Account Takeover ProtectionWhat’s the Best Way to Counter Account Compromises?

December 6, 2023 | 10 min read

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Account Takeover Protection

In a Nutshell

No one is immune to account takeover fraud. What you need is a way to protect yourself and your business from imposters. That’s where account takeover protection comes in. This article will explain what that entails and how ATO best practices can keep you and your customers safe.

10 Account Takeover Protection Best Practices for Business

In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recorded a staggering 725,000 impostor scams. These figures underscore a worrying trend in online fraud.

Such impostor scams are often linked to account takeover (ATO) fraud, where unauthorized individuals gain access to personal accounts. They are also connected to identity theft, involving the fraudulent creation of new accounts under someone else's identity. Combined, these types of fraud represented a significant 35.62% of the total 5.2 million fraud reports received by the FTC in 2022. The data clearly indicates not only the prevalence of these scams but also their escalating financial impact.

Clearly, this is a big problem that requires a solution. But how exactly does this happen and what does account takeover protection look like? Let’s find out.

How Does Account Takeover Happen?

Account takeover (ATO) is a type of online identity theft. Attackers steal login details or personal information (like social security numbers, addresses, and bank details) and use them to conduct fraudulent activities. They could scam people, ruin reputations, or even sell personal details to other bad actors.

ATO fraud happens when these fraudsters gain control of your online accounts. They pretend to be you, change your account info, spend your money, or use your details to get into your other accounts. Usual targets for ATO attacks include:

  • Social Media Accounts: They use these to trick friends or followers.
  • Email Accounts: To dig up more personal info or reset passwords on other accounts.
  • Bank Accounts: To swipe cash, mess with financial services, or take out loans in someone’s name.
  • Shopping Accounts (like Amazon): To go on a shopping spree with stolen money or grab associated card details.

These attacks are a nightmare for online businesses and their customers. The damage can hit hard and fast, and it can last a while, especially if it takes time for you or the business to catch on. We’ve covered this topic pretty extensively, so if you’re looking for a more in-depth explanation of ATO threats and red flags, check out our main article on the topic:

Learn more about account takeover

Why is Account Takeover Protection Necessary?

Account takeover protection is about safeguarding online accounts from unauthorized access or misuse. It's a crucial part of digital security that focuses on preventing hackers or cybercriminals from gaining control of your accounts. This has an impact on:

Personal Information Security

Our online accounts often contain a treasure trove of personal information. If someone takes over your account, they can access your personal details. This can lead to identity theft or privacy breaches.

Financial Security

Many online accounts are linked to financial services or contain payment information. Unauthorized access could mean financial losses, unauthorized transactions, or even theft of financial credentials.

Reputation & Trust

Imagine someone takes over your social media account and posts inappropriate content. It can damage your reputation. For businesses, such a breach can severely affect customer trust.

Continuity of Service

If an account is taken over, the perpetrator may change your credentials and lock you out. You could then lose access to important services, communications, or data stored in the account.

For businesses, protecting customer accounts isn't just about customer service; it's often a legal requirement. Failing to protect user data can result in heavy fines and legal complications.

Future Attacks

Often, one compromised account can be a stepping stone for attacks on other accounts, especially if you use similar login details across services.

In a world where so much of our lives and businesses operate online, account takeover protection is more than just a technical necessity. It's a critical aspect of maintaining our digital well-being and safeguarding our online presence.

What Does Account Takeover Protection Entail?

Account takeover protection essentially refers to any set of security measures or strategies that are designed to prevent unauthorized access to online accounts. This can cover crucial practices that are important for both consumers and merchants. 

Examples of account takeover protection practices could include:

It might seem like software or third-party security services are the only solutions. However, this is not the case. Most of the time, account takeover protection starts at the individual level. 

For users, it’s about being careful and proactive with their account security. For businesses, it’s about using technology and policies to safeguard their users’ accounts. When both sides work together, it becomes much harder for the bad guys to get in.

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Which Tactics Does Account Takeover Protection Prevent?

Account takeover protection can mean employing a number of strategies and tools to counteract the common tactics used by attackers. Here's how these protective measures work against typical account takeover methods:

Phishing Attacks

Many services use anti-phishing technologies that can detect and block suspicious emails. Two-factor authentication (2FA), for instance, adds an extra layer of security. It ensures that, even if login credentials are compromised, the attacker still can't access the account without the second factor.

Credential Stuffing

Protection against credential stuffing involves monitoring for unusual login attempts, such as numerous failed logins or logins from unusual locations. Services also encourage or enforce unique, complex passwords and regularly prompt users to change passwords.


Anti-malware and antivirus software are essential to guard against keylogging. These programs can detect and remove keyloggers. Again, 2FA plays a crucial role as it requires an additional verification step beyond the keyboard input.

