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7 Steps To Protect Yourself
You probably use a number of personal identification numbers (PINs), passwords, and passphrases to get money from ATMs, to use your debit card when shopping, or to log in to your personal or business email. Hackers represent a real threat to both your personal and business password security and confidential information. Now, these criminals are using a technique called Password Spraying to steal your information.
According to information derived from FBI investigations, malicious cyber actors are increasingly using password spraying against organizations in the United States and abroad. In February 2018, the Department of Justice in the Southern District of New York indicted nine Iranian nationals, who were associated with the Mabna Institute, for computer intrusion offenses. However, password spraying isn’t limited to this group. Other hackers are using it to gain access to both personal and business confidential information.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “Today, in one of the largest state-sponsored hacking campaigns ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice, we have unmasked criminals who normally hide behind the ones and zeros of computer code. As alleged, this massive and brazen cyber-assault on the computer systems of hundreds of universities in 22 countries, including the United States, and dozens of private sector companies and governmental organizations was conducted on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard. The hackers targeted innovations and intellectual property from our country’s greatest minds. These defendants are now fugitives from American justice, no longer free to travel outside Iran without risk of arrest. The only way they will see the outside world is through their computer screens, but stripped of their greatest asset – anonymity.”
How Does Password Spraying Work?
Password spraying is a type of brute force attack where hackers use a username with multiple passwords to gain access to your IT system. With traditional brute force attacks, the criminal uses one username with multiple passwords. Employing a lockout functionality, which locks the criminal out after a set number of login attempts, is an effective means of dealing with traditional brute force attacks.
However, with a password-spray attack (also known as the “low-and-slow” method), the malicious cyber actors use a single password against many accounts before moving on to another password. They continue this process until they find one that works. This strategy works for them because they can avoid account lockouts. It circumvents lockout functionality by using the most common passwords against multiple user accounts until they find one that works.
Password spraying targets single sign-on (SSO) and cloud-based applications using federated authentication. A federated authentication identity provides single access to multiple systems across different enterprises. Criminals target federated authentication protocols because it disguises their activities and ensures their anonymity.
Attackers use password spraying in environments that don’t use multi-factor authentication (MFA), rely on easy-to-guess passwords, or use SSO with a federated authentication method.
Your Email Is Also At Risk
Hackers also prey on email accounts that use inbox synchronization (which pulls emails from the Cloud to inboxes on remote devices). Malicious actors use inbox synchronization to obtain unauthorized access to your organization’s email directly from the Cloud. Then they download email to locally stored files, identify your company’s email address list, and secretly apply inbox rules to forward your sent and received messages to them.
The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) details how hackers use password spraying, what you should watch out for, who is at risk, and the impact this type of attack can have on your organization.
Your Technology Service Provider can explain this to you and your employees in plain language, and help you protect your organization against password spraying and other attacks.
Traditional Tactics Techniques & Procedures
Indicators That You’ve Been Attacked
Typical Victim Environment
The vast majority of known password spray victims share some of the following characteristics:
A successful network intrusion can have severe impacts, particularly if the compromise becomes public and sensitive information is exposed. Possible impacts include:
7 Steps You Can Take To Mitigate Password Spraying Attacks
The FBI Reporting Notice
The FBI would like you to report any suspicious or criminal activity to your FBI field office or the FBI’s 24/7 Cyber Watch (CyWatch). Field office contacts can be identified at www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field. CyWatch can be contacted by phone at (855) 292-3937 or by e-mail at CyWatch@ic.fbi.gov.
Your report should include: