How to Combat Credential Theft and How to Protect from Attackers with Your Credentials

Imagine a home with a state-of-the-art safe designed to store valuable possessions like expensive jewelry or luxury items. While the safe may exude an aura of impenetrable security, its effectiveness can be compromised if an intruder discovers the combination written carelessly on a sticky note or obtains a copy of the physical key as they can then open the door as effortlessly as the owner.  

Similarly, an online account protected solely by a password is vulnerable, regardless of the password’s complexity or the organization’s traditional firewall strength. If an attacker gains access to a user’s credentials, they can bypass these security measures and gain unabated access to the account, just as an intruder with the safe’s combination or key can bypass its physical defenses. 

Passwords are a Deceptively Simple Vulnerability 

While the analogy of breaking into a safe with a compromised combination may seem overly simplistic, accessing online accounts protected solely by passwords is indeed alarmingly straightforward for attackers. In fact, many users make it easy for assailants to prey on them. The true sophistication often lies in the attacker’s ability to identify and exploit vulnerabilities, whether it’s stealing online credentials through phishing or social engineering tactics, or discovering and leveraging zero-day vulnerabilities. Once the credentials or vulnerability are in hand, the actual attack itself becomes relatively simple. 

While passwords may have an aura of secrecy, it isn’t a big secret where to look for them. For starters, they are often saved in web browsers, as many of them offer to store user credentials, including usernames and passwords, for easy autofill on revisited websites. Some older browser versions even store passwords in an unencrypted format on the device’s hard drive, making them easily accessible to anyone who gains access to the device. 

Then there are the perpetual phishing and social engineering attacks that don’t seem to ever end. Attackers send fraudulent emails, texts, or messages that appear to be from legitimate sources like banks, companies, or authorities that trick a user into logging on a fake website that then steal the credentials. Threat actors may also create scenarios as they impersonate trusted entities like IT support staff, authorities that convince victims to reveal their passwords, such as claiming there’s a technical issue that requires the victim’s credentials for resolution. Thanks to AI, these attacks are becoming more convincing with little effort involved.  

Password Motherlodes 

While the aforementioned methods of seizing passwords can be effective for individual targets, attackers with grander ambitions often aim to seize large databases of user credentials from major organizations such as retailers, insurance companies, or healthcare providers. In fact, reports of data breaches involving hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of compromised user accounts have become alarmingly common. 

However, attackers don’t even need to put in the effort to obtain passwords directly, as they can engage in one-stop shopping on the dark web. Just as a farmer might harvest a field of corn, there are malicious actors in the world who “harvest” stolen credentials. They collect them from multiple sources and aggregate them into vast collections, which are then sold on the dark web to the highest bidder. The harsh reality that passwords are no longer a closely guarded secret and the traditional reliance on passwords as a sole means of authentication has become increasingly vulnerable and inadequate. 

Solutions to Lessen Password Vulnerability 

  1. Passwords alone just do not cut it anymore. That is why multifactor authentication has become so popular as it adds an extra layer of security beyond just passwords. It requires users to provide additional forms of verification, such as a one-time code sent to their mobile device or a biometric factor like fingerprint or facial recognition. This way, even if an attacker manages to obtain a user’s password, they cannot gain access without the additional authentication factors.   
  1. Dark web monitoring is a service one would never have thought necessary twenty years ago but is essential today. These services continuously scan the dark web for leaked or stolen credentials, including usernames and passwords. If an organization’s credentials are found on the dark web, the service alerts the organization, allowing them to take proactive measures, such as forcing password resets or disabling compromised accounts. 
  1. There are also a variety of tools available today that can thwart password attacks. An endpoint detection and response (EDR) solution can detect and alert suspicious activities like credential dumping, password cracking attempts, or the use of compromised credentials. Next generation firewalls can block connections from known malicious IP addresses or detecting and blocking brute-force attacks and other suspicious activities related to credential misuse. 

MDR and Monitoring 

Managed Detection and Response (MDR) can stop password attacks by continuously monitoring network activity for signs of suspicious behavior, such as unusual login attempts and locations or access patterns. MDR uses advanced threat detection technologies, including AI and machine learning, to identify and respond to potential attacks in real-time. By proactively hunting threats and implementing automated responses, MDR can detect and block phishing attempts, brute force attacks, and credential stuffing, thereby preventing password theft and unauthorized access. 

Because there are so many attack points that one can target to seize passwords, 24/7 monitoring of all your environments is essential to learn about such incidents as early as possible. This round-the-clock vigilance allows for the immediate detection of unusual login attempts, unauthorized access, and other indicators of potential password attacks. Advanced threat detection technologies apply AI and machine learning to see through the noise created by massive amounts of data, identifying patterns and anomalies that may signify an attack. By responding in real-time, 24/7 monitoring can identify attack in their earliest stages and block malicious attempts, initiate automated responses, and alert security teams to take action to prevent password compromises. 


Password authentication may soon become obsolete as organizations incorporate technologies such as biometrics, hardware tokens, and cryptographic keys to authenticate users. Some organizations utilize privileged access management solutions that create temporary privileged accounts on demand, which are then deleted after each use. The future of authentication is evolving, but for now, passwords, along with their vulnerability, are not going anywhere.  

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