March 5, 2024

A data breach occurs when an unauthorized party gains access to confidential or protected information – and one of the easiest ways for a hacker to gain access is through compromised credentials.

Many data breaches involve stolen, weak, or default user credentials. Credentials, which include usernames and passwords, are part of the foundation of any good cybersecurity strategy, but they’re also one of the easiest elements for cyber criminals to permeate.

In a large enterprise with many thousands of employees and contractors who use credentials to gain access to potentially thousands of different applications, it only takes one weak set of credentials for a hacker to infiltrate a system and disrupt an organization.

Understanding what causes stolen or compromised user credentials can play a key role in preventing future security attacks like data breaches. We’ll discuss some common scenarios that can result in compromised credentials, as well as how to mitigate the risk involved.

Employees reuse the same passwords

One of the most common causes of data breaches is simply the reuse of passwords across multiple devices, applications and websites. Team members may use the same passwords across both their personal and work accounts due to habit and the difficulty of memorizing different passwords.

Although the most common excuse for reusing a password centers around convenience, i.e. not having to remember hundreds of passwords – but it only takes one weak point of exposure for an intruder to gain access to the enterprise’s networks and accounts. And if the owner of the compromised credentials uses the same email, username and password for multiple applications, the cyber attacker now has the keys to the kingdom.

Organizations often try to mitigate this risk by training team members on password management best practices, but this is not an exhaustive approach in today’s cyber-climate.

Employees use easy-to-hack passwords 

Not only do employees tend to reuse the same passwords across devices and applications, but their passwords are often simple enough for cyber criminals to quickly identify with software written to achieve this objective. Generally speaking, the more complex the password, the harder it will be for a hacker to crack.

But while general password management tips are widely shared and understood, they are also only part of an overall identity security strategy. A password management solution helps detect password changes initiated outside of the solution and synchronize them across appropriate applications, adapt policies to optimize enterprise security, and provide a self-service platform for users.

Employees don’t keep their passwords safe

It’s one thing to create a secure and unique password, but if team members are unable to safeguard them, the enterprise’s cybersecurity program cannot be considered enabled, as compromised credentials are a very real possibility.

Studies have found that not only do employees tend to write down their passwords in notepads or sticky notes, they also often share passwords with other members of their team. Keeping team members productive and connected while protecting the organization from security breaches is a common challenge.

Most organizations try to protect passwords through regular employee education. Team members are trained on basic password hygiene practices and how to keep their credentials secure. Typically, organizations schedule cybersecurity training quarterly to teach employees, contractors, and vendors how to accurately spot bad actors, scams, phishing attacks and more. Updating employees on new and evolving cyber threats is a critical aspect of helping them to be cautious and aware.

How to avoid compromised credentials and mitigate data breaches

In today’s complex environment, employees, as well as servers, networks, and devices, hold credentials. If an attacker can unlock the credentials of even a single identity, their ability to move laterally throughout the enterprise is escalated.

This is why it’s so vital to have strong user credentials, multiple methods for authentication, password management tools, and a strong cybersecurity program. Also, identity governance solutions help organizations inventory, analyze and understand access privileges granted to employees, contractors, and partners.

Identity security protects digital identities and ensures that the right people have the right access to the right tools within your organization. Identity governance helps protect user access, ultimately helping to prevent the enterprise’s assets and resources.   

Unleash the power of unified identity security

Mitigate cyber risk across the spectrum of access

Take a product tour