Detecting Compromised Credentials: A Comprehensive Guide for Cybersecurity Professionals

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A critical and often understated security threat among cybersecurity threats is compromised credentials. With attackers increasingly targeting user login details, such breaches have become a primary catalyst for cyber intrusions.

Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report indicates that compromised credentials are involved in nearly half of all cyberattacks, highlighting the need for robust defenses against these vulnerabilities.

In most cases, these credential theft incidents occur when unauthorized individuals obtain legitimate user credentials through phishing, brute-force attacks, credential stuffing attacks, social engineering, or exploiting security weaknesses.

This access enables attackers to infiltrate networks and systems, often undetected, by disguising themselves as legitimate users.

Due to the stealthy nature of such attacks, they can be seamlessly integrated into regular user activities, bypassing traditional security measures designed primarily for external threats.

Understanding the Threat Landscape

The threat landscape surrounding compromised credentials is both diverse and sophisticated, making it a formidable challenge for cybersecurity teams. It is common for attackers to use a variety of tactics to obtain credentials, such as sophisticated phishing schemes, exploiting system vulnerabilities, and employing social engineering techniques.

The methods of attack are constantly evolving, making it essential for organizations to keep up to date with the latest attack vectors.

The impact of credential compromise goes beyond mere unauthorized access. It may result in more severe consequences such as data breaches, financial losses, and reputational damage.

It is common for attackers to use stolen credentials to perform actions that appear legitimate, as this makes their activities harder to detect and enables them to move laterally within a network, escalate privileges, and access sensitive data.

The rise of remote work and increased reliance on cloud-based services has expanded the potential attack surface. This shift necessitates a more comprehensive approach to identity and access management. Traditional perimeter-based defenses are no longer sufficient; organizations need to implement robust identity-centric security measures that encompass all users and endpoints, regardless of their location.

Identity: The New Attack Surface

Identity has become the new attack surface in cybersecurity as a result of the shift towards digital and cloud-based solutions. As the security perimeter extends beyond traditional network boundaries to individual identities, protecting user credentials becomes as crucial as safeguarding the network itself. This paradigm shift demands a more focused approach to identity security.

Silverfort’s innovative solutions address this evolving attack surface by enhancing identity protection. With advanced authentication measures and continuous monitoring of user behavior, Silverfort’s technologies offer an added layer of defense, ensuring that compromised credentials do not lead to unauthorized access, thus fortifying the organization’s cybersecurity posture.

Techniques for Detecting Compromised Credentials

Detecting compromised credentials requires a multifaceted approach that leverages advanced technologies and strategies to identify unauthorized access. One key method is the implementation of User Entity and Behavioral Analytics (UEBA).

UEBA systems, which are integral to modern Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) platforms, use machine learning to establish normal behavior patterns for each user. In order to identify potentially compromised accounts, the system monitors deviations from these patterns.

Another effective technique involves the creation of preassembled user activity timelines. With this feature, which is usually found in advanced UEBA solutions, a chronological sequence of user actions is automatically generated, simplifying the process of identifying suspicious activity.

As a result of this approach, not only is the response time to potential threats shortened but also the likelihood of false positives is reduced, as well as the investigation process is simplified.

Combining technological solutions with human expertise is also crucial. While automated systems provide valuable data, experienced security professionals play an important role in interpreting this information and making informed decisions. As a result of the combination of technology and expertise, an effective defense strategy against credential compromise can be developed.

Silverfort’s Unified Identity Protection platform is designed to detect and prevent attacks that utilize compromised credentials to access enterprise resources. It does this through continuous monitoring of all access requests across all authentication protocols, for both user-to-machine and machine-to-machine access, across all resources and environments.

When Silverfort identifies abnormal activity, such as during lateral movement attacks, it can step up the authentication requirements in real-time to block access or require the user to authenticate with Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA).

This is possible due to Silverfort’s holistic visibility into the entire authentication activity of each user, which enables it to evaluate the behavior profile of users with high precision.

For example, in a scenario where an attacker attempts to log in to a machine using compromised user credentials, Silverfort’s policy would require MFA. The actual user, the legitimate owner of the credentials, would be prompted to verify the authentication. If the attacker can’t complete the authentication, access to the resource is blocked, and the Security Operations Center (SOC) is immediately notified by Silverfort about the attempt.

