top of page

What is Account Takeover?

What is Account Takeover?

What is Account Takeover?

In the world of cybersecurity, an Account Takeover (ATO) is a form of cyberthreat that involves unauthorized access to an individual's or organization's authentic digital accounts. ATOs can range from email and social media accounts to financial and business software accounts. These forms of cyber-attacks have various objectives, such as:

  • Pilfering of monetary resources

  • Siphoning off personally identifiable data for illicit activities like identity theft

  • Compromising access credentials for multiple platforms, networks, and systems

  • Damaging the reputation of the targeted individual or organization by misusing the hijacked account

  • Extracting sensitive data for blackmail or ransom purposes

Once the attackers gain access to an account, they can manipulate it in numerous ways, such as changing the password and authentication settings to lock out the actual owners or carry out fraudulent transactions.

The Prevalence of Accounts

On average, an individual manages 5.3 financial accounts, 1.8 email accounts, and several social media accounts. This, coupled with the accounts for various apps and services, leads to the creation of a substantial attack surface for cybercriminals. Large organizations can have millions of accounts, which further expands this surface.

Anatomy of an Account Takeover Attack

An account takeover attack is a meticulously planned process. It starts with the selection of a target, usually individuals or organizations with high-value assets or information. The attackers then probe for vulnerable accounts belonging to the target and decide on the method of attack.

Stage One: Identification and Research

The first step in an ATO is the identification of high-value targets and subsequent research. Attackers pick individuals or organizations with assets or information that can be exploited. Often times, attackers are opportunistic, choosing an organization or individual with weak defenses.

The goal is to have defenses that waste time and resources of the attacker to encourage them to move on to a softer target.

Once the target is selected, the attackers hunt for vulnerable email accounts, financial accounts, or social profiles belonging to the target. The attack vector is chosen based on these findings.

Stage Two: Execution of the Attack

Once the target and the attack vector are chosen, the actual attack takes place. The attackers can deploy various methods to steal account credentials.

Sometimes, they can trick the target into clicking on a malicious link or opening an infected email attachment. This action installs a harmful script on the target's device, which logs every keystroke and sends this data to the attacker, thereby revealing login credentials.

Another common method used by attackers involves sending a spoofed email that lures the target into sharing their credentials. The attackers can also use malware and ransomware attacks, phishing, impersonation, and social engineering tactics to acquire the login credentials.

Prime Targets for Account Takeover Attacks

Cybercriminals executing account takeover attacks primarily target accounts that can provide them access to valuable financial and informational resources. These include:

  • Financial Accounts: These accounts are the ultimate treasure trove for cybercriminals as they provide direct access to the target's monetary resources.

  • Email Accounts: A takeover of an email account can be just as damaging as a financial account takeover. The attacker can abuse the password recovery feature to gain access to other accounts owned by the victim. They can also mine the victim's inbox for sensitive data or target their contacts with scams.

  • Social Media Accounts: A hijacking of social media accounts can significantly harm an organization's brand value. The attackers can defraud the target's followers or post inappropriate content to tarnish the brand's reputation.

  • Software Accounts: The attackers can access confidential information about the organization, its activities, employees, and customers by compromising business collaboration tools such as Slack or Asana.

Countering Account Takeover Attacks with 360 Privacy

To combat digital threats, 360 Privacy provides a suite of digital protection for corporate executives and high-net-worth individuals including privacy and cyber security.

360 Privacy offers multiple layers of defense, including

  • Digital Footprint Reduction

  • Darkweb Monitoring

  • Doxing and Digital Threat alerts

  • Cyber security Concierge

To see an exposure assessment of what personal information is freely available on the internet, and how the information is used by attackers, contact us.


bottom of page