When the world shifted to working from home, criminals pounced. Never wanting to miss a chance to capitalize on people in a time of weakness, they stepped up their phishing attacks, created fake COVID-19 information sites, and spoofed government health sites in efforts to access potentially valuable account information.
While those types of attacks and scams have been around for years, people have been more exposed these last few months. With schools closed, students have switched to online learning programs and video calls. Parents find themselves sharing their work laptops with kids to do their schoolwork and join virtual classes. All of a sudden, family and personal accounts for Facebook, Nintendo, Xbox, and Netflix are right alongside office tools like Zoom, Microsoft Office, and corporate email clients.
In some cases, parents have used their work email to create new accounts for their children. They may have even reused the same passwords and shared the credentials with the family. It's easy to imagine parents letting their kids use company Zoom credentials for school calls, and then someone goes and reuses the same login and password to create a Fortnite account.
Then there's the huge boom in online shopping to think about. With stores closed, consumers have turned to e-commerce to get products delivered. In the first half of the year, online spending with US retailers grew 30% — up $60.4 billion — compared with the same period last year, according to the US Department of Commerce. As shoppers have placed online orders with grocery and retail stores for the first time, it's also easy to imagine how many new accounts have been created with reused work credentials — and then shared with family members.
Although security experts recommend using unique passwords for each account, the prevailing practice for most people is to reuse passwords across multiple sites. In fact, SpyCloud's report on password reuse among Fortune 1000 employees found that 76.5% have reused the same password paired with their corporate email on more than one breached account. With the shift to e-commerce likely permanent, along with the continued acceptance and prevalence of remote work, the consequences of those reused and shared logins have staying power.
Criminals love this. If a login and password is ever stolen in a data breach, the information will eventually circulate on Dark Web marketplaces where bad actors buy and sell breach data. Those breached credentials are then available to criminals for credential stuffing, where credentials are tested against other sites to see which additional accounts they can take over. Some criminal tools can even test for common password variations, like changing certain letters to numbers (Password vs. [email protected]) or adding numbers or symbols to the end of a word (password123). If a password has been exposed in one data breach, any other account with a variation of the same password is at risk.
That's exactly what happened to Nintendo account holders earlier this year. On April 24, the company confirmed that attackers were able to access 160,000 Nintendo accounts that were vulnerable because people used passwords that had been exposed in previous data breaches. The criminals behind it were able to extract specific billing and account information from the breached accounts, including rewards points, Nintendo Store, and Nintendo eShop balances, PayPal subscription IDs, credit card types, card expiration dates, currency denominations, the first six digits of the credit card numbers, and the last four digits of the credit card numbers.
So, now what happens when your employee's 10-year-old has one of their online accounts exposed in a breach, and your employee has set up the account with their corporate email and password? Suddenly, the risk to sensitive company email skyrocketed. At work, the company can monitor corporate credentials for breach exposures to keep attackers locked out of work accounts, but when employees reuse exposed passwords across personal logins, they can create a dangerous blind spot for corporate security teams.
Security awareness education — and constant reminders — are necessary. Share relatable scenarios like the ones in this article to teach the dangers of reusing passwords and the need for smart and safe online habits. It may be awhile yet before offices reopen en masse, which means the threats from intermingling personal and professional account credentials will continue. And even after we start going back to the office, criminals will be lurking, waiting to exploit our bad habits.
Security leaders, stay vigilant. Even if you can't see your employees in the office, you need to tell them that criminals are always trying to find a weak link in the chain.Chip Witt has over 20 years of diverse technology experience, including product management and operations leadership roles at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Webroot, VMware, Alcatel, and Appthority. He is currently the Vice President of Product Management at SpyCloud, where he ... View Full Bio