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Are your accounts vulnerable to ATO (Account Takeover) attacks?

In today’s digital and contactless world, online interactions and transactions are becoming the new way of life. What is the core aspect that drives these digital interactions and transactions? It is the digital identity of all users. This digital identity is used across many industries to deliver numerous services such as entertainment, retail, education, financial services and many others. However, unlike the physical identities, the digital identity can be compromised not just by targeted attacks on specific individuals, but it can be compromised at mass scale as well. This is what happens when accounts are left vulnerable to attacks. These are known as Account Takeover attacks also referred to as ATO attacks.

Online accounts are typically protected with passwords. Passwords were an effective method to protect online accounts about more than a decade ago. Attackers have been able to break passwords and the dark web claims to have the required tools to break upto 55-character passwords. A study claims on average, users typically have 90 online accounts. This leads to users usually reusing passwords across multiple platforms which means, should a user’s account on platform A be compromised, it his highly likely that user has reused the same password on multiple platforms such as B, C and D. Now the attacker has gained access to the user’s account not just on one platform, but of four platforms and can carry out transactions and interactions on behalf of the user and in certain cases even block access of the genuine user.


Other methods such as Single-Sign-On (SSO) and SMS based One-Time-Password (OTP) had gained popularity among digital businesses since last few years. While these are marginally better than legacy passwords, they have their inherent vulnerability as SSO uses password-based authentication and then issues tokens for other platforms to use. There are billions of stolen email credentials available on the dark web and fraudsters can easily use those to break into SSO based authentication mechanisms. SMS-based OTPs can easily be intercepted or stolen from infected devices or by phishing attacks. Using these methods still doesn’t eliminate the risk of ATO attacks.

ATO attacks are the root cause to the majority of cyber frauds. These attacks are the source of all further cyber frauds such as inventory hoarding, payment frauds, fake reviews, reward abuse and many others. This is due to the compromise of the digital identity of users and causes irreversible loss of trust among users. There are reports that claim more than one-third of users do not return to platforms which have been victim of cyber frauds. As mentioned earlier, ATO attacks are the most common form of cyber-attacks that fraudsters use to initiate any cyber-fraud. This ensures the safety of the fraudster as they are hidden behind the identity of the victims who have had their accounts compromised.

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As this blog indicates, securing the digital identity is of utmost importance. It is critical for businesses to take any and all precautions in order to safeguard their users’ digital identity.

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