New White Paper on Preventing Credential Phishing, Theft and Abuse


Category: Threat Brief, Unit 42

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Today we’re releasing a new Unit 42 white paper titled “Credential-Based Attacks: Exposing the Ecosystem and Motives Behind Credential Phishing, Theft and Abuse.” In this paper, we look at the problem of credential theft by exploring how it happens, what attackers do with credentials once they’ve stolen them, and what you can do to help prevent credential-based attacks.

Credentials and authentication have become synonymous, with valid credentials allowing access to sensitive resources. Adversaries are increasingly stealing and using credentials as part of their playbooks; impersonating legitimate users to access a company’s most sensitive information, erase data on servers, and reconfigure them so that they can’t boot; and undertake other malicious activities. Stolen credentials underpin some of the most critical and damaging attacks out there; both Shamoon 2 and the Sofacy threat actor group, for example, have made detailed use of credential theft.

Credential theft today can happen in many ways, but the most notable are through credential phishing and the use of malware like keyloggers (both staples of the Sofacy group), as well as password reuse. The impact of a successful credential theft is, ultimately, access and authorization. Attackers will use credential theft for remote access to an organization, to access cloud-based resources (which may have weaker credential protections than network-based resources), or to move laterally within an organization once they’ve gained entry. The most sophisticated attacks can – and do – blend these actions together, sometimes using multiple stolen credentials to penetrate networks, move laterally within them, elevate privileges, and then access and steal data.

Prevention of credential theft is too often overlooked. Organizations should continue with user education to help users better spot and not fall for phishing and spam attacks. You and your employees can also use password managers to make unique, complex passwords for each site not just a goal but a reality. Technology is also catching up; recent advances in two-factor/multi-factor authentication (2FA/MFA) and one-time passwords (OTP) represent the best long-term approaches to preventing credential theft. (Our newest release, PAN-OS 8.0, also includes protections to significantly limit or eliminate password reuse.)

Get your copy of our white paper here.


Ignite '17 Security Conference: Vancouver, BC June 12–15, 2017

Ignite '17 Security Conference is a live, four-day conference designed for today’s security professionals. Hear from innovators and experts, gain real-world skills through hands-on sessions and interactive workshops, and find out how breach prevention is changing the security industry. Visit the Ignite website for more information on tracks, workshops and marquee sessions.