How to Protect Against Identity-Based Attacks?

As the digital world becomes more reliant on identity-based authorization for users, applications, and devices, it opens up the scope for identity-based attacks. This primarily targets the vulnerabilities in identity systems, aiming to exploit or manipulate them for malicious purposes. 

Abusing identities, whether of an individual or an organization, is a classic cyberattack tactic employed by hackers to gain unauthorized access, steal sensitive information, or impersonate legitimate entities for fraudulent purposes. Unfortunately, identity-based attacks still reign supreme when it comes to breaching the security postures of businesses. In fact, according to an article published in Cyber Defense Magazine, “Identity based attacks accounted for 65% of all incidents observed by Expel during Q1-2022, with business email compromise (BEC) and business application compromise (BAC) accounting for 63% on their own.”

This article explores the concept of identity-based attacks, their various types, the potential risks they pose in our evolving technological landscape, and how to evade them. 

What is an Identity-Based Attack?

With the proliferation of remote working culture and the digital transformation of businesses, sensitive information of individuals and organizations are now more accessible than ever. This enables the cybercriminals to target the security gaps in identity and authentication systems and leverage the information to gain unauthorized access, manipulate data, or impersonate legitimate users, applications, or devices.

Identity-based attacks are sophisticated and targeted cyber threats that compromise the digital identities of individuals, applications, and devices associated with an organization. The attackers enter the organization’s systems, networks, or sensitive resources by stealing the credentials or bypassing authentication mechanisms. Once inside the network, they can alter, delete, or encrypt data to disrupt operations or demand ransom payments. 

What makes these types of attacks particularly concerning is their ability to go undetected for extended periods, allowing the attackers to silently infiltrate networks and systems, gathering valuable information and preparing for further exploits. 

According to reports, the cybersecurity landscape has been shaken by a series of ongoing attacks targeting cloud services, particularly Office 365, in a widespread and structured campaign. The attacks, carried out by the advanced-threat actor APT28 (Fancy Bear or Strontium), involve brute-force password-spraying techniques. The targets of these attacks are extensive and include government and military entities in both the United States and Europe.

Example of several TTPs used together as part of this type of brute-force campaign. Source: CISA advisory.

Why are Identity-Based Attacks Dangerous?

If not acted upon promptly, the repercussions of identity based attacks can be far-reaching. From gathering sensitive information to leveraging the access to execute malicious activities and disrupting business operations, these attacks can have devastating consequences. 

Some of the dangers of identity-based attacks include: 

Financial Loss

According to a report published by IBM Security, the average cost of a data breach is $4.24 Million. Identity theft and account takeover attacks can result in substantial financial losses for individuals and businesses. Attackers may exploit stolen identities to conduct fraudulent transactions, drain bank accounts or even demand ransom. 

Data Breaches

Identity-based attacks can result in data breaches, leading to the exposure of confidential and sensitive information. Attackers often target login credentials, personal data, financial information, or intellectual property. 

Gain Unauthorised Access

Attackers gain unauthorized access to systems, networks, or cloud services by stealing or impersonating legitimate user identities. This enables them to move laterally within an organization’s infrastructure, escalating privileges and accessing sensitive resources.

Damage Reputation 

Apart from causing tangible losses such as financial loss and data identity based attacks can also taint a company’s reputation. This leads to customers and stakeholders losing trust in the company’s ability to protect their data, leading to financial losses and potential legal ramifications. 

Types of Identity-Based Attacks

Cybercriminals employ several types of identity-based attacks to exploit businesses’ identities and compromise their security.

Phishing (including Social Engineering)

Phishing attacks are among the most common cyberattacks involving hackers impersonating legitimate entities to send out fraudulent emails and messages to trick the receivers into sharing their sensitive information, including login credentials, social security numbers, or financial details.

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing is a more targeted and astute version of traditional phishing attacks involving hackers tailoring the attack for specific individuals and organizations. They gather information about their targets to personalize the phishing messages, making them more convincing and increasing the likelihood of success.

Credential Theft

Cyberattackers can deceitfully procure the victim’s login credentials, such as usernames and passwords. They utilize various methods to steal this information, including malware, keyloggers, and phishing attacks. Once stolen, it can be used to gain unauthorized access to user accounts, sensitive data, or even privileged systems within an organization.

Credential Stuffing

Credential stuffing is a cyber-attack where cybercriminals use stolen usernames and passwords from one source to gain unauthorized access to other accounts. They exploit the common practice of individuals reusing passwords across multiple platforms.

Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks

In the context of identity based attacks, MitM attacks aim to capture sensitive information like login credentials or financial data exchanged between the victim and a trusted entity. The attackers exploit vulnerabilities in the communication channel or network infrastructure.

Password Spraying

It is a brute-force attack employed by cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to multiple accounts. Unlike traditional password attacks focusing on a single user account, password spraying takes advantage of weak or commonly used passwords across many accounts.

How to Protect Against Identity-Based Attacks?

To protect against these identity-based attacks, individuals and organizations should implement robust security practices.

Use Strong and Unique Passwords

Simple passwords are easy to crack and provide a convenient entry point for cyberattackers to infiltrate an organization’s security mechanisms. This is why it becomes essential to use complex and unique passwords comprising a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.

Employing Email Filtering Protocols

Set up effective email and online filtering systems to detect and block phishing emails, harmful links, and suspicious websites. These filters can help keep users safe from social engineering attacks and harmful websites. For instance, our Red Sift Digital Resilience Platform goes beyond enhanced discovery, giving you the tools to shut down phishing and ensure compliance with ongoing email and web security protocols.

Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

As identity based attacks become more sophisticated, adding an extra layer of protection to your digital infrastructure can go the extra mile to ensure a robust security posture. For example, enabling MFA can mitigate the risk of unauthorized access by requiring users to provide additional authentication factors beyond passwords, such as a fingerprint, token, or SMS verification code.

How Red Sift Can Help Prevent Identity-Based Attacks

Protecting against identity-based attacks is essential in today’s digital landscape, where cyber threats continue to evolve and grow in sophistication. By implementing robust security practices, individuals and organizations can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to these malicious attacks.

Want to strengthen your security posture and protect against an ever-evolving threat landscape? Red Sift’s Digital Resilience Platform solves the most significant vulnerabilities across email, domains, and the network perimeter.


Red Sift

17 Aug. 2023



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