Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Threat Intelligence

Phished Account Credentials Mostly Verified in Hours

Almost two-thirds of all phished credentials are verified by attackers within a day and then used in a variety of schemes, including business email compromise and targeting other users with malicious code.

Attackers from 44 countries used look-alike cloud portals to collect users' credentials, verified the majority of username-password combination in hours, and used them to send malicious payloads and spam to other Internet users and to conduct business email compromise (BEC), email-security firm Agari states in a new report. 

The report summarizes a six-month study by Agari researchers, who created an automated system to create 8,000 email accounts and submit them to phishing sites after those sites were discovered. The majority of phishing sites mimicked a Microsoft account or a specific Microsoft service, but a significant number of sites — 26% — were disguised as the login for Adobe Document Cloud.

Related Content:

5 Ways to Transform Your Phishing Defenses Right Now

Special Report: Assessing Cybersecurity Risk in Today's Enterprises

New From The Edge: How Can I Test the Security of My Home-Office Employees' Routers?

The attackers also did not give defenders much time to react to a credential compromise, says Crane Hassold, senior director of threat research at Agari. Half of all credentials were verified in 12 hours, and nearly all of the email credentials (91%) were verified in a week.

"Because there's such a big online economy for compromised accounts, many people have the perception that these accounts sit idly by for a period of time before they're sold," he says. "Our research shows this isn't the case."

With more companies moving infrastructure to the cloud, credentials have become the coin of the digital realm. In 2020, attackers inundated websites with credential stuffing attacks — using stolen usernames, email addresses, and passwords against a variety of sites — with Internet infrastructure firm Akamai seeing more than 193 billion failed attempts by attackers to access sites

The Agari "Anatomy of a Compromised Account" report looks at the details of the problem. First, it created fake accounts and next it submitted the account access credentials to a known phishing site. The company, which was bought by HelpSystems in May, then tracked how attackers used the compromised services. 

In one case, the attackers used the email address to send out more than 12,000 messages in a two-hour period to employees of real estate title companies, which handle payments and arrangements for mortgages, with a malicious link that sends them to a site that attempts to phish their credentials. Another phishing site owner used a kit by a Russian malware developer that automatically verified the accounts, and then forwarded the credential to the client, while keeping a copy for themselves.

"Our report really shows the multifaceted ways compromised accounts are exploited by cybercriminals," Hassold says. "These accounts weren't [used] in just one or two ways. Like a Swiss Army knife, the compromised accounts were used to facilitate a variety of different malicious activities."

While the days of the Nigerian Prince scam are past, the country accounted for almost half (47%) of all usage of compromised credentials, followed by the United States at 19%, and South Africa and the United Arab Emirates tied at 6% each. The majority of the actors accessed the accounts using a proxy, but Agari could detect the actual location of an actor in 41% of cases, Hassold says. 

"While these actors are the ones using the credentials, they aren't necessarily the same actors that stood up the phishing site," he says. "We know there's a robust economy for compromised credentials, so it's likely a share of these actors have been provided access to the accounts from another actor."

Most of the time, the credentials were used to send malicious links to gather credentials from targeted industries, including real estate and banking. In many cases, an attacker posed as a vendor and sent fictional invoices in an attempt to collect. In other cases, the scammer sent a purported price list to Chinese companies that would install the Agent Tesla information-stealing malware, Agari says.

The security firm plans to improve its research methods. During the study, the company did not populate the accounts with emails that could have enticed attackers into taking actions and reveal more about themselves. Blank email accounts likely raise suspicions among some attackers, Hassold says. He explains: "Because our persona mailboxes didn't contain actual emails — this is actually work we're expecting to do in the second phase of our research — it's likely that some of the attackers abandoned the accounts."

Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Commentary
Ransomware Is Not the Problem
Adam Shostack, Consultant, Entrepreneur, Technologist, Game Designer,  6/9/2021
Edge-DRsplash-11-edge-ask-the-experts
How Can I Test the Security of My Home-Office Employees' Routers?
John Bock, Senior Research Scientist,  6/7/2021
News
New Ransomware Group Claiming Connection to REvil Gang Surfaces
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  6/10/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
The State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
In this report learn how enterprises are building their incident response teams and processes, how they research potential compromises, how they respond to new breaches, and what tools and processes they use to remediate problems and improve their cyber defenses for the future.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2021-32697
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-21
neos/forms is an open source framework to build web forms. By crafting a special `GET` request containing a valid form state, a form can be submitted without invoking any validators. Form state is secured with an HMAC that is still verified. That means that this issue can only be exploited if Form F...
CVE-2020-19510
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-21
Textpattern 4.7.3 contains an aribtrary file load via the file_insert function in include/txp_file.php.
CVE-2020-19511
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-21
Cross Site Scriptiong vulnerability in Typesetter 5.1 via the !1) className and !2) Description fields in index.php/Admin/Classes,
CVE-2021-21422
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-21
mongo-express is a web-based MongoDB admin interface, written with Node.js and express. 1: As mentioned in this issue: https://github.com/mongo-express/mongo-express/issues/577, when the content of a cell grows larger than supported size, clicking on a row will show full document unescaped, however ...
CVE-2021-0532
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-21
In memory management driver, there is a possible memory corruption due to a race condition. This could lead to local escalation of privilege with no additional execution privileges needed. User interaction is not needed for exploitation.Product: AndroidVersions: Android SoCAndroid ID: A-185196177