What is Credential Stuffing?
According to some sources, credential-stuffing attacks make up 30% of all login attempts! Although hard to verify, this is staggering. These attacks can lead to financial losses, identity theft, and a damaged reputation for the company, making it essential to understand and prevent them.
So what exactly is credential stuffing? In this blog post, we’ll explore its mechanics, impact, and how it compares to brute force attacks. We’ll also discuss common targets, detection methods, prevention strategies, and real-life case studies. So let’s dive in!
Credential stuffing involves automated attempts to gain unauthorized access to accounts using stolen or leaked username-password combinations.
Successful attacks can lead to identity theft, financial loss, or data breaches, impacting both individuals and organizations.
Preventive measures include enforcing strong passwords, enabling multi-factor authentication, and monitoring login attempts for suspicious activity.
Understanding Credential Stuffing
Credential stuffing is a type of cyber attack where hackers use stolen or breached credentials to try to log into multiple accounts at the same time. The goal of these attacks is to gain unauthorized access to user accounts, exploiting the widespread habit of reusing the same password across multiple accounts. This makes it easier for hackers to gain access to user accounts in different organizations, even those that haven’t been breached themselves.
Cybercriminals employ attack tools to efficiently and quickly attempt to take over numerous online accounts. This includes stuffing thousands or even millions of credentials into various websites simultaneously, thus expanding their probability of success. While success rates are typically low (between 1-3%), scammers rely on volume to maximize their gains. As a result, even businesses that haven’t been breached can still suffer from credential stuffing attacks due to someone else’s data breach.
The Mechanics of Credential Stuffing Attacks
A typical credential stuffing attack begins with a hacker obtaining stolen credentials, often from the dark web or other sources of leaked information. They then use automated tools, sometimes even leveraging botnets (networks of infected computers), to try these credentials across multiple websites and services. This approach is particularly effective because many users reuse the same password across multiple accounts, increasing the likelihood that a compromised password will grant access to more than one account.
Attackers may also use different IP addresses and user agents during the attack to avoid detection and make it more challenging for security professionals to pinpoint the source. As a result, credential stuffing attacks can be difficult to detect and prevent, making it all the more important for businesses and individuals to take proactive measures to protect their accounts.
The Impact of Credential Stuffing
The consequences of a successful credential stuffing attack can be severe. Financial losses, identity theft, and reputational damage are just some of the potential outcomes. The Ponemon Institute reported that credential stuffing attacks can cost businesses from $6 million to $54 million annually. Losses from fraud, application downtime and customer churn all add to the hefty price tag.
Moreover, credential stuffing attacks can significantly impact website performance, leading to poor user experience and even causing the site to crash due to traffic spikes. This can further damage a company’s reputation and affect legitimate users who may be unable to access the website during the attack.
In short, the stakes are high, making it crucial for organizations to understand and prevent credential stuffing attacks.
Comparing Credential Stuffing and Brute Force Attacks
While both credential stuffing and brute force attacks aim to gain unauthorized access to user accounts, they employ different tactics. Credential stuffing attacks leverage compromised account information, such as usernames and passwords obtained from previous breaches, to gain access to user accounts across multiple services. The attackers already have the correct passwords, making traditional security measures less effective against this type of attack.
On the other hand, brute force attacks attempt to gain access by systematically trying password combinations, often using automated tools to speed up the process. These attacks can be quite effective against users who opt for simple passwords that are easy to guess.
To prevent brute force attacks, users should use strong and unique passwords, while organizations can implement measures such as limiting failed login attempts, using CAPTCHA, or encouraging stronger password policies.
The Role of Password Reuse
Password reuse plays a significant role in the success of credential stuffing attacks. Since many users reuse the same password across multiple accounts, attackers can use the same credentials from one website to try and gain access to other websites. This makes it much easier for cybercriminals to exploit multiple user accounts with minimal effort.
Moreover, even strong passwords offer little protection against credential stuffing attacks, as the attacker already has the correct password. This highlights the importance of using unique passwords for each account and implementing additional security measures, such as multi-factor authentication, to guard against these attacks.
Common Targets of Credential Stuffing Attacks
Credential stuffing attacks are a serious problem facing multiple industries. E-commerce, financial, social media, information technology, restaurants, retail, and travel and transportation are all vulnerable to these kinds of attacks. These industries often possess valuable data or access to financial transactions, making them attractive targets for cybercriminals.
Likewise, credential stuffing attacks usually target specific types of accounts, such as e-commerce, financial, social media, information technology, and entertainment organizations. The goal is often to gain access to sensitive information, user accounts, or even to sell access to the compromised accounts on the dark web.
By understanding the common targets of these attacks, organizations can take appropriate measures to protect their users and data.
Detecting Credential Stuffing Attempts
Detecting credential stuffing attempts can be challenging, as attackers often use sophisticated methods to avoid detection. However, there are several indicators and techniques that can help identify and monitor these attacks. Analyzing login patterns and IP addresses can provide valuable insights into potential credential stuffing attempts.
In addition to analyzing login data, organizations can implement security measures such as rate limiting, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and network monitoring tools to detect signs of malicious activity related to credential stuffing. By combining these detection methods, businesses can effectively identify and respond to potential threats, minimizing the risk of successful attacks.
Strategies for Preventing Credential Stuffing Attacks
There are several strategies that organizations can employ to prevent credential stuffing attacks and mitigate their impact. Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) and using a web application firewall (WAF) are two effective ways to protect against these attacks. MFA provides an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide additional authentication factors, such as a one-time code sent to their phone or email address.
In addition to MFA, organizations can implement CAPTCHA, biometric authentication, and other verification methods to help protect against credential stuffing attacks. These methods require users to prove their identity by providing extra information or completing a task, such as solving a puzzle or entering a code.
By combining these security measures, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of credential stuffing attacks and protect their users’ accounts.
Embracing Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a powerful tool for protecting against credential stuffing attacks. By requiring users to provide additional authentication factors, such as a one-time code sent to their phone or email address, MFA makes it much harder for attackers to gain access to accounts even if they possess the correct password.
Adoption of MFA has been slow due to concerns about its impact on the customer experience. However, as credential stuffing attacks continue to rise, it is becoming increasingly important for organizations to prioritize security over convenience. Embracing MFA can significantly reduce the risk of account takeovers and help safeguard sensitive data.
Implementing CAPTCHA and Other Verification Methods
CAPTCHA and similar verification tools play a crucial role in deterring automated credential stuffing attempts. These tools require users to demonstrate they’re human, typically by completing a task like solving a puzzle or entering a code. This added layer of security makes it more difficult for attackers to use automated tools for credential stuffing attacks.
In addition to CAPTCHA, organizations can also employ biometric authentication (e.g., fingerprint recognition) and email verification to help protect against credential stuffing attacks. By implementing a combination of verification methods, businesses can create a more robust security posture against credential stuffing and other types of cyberattacks.
Encouraging Strong and Unique Passwords
Promoting the use of strong, unique passwords among users is essential for reducing the likelihood of successful credential stuffing attacks. A strong password includes a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, and avoids easily guessable information such as personal details or common words.
To help users remember strong and unique passwords, organizations can encourage the use of password managers or mnemonic devices. By making it easy for users to create and remember complex passwords, businesses can minimize the risk of account takeovers and better protect their users’ sensitive information.
Advanced Security Measures for Combating Credential Stuffing
In addition to the strategies discussed above, organizations can invest in more sophisticated security solutions to defend against credential stuffing attacks. Bot management, behavioral analytics, and proactive threat hunting are just a few examples of advanced security measures that can help protect against these attacks.
Bot management solutions, such as DataDome, can effectively detect and prevent credential stuffing attacks by identifying and blocking malicious bots. Meanwhile, behavioral analytics can help uncover suspicious visitor behavior, and proactive threat hunting enables 24/7 monitoring for unknown and stealthy attacks that utilize stolen credentials.
By adopting a comprehensive, multi-layered approach to security, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of credential stuffing attacks.
Case Studies of Credential Stuffing Attacks
Real-life examples of credential stuffing attacks demonstrate the importance of robust security measures. The Canva data breach in 2019, the PayPal data breach in 2020, and the attack on Canada’s largest retail pizza chain are just a few instances where credential stuffing attacks have led to significant consequences.
Victims of these attacks often suffer from the theft of sensitive data, financial losses, and reputational damage. These case studies illustrate the need for organizations to invest in advanced security measures and best practices to protect their user accounts and sensitive information from credential stuffing attacks.
In conclusion, credential stuffing attacks pose a significant threat to businesses and individuals alike, often leading to financial losses, identity theft, and reputational damage. Understanding the mechanics and impact of these attacks, as well as the differences between credential stuffing and brute force attacks, is crucial for organizations seeking to protect their users and data.
By implementing multi-factor authentication, CAPTCHA, strong password policies, advanced security measures, and continuously monitoring for suspicious activity, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of credential stuffing attacks. As cyber threats continue to evolve, it’s essential to stay informed and proactive in defending against these attacks to ensure the security and privacy of your users’ accounts and sensitive information.
How to stay safe online:
- Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
- Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
- Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
- Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are the most frequently asked questions.
What is credential stuffing used for?
Credential stuffing is a cyberattack used by hackers to gain access to user accounts on websites by using stolen passwords. It involves the use of automation and bots to systematically input stolen credentials and breaches into the system. As many users use the same password for different services, this attack can be highly successful.
What is an example of credential stuffing?
An example of credential stuffing is when a hacker takes the data from a previous data breach and uses it to gain access to other websites or accounts. For instance, a hacker might use information from a PayPal data breach to attempt to log into accounts on different websites.
What is the difference between brute force and credential stuffing?
The main difference between brute force and credential stuffing is that brute force attempts to guess a password without any prior knowledge or context, while credential stuffing uses previously exposed data as a clue. This drastically reduces the number of possible correct answers and increases the success rate of credential-stuffing attacks.
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab
Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.
This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.
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