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Account takeover

What is an account takeover? 

An account takeover (ATO) is a type of cyber-attack in which an unauthorized person gains access to a victim’s online account by stealing their login credentials or exploiting vulnerabilities in their security practices. A successful ATO attack can have severe consequences, including financial losses, identity theft, and reputational damages.  

What is an example of an ATO and how does it work?

An example of an ATO attack is when an attacker gains access to a victim’s online banking account and transfers funds to their own account or makes unauthorized purchases using the victim’s credit card. Attackers may use various tactics to steal login credentials, including phishing scams, social engineering, and the use of automated bots. Once they gain access to an account, they may modify account settings or notifications to avoid detection. Often times, the fraudster seeks to make unauthorized monetary transfers, spam unsuspecting victims, or share damaging information. 

Why do ATOs go undetected?

ATO attacks often go undetected because attackers take steps to cover their tracks, such as deleting activity logs or masking their IP address. Additionally, victims may not realize that their account has been compromised until it is too late. For example, they may only discover fraudulent transactions on their bank statement or receive a notice from a credit monitoring service. 

Who’s at risk of an ATO?

Anyone who has an online account is at risk of an ATO attack. However, individuals who use weak passwords or reuse passwords across multiple accounts are at a higher risk of an attack. Businesses that handle sensitive customer information, such as financial institutions and healthcare providers, are also frequent targets of ATO attacks. 

What are current ATO tactics?

Current tactics used by attackers to gain unauthorized access to personal accounts include spear phishing, credential stuffing, and social engineering. Spear phishing involves customized emails sent to specific individuals to deceive them into revealing their login credentials. Credential stuffing, on the other hand, uses automated tools to try multiple username and password combinations until a match is found. Social engineering tactics may include impersonating a customer service representative or sending a fake password reset email. 

In addition to these methods, attackers may also exploit vulnerabilities in the telecommunication network, such as SIM swap, porting and call forwarding scams, to gain access to personal information and commit financial fraud.  

What is the impact of an ATO on the consumer and the business?

The impact of an ATO attack can be significant for both consumers and businesses. Consumers may suffer financial losses, damage to their credit scores, and identity theft. Businesses may face reputational damage, financial losses, and legal liability for failing to protect their customers’ data. 

What are some ATO prevention tips?

To prevent ATO attacks, individuals and businesses should use strong, unique passwords and enable multi-factor authentication (MFA). Regularly monitoring account activity for suspicious activity and promptly reporting any suspicious activity can also help prevent ATO attacks. Additionally, businesses should implement robust security measures, such as intrusion detection and prevention systems, firewalls, and regular security audits. And to strengthen MFA workflows, businesses should assess ATO risk signals like a recent SIM swap or change in porting status. 

How can ATOs be detected?

ATO attacks can be detected by monitoring account activity for suspicious activity, such as unusual login attempts, changes to account settings, or unusual purchases. Machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies can also be used to detect patterns of fraudulent activity and proactively prevent ATO attacks. Using Telesign, businesses can determine the risk of a one-time-pass code form being intercepted. By analyzing a phone number’s SIM swap status, call forwarding detection, porting history, and number deactivation, businesses can strengthen MFA flows to better protect their customers.