Furthermore, Silverfort’s platform integrates with Identity Providers in the enterprise environment to apply continuous monitoring, risk analysis, and access policy enforcement on each and every access attempt to any on-prem and cloud resource.

This extends Risk-Based Authentication and MFA to resources and access interfaces that could not have been protected before, including Active Directory command line remote access interfaces upon which automated ransomware propagation relies.

In the case of automated ransomware propagation, which utilizes authentication with compromised credentials, Silverfort’s continuous monitoring and real-time risk analysis can help detect and prevent such attacks.

Optimizing Event Response with Preassembled User Activity Timelines

A rapid response to potential threats is essential in cybersecurity. Using preassembled user activity timelines is one of the most effective ways to optimize event response. This technique, integral to advanced User Entity and Behavioral Analytics (UEBA) systems, automatically compiles a detailed chronological sequence of user actions.

Through this functionality, security teams will be able to gain a comprehensive understanding of user behavior in order to quickly identify and investigate anomalies.

Preassembled timelines transform the incident response process. Analysts are able to quickly identify the sequence of events leading to a security alert, distinguish between malicious activities and benign operational changes, and make informed decisions in a timely manner. As a result, this capability significantly reduces the time traditionally required to assemble data narratives manually, thus speeding up the response to security incidents.

It is especially beneficial to have these timelines in complex environments, where the sheer volume of activities can make manual analysis time-consuming and prone to errors. The use of preassembled timelines permits a more efficient and accurate assessment of potential security incidents by providing a clear and immediate narrative of events.

Silverfort’s Unified Identity Protection platform leverages UEBA to continuously monitor all access requests across all authentication protocols and environments. It uses behavioral analysis to identify abnormal activity patterns.

By doing this, Silverfort is able to detect potential threats and compromised credentials, as well as step-up authentication requirements in real-time to prevent unauthorized access. Behavior analysis is also used to assess the risk associated with every authentication attempt, providing actionable insights into overall account activity to the Security Operations Center (SOC)

This approach not only streamlines the incident response process but also reinforces the overall security posture of the organization.

Best Practices for Detection and Mitigation of Compromised Credential Attacks

To maintain robust security defenses, cybersecurity professionals must detect and mitigate compromised credential attacks. The following are some best practices to consider:

  1. Implement Continuous Monitoring and Adaptive Security Measures: Establishing a continuous monitoring system is essential for detecting anomalies in real-time. To respond to cyber threats, adaptive security measures are essential, as they adapt based on observed behaviors and emerging threats. By implementing this approach, potential breaches are identified and addressed promptly, reducing the window of opportunity for attackers.
  2. Employ Advanced Technologies like UEBA for Deeper Insights into User Behavior: Utilizing User Entity and Behavioral Analytics (UEBA) provides an in-depth analysis of user activities and identifies deviations from typical behavior patterns. As a result of UEBA’s sophisticated algorithms, it is possible to detect subtle anomalies that may indicate compromised credentials, providing an early warning system against potential breaches.
  3. Combine Automated Solutions with Expert Analysis for a Comprehensive Defense Strategy: While automated technologies like UEBA are powerful tools for detecting compromised credentials, they are most effective when combined with human expertise. Based on the insights provided by automated systems, skilled analysts can interpret the data, provide context, and make informed decisions. This blend of technology and human intelligence is key to a well-rounded cybersecurity strategy.
  4. Stay Updated with the Latest Threat Intelligence and Adapt Security Protocols Accordingly: The cybersecurity landscape is constantly evolving, with new threats emerging regularly. Staying informed about the latest trends and threat intelligence is crucial for adapting and updating security protocols effectively. This proactive approach helps organizations keep one step ahead of potential attackers.

Silverfort’s solutions play a vital role in this enhanced security posture. By integrating seamlessly with existing Identity and Access Management (IAM) infrastructures, Silverfort’s Identity Threat Detection and Response (ITDR) and UEBA technologies provide comprehensive protection. They not only detect unusual access attempts that may indicate compromised credentials but also actively prevent unauthorized access.

This proactive stance, leveraging advanced analytics and adaptive response mechanisms, positions Silverfort as a formidable ally in the fight against credential compromise, ensuring a more secure and resilient digital environment for your organization.

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