Social Engineering

Educating users about the risks of social engineering and how to recognize such attempts is critical. Verifying the identity of individuals claiming to represent organizations before providing any sensitive information is a key practice.

SIM Swapping

To combat SIM swapping, many services are moving away from SMS-based 2FA to app-based methods like authenticator apps or push notifications. These are not tied to a phone number. Some also have additional security measures for changing phone number details on the account.

Brute Force Attacks

Account lockout policies, where an account is temporarily locked after a number of incorrect password attempts, are effective here. Also, implementing CAPTCHAs can prevent automated tools from attempting brute-force attacks, whereby the attacker keeps attempting access until successful.

“Man-in-the-Middle” Attacks

Encryption of data in transit, like using HTTPS, prevents attackers from easily intercepting and reading data. Secure and private networks are also advised, rather than public Wi-Fi, to reduce this risk. This will stop data from being triangulated and intercepted by a third party.

Account takeover protection is a multifaceted endeavor. It requires you to combine technology solutions, user education, and best practices in cybersecurity. Ultimately, it's about creating several layers of defense to make it significantly harder for attackers to succeed in their attempts.

10 Account Takeover Protection Best Practices

Naturally, you want to know what else you can do to keep this from happening in the first place. Well, as hinted at above, there really isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution. In the fight against account takeover (ATO) threats, adopting a series of best practices can significantly bolster your defenses. 

Here are ten key strategies to consider:

#1 Implement Two-Factor Authentication

This adds an extra layer of security beyond just the password. Even if a password is compromised, 2FA can prevent unauthorized access.

#2 Limit Login Attempts

Implementing a limit on the number of failed login attempts can thwart brute-force attacks. After a set number of incorrect tries, the account should be temporarily locked.

#3 Notifications for Account Changes

Send real-time alerts to users for any changes made to their account settings, including password changes, new logins, or changes in contact information.

#4 Track & Block Suspicious Accounts

Monitor account activities and flag any unusual behavior, like logins from new locations or devices. Suspicious accounts should be temporarily blocked or subjected to additional verification.

#5 Use Advanced Password Policies

Enforce strong password requirements, such as a minimum length, the inclusion of special characters, and regular password updates.

#6 Regular Security Audits

Conduct periodic reviews of your security infrastructure to identify and address potential vulnerabilities.

#7 Educate Users About Security Risks

Regularly inform your users about the importance of security. Provide information about how to recognize phishing attempts or other security threats.

#8 Encryption of Sensitive Data

Encrypt user data both in transit and at rest. This ensures that even if data is intercepted, it remains unreadable without the proper decryption key.

#9 Account Recovery Processes

Establish secure and user-friendly account recovery processes. This might include identity verification steps that don't rely solely on easily obtainable personal information.

#10 Leverage Machine Learning

Use machine learning algorithms to detect abnormal patterns of behavior that might indicate an ATO attempt. This can include analyzing login times, locations, and device usage patterns.

These best practices represent a forward-facing approach to account takeover protection. While no system is entirely foolproof, layering these strategies can create a formidable barrier against unauthorized account access, ensuring both user trust and the integrity of the system.

Account Takeover Protection Can’t Stop Every Attack

Like any fraud prevention system, even the most comprehensive account takeover protection isn’t infallible. Cybersecurity is a constantly evolving field. Attackers continually develop new methods, and there's always a gap between the emergence of a new threat and the development of effective countermeasures.

For instance, let’s say someone inside an organization, like an employee with legitimate access, decides to misuse their access rights. It can be challenging to detect and prevent this kind of activity. This is because their activities might not trigger the usual security alarms. 

This is why it’s so important for merchants to deploy a multi-tiered fraud prevention strategy that monitors fraud before and after each transaction. 


What does account takeover protection mean?

Account takeover protection is essentially about safeguarding online accounts from unauthorized access or misuse. It's a crucial part of digital security that focuses on preventing hackers or cybercriminals from gaining control of your accounts— be it your email, social media, banking, or any other service where you have an online presence.

What is an example of account takeover?

Some hackers might use a phishing email to trick someone into revealing their online banking password. With this information, the hacker logs into the person's bank account, transfers funds to a different account, and changes the account's password, locking the rightful owner out.

What are the risks of account takeover?

Account takeover exposes individuals and businesses to financial loss, data breaches, and reputational damage, as unauthorized access can lead to fraudulent transactions and the leaking of sensitive information. It also creates a gateway for further cyberattacks on connected networks or contacts.

How common is account takeover?

Account takeover is a prevalent form of cybercrime, with millions of incidents reported annually, as it often exploits common security weaknesses like reused passwords and phishing scams. The increasing reliance on digital services has only amplified its occurrence across various online platforms.

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