Impact and prevalence of cyberattacks that use stolen hashed administrator credentials

There’s a significant prevalence and impact of cyberattacks that use stolen hashed administrator credentials, also referred to as Pass the Hash (PtH) attacks, within businesses today, according to a survey from One Identity.

stolen hashed administrator credentials

Among the survey’s most noteworthy findings is that 95% of respondents say that PtH attacks have a direct business impact on their organizations.

Conducted by Dimensional Research, the survey of more than 1,000 IT professionals reinforces the crucial need for organizations to deploy effective Active Directory (AD) management and privileged access management (PAM) solutions and practices, given that PtH attacks primarily result in unauthorized use of privileged credentials to compromise enterprise systems and data.

In a typical PtH attack, an attacker obtains privileged credentials by compromising an end user’s machine and simulates an IT problem so that a privileged account holder will log into an administrative system.

Those login credentials are stored as a hash that the attacker extracts and uses to access additional IT resources across the organization.

Without a holistic and strategic approach to protect privileged accounts and identify when privileged access is being abused, a cybercriminal leveraging a PtH technique can gain access to an entire network, rendering all other security safeguards ineffective.

According to the survey, IT security stakeholders recognize the damage PtH attacks can cause, however, many are still not implementing the most important measures available to fight them.

Top findings

PtH incidents have a widespread, direct impact on businesses.

  • Two in five (40%) say a PtH incident has a direct financial impact, such as lost revenue and fines.
  • Seventy percent report a direct impact on operational costs.
  • Sixty-eight percent say these attacks distract staff from other projects.

Ignorance of PtH attacks is worryingly prevalent for the majority of organizations.

  • Sixty-eight percent of IT security stakeholders do not know for certain whether they’ve experienced a PtH attack.
  • Four percent of IT security stakeholders do not even know what a PtH attack is.

A large majority (87%) of respondents say they are already taking steps to prevent PtH attacks, but some lack of attention to address the issue persists.

  • Fifty-five percent have implemented privileged password management (a password vault).
  • Fifty percent have implemented better controls over AD/Azure AD administrator access.
  • Thirty-two percent have implemented advanced PAM practices such as session audit and analytics.
  • Twenty-six percent have followed Microsoft’s guidance and implemented an Enhanced Security Administrative Environment (ESAE, also known as Red Forest).
  • Among the respondents that have not taken any steps to prevent PtH, 85% have no plans to do so.

Larger companies feel they are more likely to be targeted by PtH attacks and are most likely to take steps to address the issue.

  • More than one in four (26%) large companies (defined as organizations with more than 5,000 employees) report they have definitely or probably experienced this type of attack, compared to about one in 10 (12%) smaller companies.
  • Twice as many large companies (38%) have invested in advanced PAM practices such as session audit and analytics compared to smaller organizations (19%).
  • Fifty-nine percent of large companies are implementing privileged password management (a password vault) vs. only 44% of smaller companies.
  • Only 16% of small organizations are following Microsoft’s guidance to implement ESAE (Red Forest) compared to 31% of large companies.

stolen hashed administrator credentials

“The results of our 2019 survey indicate that despite the fact that Pass the Hash attacks are having significant financial and operational impact on organizations, there is vast room for improvement in the steps organizations are taking to address them,” said Darrell Long, vice president of product management, One Identity.

“Without a holistic and strategic approach to protect privileged accounts and identify privileged access abuse, organizations could very well leave their entire network exposed to cybercriminals leveraging the PtH technique, rendering all other security safeguards ineffective.”

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Impact and prevalence of cyberattacks that use stolen hashed administrator credentials