Protecting yourself from fraudulent account takeovers

Published: July 24, 2014 by Mike Gross

Your password is weak, whether you use 40 random characters or your dog’s name. With so many large data breaches leading to hundreds of millions of compromised credentials and payment cards in the past two years, it’s no surprise that e-commerce account takeover attempts have grown dramatically in recent months – to a degree we have never seen before. Previously, account takeover was primarily a banking issue, not something merchants had to deal with.

Account takeover fraud is an alarming trend that spans global airline loyalty programs, e-commerce transactions, social networking logins and virtually any web site leveraging username and password authentication. News of the latest cybersecurity concern should serve as yet another reminder that we live in a heightened state of risk where establishing online trust based solely on username and password or identity data is not sufficient. There are a number of factors that are contributing to the evolving fraud landscape namely that the Internet was not designed for security.  This places pressure on organizations to continually adopt new approaches to managing fraud like this growing account takeover threat. In this case, multiple layered controls including device intelligence are essential.

As merchants extend more services online and allow customers to store payment information or get more convenient checkout via logged in vs. guest access, we’ll continue to see fraud migrating deeper into the e-commerce ecosystem. The account takeover problem will continue as consumers share usernames and passwords across dozens of online profiles and e-commerce logins, opening the door for attackers to access multiple accounts through a single compromised credential. Most of the account portals used by e-commerce merchants and loyalty programs were not built with the same level of security that their online transaction and fraud management systems have in place. So it’s a bit of a new risk, but fraudsters are aggressively exploiting the security gaps around things like simple username/password authentication.

What can consumers and organizations do to protect themselves?

Our recommendation for consumers is that they have unique username and password combinations for every online profile. This protects against attackers compromising one site and leveraging the same credentials to access all of the victim’s accounts and online profiles across the web. For businesses, we recommend implementing technology solutions that increase visibility to and recognition of devices for every online interaction so the organization can differentiate attackers from legitimate consumers. Some businesses believe that their products, services and loyalty offerings do not require the same level of protection as online bank accounts, so they leave them exposed to cyber criminals via simple authentication controls. As we’ve seen fraudsters will migrate to the path of least resistance and exploit the fact that most consumers re-use credentials out of convenience.

In the digital age where consumers are increasingly represented by their devices the ability to know when there are authentication discrepancies between the data presented by the user and the device presenting those credentials is absolutely important to effectively controlling the threat. The authentication process will shift from a single view to a layered, risk-based authentication approach that will include comprehensive and real-time updates of consumer information.

Conversations around the fact that the password is dead or dying have been circulating in the industry recently. What we don’t want is consumers getting tired of constantly changing passwords and giving up trying to protect themselves online. That is the worst case scenario that is becoming more of a reality as the days pass. Educated and aware consumers are still the best way to identify fraudulent attacks, and to keep identity data safe from hackers and devices free of malware.

Increased adoption of biometrics, device intelligence and the sharing of authenticated and credentialed identities across industries will become commonplace to help combat account takeovers as they increase. Until then we need to find a password replacement.

Learn more about 41st Parameter: https://www.experian.com/decision-analytics/41st-parameter.html?INTCMP=DA_Blog_Post072414

Related: The World Cup of Fraud