Exposure Management

Is Your Organization Vulnerable to Shadow Account Threats?

Shadow accounts, often called unauthorized or ghost accounts, have emerged as a significant and escalating threat in the digital realm, posing substantial risks to businesses. Commonly, these accounts are illicitly created by exploiting weaknesses in Single Sign-On (SSO) integrations, orchestrating phishing attacks, or employing social engineering tactics, all without the knowledge or approval of the legitimate account owner. Once established, malicious actors can exploit these shadow accounts for various unethical objectives, including unauthorized access to systems and data and tracking user activity. Both external attackers and malicious insiders can create these accounts, underscoring the critical need for enhanced security measures and vigilance in organizations.

One common method for creating unauthorized shadow accounts is by exploiting vulnerabilities in SSO integrations. SSO integrations, which enable users to log in to multiple systems using a single set of credentials, can be compromised, allowing attackers to create shadow accounts unbeknownst to users.

Another tactic involves phishing or social engineering, where attackers impersonate legitimate sources, such as a company's IT department, through emails or text messages. These communications may contain malicious links or attachments, which, if interacted with, could install malware on the user's device. This malware can then be used to pilfer the user's login credentials or to monitor their activity.

Additionally, malicious insiders, such as disgruntled employees, may create shadow accounts to spy on colleagues or steal data.

The existence of unauthorized shadow accounts presents a grave security risk for organizations. Attackers with access to these accounts can exploit them for various purposes, such as:

  • Gaining unauthorized access to systems and data, potentially leading to the theft of confidential information, further attacks, or disruption of operations.
  • Tracking and monitoring user activity, which can be used for malicious purposes like targeted phishing attacks or identity theft.
  • Executing unauthorized transactions, including fraudulent purchases or money transfers.
  • Launching phishing attacks to deceive other users into disclosing sensitive information.
  • Committing identity theft by stealing personal information like credit card numbers or passwords.
  • Conducting fraud through actions like setting up fake accounts or unauthorized purchases.
  • Engaging in espionage, which might include stealing trade secrets or sensitive government information.

Beyond these specific objectives, shadow accounts can also serve a variety of other malicious intents, such as disrupting businesses, damaging reputations, or spreading malware.

How External Attackers Create Unauthorized Shadow Accounts?

External attackers can create unauthorized shadow accounts and track account information behind SSO integrations. They may employ various strategies, such as:

Phishing: Sending deceptive emails to trick users into clicking on malicious links or inputting their login credentials into counterfeit websites. Once an attacker obtains a user's login credentials, they can use them to create unauthorized shadow accounts or track account information.

Social Engineering: Manipulating users to reveal sensitive information, like SSO integration passwords or granted permissions. This information can be leveraged to create unauthorized shadow accounts.

Malware: Installing malicious software on a user's computer to steal login credentials or track account information.

Exploiting API Vulnerabilities: Targeting flaws in the APIs of SSO integrations to create unauthorized shadow accounts.

Shadow Accounts for Sale

Shadow accounts can also be found for sale on the dark web. These compromised accounts, typically created by exploiting SSO vulnerabilities or through phishing and social engineering, are sold to other criminals. These shadow accounts pose serious threats, as they can grant attackers access to a victim's personal and financial information. They can also be used for launching phishing attacks or committing fraud.

Furthermore, these illicitly obtained shadow accounts can facilitate identity theft, enabling attackers to impersonate victims and cause extensive damage to their reputations and credit. The anonymity and vastness of the dark web make tracking the sellers and buyers of these accounts challenging, thus exacerbating the threat. Organizations must be vigilant, as shadow accounts sold on the dark web can lead to severe security breaches, potentially compromising sensitive corporate data and infrastructure.

Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM) is an essential program for organizations, offering a dependable approach for detecting risks related to shadow accounts in a zero-knowledge manner. It can play a crucial role in elevating an organization's overall security posture through consistently monitoring the threat landscape. CTEM efficiently identifies, validates, and prioritizes vulnerabilities linked to the attack surface and ensures their safe and controlled exploitation validation, thus strengthening organizational security measures.

The NST Assure Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM) platform empowers your organization to continuously assess its security posture. It guarantees that security risks, such as those from shadow accounts, are identified, validated, and remediated promptly and proactively.

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