, detect anomalies, and flag suspicious behavior that might indicate an account takeover attempt.
  • Device Identification and Tracking: By identifying and tracking the devices typically used to access an account, enterprises can spot when an account is accessed from a new or unusual device.
  • Login Velocity Checking: By tracking logins’ frequency and geographic location, systems can flag when an account is being accessed repeatedly (a sign of account takeover threats).
  • Risk-Based Authentication: This method analyzes several risk factors (like the reputation of an IP address, the user’s device, geographic location, and behavioral biometrics) during the authentication process. If the risk score is high, it will trigger additional security measures.
  • Threat Intelligence Feeds: Enterprises can subscribe to threat intelligence feeds, which provide real-time information about ongoing cybersecurity threats. These services can alert enterprises to known malicious IP addresses or newly discovered vulnerabilities that might be exploited for an account takeover.

How Can I Prevent

Preventing account takeover fraud involves passive and proactive measures to secure personal and financial information.

Enterprises can take several measures to prevent account takeover attempts. Here are some key strategies:

  • Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): MFA adds security by requiring users to provide at least two forms of identification before accessing their accounts. This can be factors like fingerprints, facial scans, or hardware tokens.
  • Force the Use of Strong Passwords: Enforce policies for password strength and regular password changes. Consider implementing a password manager enterprise-wide to help users manage their unique, strong passwords.
  • Require Training: Regular training can help employees recognize the signs of phishing attempts and other security threats through the use of security best practices (particularly authentication practices).
  • Automate Updates and Patches: Automatically maintain the latest patches from software and hardware vendors to protect your enterprise from many known vulnerabilities that could be exploited for account takeover.
  • Scan and Flag Emails: Implement email scanning and filtering to detect and block phishing emails and other malicious content that could lead to account takeovers. Most email providers offer ways to flag emails from outside the organization so that users will not fall for phishing attacks.
  • Follow the Principle of Least Privilege: Apply the PoLP, giving employees only the necessary access to perform their tasks. This reduces the number of high-value targets for attackers and minimizes impact if an account is breached
  • Monitor Account Activity: Use tools that can help monitor account activities, such as log analysis and SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) systems. These can help you spot unusual patterns that may indicate an account takeover.
  • Conduct Regular Audits: Regular audits can help you identify potential security weaknesses before they can be exploited. These include both technological audits and process audits.

Prevent Account Takeover Attacks with 1Kosmos

Account takeover is a serious problem for enterprise organizations with extensive IT infrastructure. A compromised account can seriously impact the organization from further phishing attacks, escalated privilege attacks, or lateral movement through the sensitive assets connected to that account.

With 1Kosmos BlockID, you can mitigate common threats to accounts that lead to a takeover by removing the weak points common to authentication security–namely, passwords and poor identity management.

With BlockID, you can fight account takeover with the following features:

  • Identity-Based Authentication: We push biometrics and authentication into a new “who you are” paradigm. BlockID uses biometrics to identify individuals, not devices, through credential triangulation and identity verification.
  • Cloud-Native Architecture: Flexible and scalable cloud architecture makes it simple to build applications using our standard API and SDK.
  • Identity Proofing: BlockID verifies identity anywhere, anytime and on any device with over 99% accuracy.
  • Privacy by Design: Embedding privacy into the design of our ecosystem is a core principle of 1Kosmos. We protect personally identifiable information in a distributed identity architecture, and the encrypted data is only accessible by the user.
  • Private and Permissioned Blockchain: 1Kosmos protects personally identifiable information in a private and permissioned blockchain, encrypts digital identities, and is only accessible by the user. The distributed properties ensure no databases to breach or honeypots for hackers to target.
  • Interoperability: BlockID can readily integrate with existing infrastructure through its 50+ out-of-the-box integrations or via API/SDK.
  • SIM Binding: The BlockID application uses SMS verification, identity proofing, and SIM card authentication to create solid, robust, and secure device authentication from any employee’s phone.

Sign up for our newsletter to learn more about how BlockID can support real security and help mitigate account takeover. Also, watch our webinar on Combating Synthetic Identity Fraud and hear from our CMO on how to Modernize Onboarding.

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Meet the Author

Robert MacDonald

Vice President of Product Marketing

Robert is the Vice President of Product Marketing at 1Kosmos. He is a highly influential senior global marketer with more than 15 years of marketing experience in B2B and B2C software in the biometric authentication space. Prior to 1Kosmos, Rob managed product strategy and vision for the Identity and Access Management portfolio at Micro Focus, leading a team of product marketers to drive sales and support the channel. Earlier in his career he set the foundation for content planning, sales enablement and GTM activities for ForgeRock. He has also held senior marketing positions at Entrust, Dell, Quest and Corel Corporation.