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Password Spraying Attacks

Different types of password attacks target reused or weak passwords to gain unauthorized access to user accounts. Cyber attacks such as the 2019 data heist at Citrix made breaking news in the cybersecurity world. More interestingly, the cyber breach attack tactics employed by hackers in this example and many others claim much media attention for their distinctiveness. Password spraying is one of those hacking tactics that is generating a lot of attention. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about password spraying attacks and how to protect your business from the attacks.

Password Spraying Attacks

What Is Password Spraying?

Password spraying is an alternate brute force attack whereby a malicious internet user tries to gain unauthorized access to multiple accounts by “guessing” or spraying them with the same password. That’s why most companies have employed countermeasures to block such attempts by commonly locking out a user who enters the same wrong password three to five times. Some cunning hackers circumvent such countermeasures by spraying the same password on different accounts before trying out another password to avoid account lockout.

According to a 2020 report about Data Breach Investigations, 80% of all hacking-related incidents involving stealing sensitive credentials or information employ brute force attack tactics. This means that password spraying is a major IT concern for any business. While you may not be able to prevent password spraying attacks, there are ways you can detect them and even stop them in their tracks.

The typical tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) that hackers employ in password spraying attacks include:

•    Trying out common weak passwords such as “Password1234.”
•    Identifying various weak passwords and vulnerable organizations by using social engineering and scouring the internet
•    Taking advantage of already compromised accounts to obtain emails address lists that they can try attacking
•    Expanding laterally in a compromised network to exfiltrate sensitive information.

How to Prevent Password Spraying Attacks

A cybercriminal can leverage compromised credentials to access your network resources with legitimate credentials. In other words, the attacker will assume all the permissions or rights to everything that the compromised accounts have access to. The compromise is even worse if an attacker manages to compromise a privileged account with high access levels, such as the IT department admin user account.

A privileged account serves as the key to your entire network resource. For instance, the attacker can decide to create other high-level accounts and backdoors that your IT team may not be able to detect. The longer it takes your IT department to detect and stop a cyberattack, the more damaging and costly it’ll be to your business. Furthermore, a cyber breach can lead to a stained reputation and eventually lost business. Here are some of the most effective ways you can protect your investment from password spraying attacks.

1: Implement Account Lockout Measures

An account lockout countermeasure is one way of preventing attackers from trying to log in to an account by entering an infinite number of passwords until they gain access. You can configure a specific threshold of up to a maximum of five attempts before a user can be locked out. While attackers can try and bypass this approach successfully, it’s an effective policy for dealing with brute force attacks.

2: Enforce Effective Password Policies

Ensure you implement good password hygiene practices across all departments in your organization. For obvious reasons, passwords that can be easily guessed or are just too weak are very risky for your business.

Therefore, a good password policy will guide you in defining the right content, length, and complexity of the passwords your entire team uses. For example, Microsoft Active Directory Domain Services is one of the tools you can use to create basic password policies that you can enforce in your business.

3: Utilize Breached Password Protection

One of the essential password protection mechanisms you can use in your cybersecurity posture is breached password protection. Attackers have been known to try using previously breached passwords to hack organizations. Attackers rely on the fact that humans tend to think alike and thus will try using the same passwords they used to hack another business in hacking your enterprise.

Hence, you should scan your Active Directory environments to check out breached password lists. Alternatively, you can use third-party tools to implement the breached password protection measure.

4: Employ Multi-factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is another effective way of ensuring that attackers don’t access your online account via password spraying. MFA refers to using a particular device such as your Smartphone to authenticate your identity whenever you want to gain access or log in to your accounts. This approach makes it impossible for hackers who don’t have access to your mobile phone to make login attempts on your online accounts.

For instance, by implementing a two-factor authentication option, hackers who successfully guess your password or possess it will still need to authenticate the second factor, which can be a one-time pin sent to your Smartphone in order to access the account.

5: Monitor your Networks

Your IT department should constantly be monitoring all your networks for anomalous activities. Some of the tell-tale signs of an eminent password spraying attack that they should beware of include web-based applications looking for passwords that are not consistent with your usual activities and a spike in attempted login on your enterprise SSO portal. This could mean someone is trying to gain unauthorized access to your online accounts through password spraying.

You should also monitor your internal network very closely so that you can detect when an attacker is moving laterally through it and limit the capability. Probe your business for weaknesses and vulnerabilities before an attack happens by performing regular red team and penetration testing.

Conclusion

Password spraying attacks that lead to loss of credentials or sensitive business data are a dangerous risk for your business. Hackers or “bad actors” utilize these password spraying attacks to take over user accounts and avoid the password lockout countermeasures that most businesses employ. Schilling IT has been at the forefront in helping businesses implement the best cybersecurity protocols that cybercriminals find hard to circumvent. To learn more about the modern cybersecurity posture that can help protect your business from password spraying attacks and other types of cyberattacks, contact our IT experts today.

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