9th July, 2020 6 Min read
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Credential stuffing is a type of cyberattack where stolen account credentials typically consisting of lists of usernames and/or email addresses and the corresponding passwords (often from a data breach) are used to gain unauthorized access to user accounts through large-scale automated login requests directed against a web application.
According to OWASP, credential stuffing is the automated injection of breached username/password pairs in order to fraudulently gain access to user accounts. This is a subset of the brute force attack category: large numbers of spilled credentials are automatically entered into websites until they are potentially matched to an existing account, which the attacker can then hijack for their own purposes.
Unlike credential cracking, credential stuffing attacks do not attempt to brute force or guess any passwords – the attacker simply automates the logins for thousands to millions of previously discovered credential pairs using standard web automation tools like Selenium, cURL, PhantomJS or tools designed specifically for these types of attacks such as: Sentry MBA, SNIPR, STORM, Blackbullet and Openbullet.
Credential stuffing attacks are possible because many users reuse the same username/password combination across multiple sites, with one survey reporting that 81% of users have reused a password across two or more sites and 25% of users use the same password across a majority of their accounts.
Credential stuffing is a cyberattack in which credentials obtained from a data breach on one service are used to attempt to log in to another unrelated service.
Credential stuffing attacks are launched through botnets and automated tools that support the use of proxies that distribute the rogue requests across different IP addresses. Furthermore, attackers often configure their tools to mimic legitimate user agents — the headers that identify the browsers and operating systems web request are made from.
Over a 17-month period, from November 2017 through the end of March 2019, security and content delivery company Akamai detected 55 billion credential stuffing attacks across dozens of verticals. While some industries were more heavily targeted than others — for example gaming, retail and media streaming — no industry was immune.
The Ponemon Institute’s Cost of Credential Stuffing report found that businesses lose an average of $4 million per year to credential stuffing. These losses take the form of application downtime, lost customers, and increased IT costs. Large-scale botnet attacks can overwhelm a business’ IT infrastructure, with websites experiencing as much as 180 times their typical traffic during an attack.
And despite the uptick in reported attacks, it’s safe to assume that many businesses do not disclose when their systems are compromised, and their internal data is stolen, so we may never know the full cost.
There are multiple ways to try to detect a credential stuffing attack.
Here are some recommendations for individual users about how they can protect themselves:
Use multi-factor authentication
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is by far the best defense against the majority of password-related attacks, including credential stuffing and password spraying. As such, it should be implemented wherever possible; however, depending on the audience of the application, it may not be practical or feasible to enforce the use of MFA.
Attackers will typically have a limited pool of IP addresses, so another effective defense is to block or sandbox IPs that attempt to log into multiple accounts. You can monitor the last several IPs that were used to log into a specific account and compare them to the suspected bad IP, to reduce false positives.
Flag unrecognized devices
Requiring a user to solve a CAPTCHA for each login attempt can help to prevent automated login attempts, which would significantly slow down a credential stuffing or password spraying attack. However, CAPTCHAs are not perfect, and in many cases tools exist that can be used to break them with a reasonably high success rate.
To improve usability, it may be desirable to only require the user solve a CAPTCHA when the login request is considered suspicious.
Align Website Architecture with Different Types of Clients
If achieving the smallest possible attack surface is your goal, then the ideal solution has to align the website architecture with different types of clients. Some organizations have already done this to varying degrees.
Others may need to rearchitect their website in order to do so. Breaking existing endpoints into separate URLs helps reduce the attack surface by providing the most granular control of transactional URL traffic.
For example, you might segment your clients by URL as follows:
With this approach, you will be able to apply the appropriate bot detection to URL 1 and URL 2, and force other types of consumers to URL 3. While you can’t use behavioral anomaly bot detection to protect URL 3, you can control the data and application features available to its users.
Credential stuffing attacks pose a significant cyber threat not only for individuals, but also for companies.
If you have any questions about how we can help you protect your website and business from cyber-attacks, contact us today to help you out with your performance and security needs.
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