What Are Login Credentials?
Login credentials enable users to log in and verify their identities to online accounts on the internet. User credentials are typically a username and password combination used for logging in to online accounts. However, they can be combined with more secure authentication tools and biometric elements to confirm user identities with a greater degree of certainty.
Common examples of login credentials are the username and password combinations used for logging in to social media services like Facebook, Google, and Instagram, as well as collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom. Devices like computers, laptops, and mobile phones also require users to log in with a username and password or personal identification number (PIN) code, commonly alongside a biometric verification like a fingerprint.
Other services that commonly require login credentials are online banking services, which typically require a username and password combination and two-factor authentication (2FA) to confirm the user’s identity.
A username is the user identification (user ID) that someone uses as their unique ID on a computer, network, or service. Most websites and online services, such as Facebook and Twitter, allow users to choose their username, usually tied to an email address or phone number. Usernames are not always private, so they should not be used on their own to identify an individual. That is why trusted services pair these usernames with a password to form login credentials.
A password is a secret combination of characters that identify a user and grant access to a specific device or website. A password protects the username that a service or website user chooses to keep their account and data private and secure. Passwords can include letters, numbers, and special characters, and most secure online services now demand users to choose a password that combines all three.
Why Strong Usernames and Passwords Are Important
A digital profile is an online account that includes personal data, which needs to be protected with secure login credentials. Digital profiles exist for a wide range of accounts and applications, from bank accounts and social media sites to online retailers, collaboration tools, and gaming websites. These accounts typically hold highly sensitive user information, including their name, date of birth, email address, mailing address, and banking details.
It is vital to use strong login credentials to protect this information from falling into the wrong hands, as cyber criminals could use it to access users’ accounts and steal their details.
How To Create Secure Login Credentials
Secure login credentials are vital to protecting users’ identities and preventing them from becoming identity theft victims. There are many best practices that users need to follow when it comes to creating strong usernames and passwords that keep them and their data secure.
Create Long and Complex Passwords
One of the best ways to make sure login credentials are secure is to create long passwords with at least eight characters. Passwords should also contain a mixture of lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Short, simple passwords are easier for hackers to guess or crack using technology, whereas a unique, complex password that does not use common character combinations provides greater protection.
Avoid Personal Information
People often use easy-to-remember information like their date of birth, family name, favorite sports team, or phone number as part of their passwords. However, hackers can use social engineering techniques to find out personal information then guess or crack passwords. It is therefore crucial not to include your personal information in login credentials.
Do Not Use an Obvious Username
Hackers can also target usernames that are easy to identify, such as a user’s given name and email addresses, to launch social engineering attacks. One way in which hackers can use usernames is through reverse brute-force attacks, which involves them taking common passwords and trying them against usernames.
Use Unique Passwords for Important Accounts
Passwords should not be shared across accounts, as a hacker that obtains login credentials for one would then be able to hack into any other service that uses the password. For example, the password used for an email account should not be the same as a banking password, and an online banking password should not be the same as a credit card PIN code. It is essential to use unique, complex passwords for important accounts.
Do Not Share Credentials
Login credentials should never be shared with anyone, even with co-workers or trusted family members, as this is a significant compliance breach. Insider threats involve an employee stealing corporate data and giving or selling it to a third party. Therefore, if the illegal or unauthorized activity originates from credentials being shared with a co-worker, the account will be traced back to the original employee.
It is also vital to exit to the login screen or even turn off computers when they are not in use at the end of a working day.
Alternative Operations To Strengthen the Login Process
Usernames and passwords alone only provide limited security levels and are relatively easy for hackers to intercept or for users to forget or lose. It is vital to supplement login credentials with technologies that strengthen the authentication process and prevent unauthorized access to networks.
Two-factor authentication (2FA) strengthens login credentials by providing an extra level of certainty that the user is who they claim to be. When a user signs in with their username and password, they are prompted to enter a second piece of information that verifies their identity. This information is typically something they know, such as a PIN or passcode; something they own, like a code on an authentication application or on their mobile device; or something they are, usually a biometric factor.
Biometrics are personal attributes or something that the user is, such as their fingerprint, face, or voice. They also include behavioral biometrics, such as a user’s keystroke dynamics or speech pattern. Biometric authentication is commonly used to protect devices like computers and mobile phones to prevent unauthorized access. This adds a layer of security that is more difficult to obtain with traditional login credentials.
Single sign-on is a technique that enables users to log in to multiple services and websites using one set of login credentials. It validates users across various applications using an authentication token to verify their identity to connected service providers. Users only have to remember one set of login credentials, which encourages using a strong, unique password and reduces password repetition.
Threats To User Credentials
Users’ login credentials are highly valuable targets for hackers, who use various techniques to attempt to steal this data. This presents a significant risk to users’ sensitive information, which could be used to commit identity theft or carry out broader attacks against organizations. Several specific attacks target login credentials.
A brute-force attack involves hackers using a trial-and-error approach to cracking user login credentials, passwords, and encryption keys. It is a simple, reliable, and popular tactic that hackers use to gain unauthorized access to accounts, networks, and computer systems
Phishing attacks involve hackers using login credentials to send an email from what looks like a trusted sender from a legitimate company. The hacker typically embeds malicious links or attachments in the message or asks the target victim to carry out a financial transaction.
Malware is malicious software, such as ransomware, spyware, and viruses, that hackers use to take control of a device, gain access to a network, or damage data and systems.
Spyware is a form of malware that gathers data from a user’s device and sends it to a third party without their consent, which hackers can use for identity spoofing. Some spyware is designed to damage devices. Hackers can also use spyware to view or steal users’ browsing activity and login credentials.
Improve Login Security With Passwordless Authentication
While protecting user accounts with strong, unique passwords is extremely necessary, it is increasingly crucial for organizations to look beyond login credentials and go passwordless. Not only do people tend to use weak passwords that they can remember, but they also recycle these logins across multiple accounts. As a result, credential vulnerabilities were responsible for more than 61% of data breaches, according to insight from Verizon’s 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR).
Cyber criminals are also increasingly deploying more sophisticated attack methods. This includes techniques like brute-force attacks and credential stuffing, in which attackers use compromised login credentials from other data breaches to gain access to corporate systems. They can also purchase lists of passwords from the dark web or access passwords through malware.
Organizations can strengthen their defenses by eradicating the risk of passwords. Removing password use eliminates hackers’ ability to deploy malicious tactics to access corporate accounts and steal sensitive data.
What is Passwordless Authentication?
Passwordless authentication is an account login process that enables users to verify their identity using a method other than the traditional username and password combination. The most popular forms include using a second device or biometrics to verify a user’s identity.
The various types of passwordless authentication include:
- Biometric authentication: One of the most secure ways to verify a person’s identity is to use something they are, which is unique to every individual. Biometric authentication relies on unique physical traits, typically a fingerprint and iris or facial recognition, to verify that a user is who they claim to be.
- One-time codes: This passwordless authentication method relies on users inputting a unique code sent to them when they attempt to log in to an account. A one-time code (OTC) or one-time password (OTP) will be sent to their email address or mobile device, and they must input the same code on the original device to verify their identity.
- Magic links: This type of passwordless authentication involves users entering their email address into a login box on an app or service. They are then sent an email that contains a link they need to click to confirm their identity.
- Push notifications: This passwordless authentication process involves using authenticator apps, such as FortiAuthenticator and Google Authenticator. The user receives a push notification that takes them to the app, where they can verify whether or not they attempted to access a service that is connected to the app.
How Does It Help Strengthen the Login Process?
BioPasswordless authentication strengthens the login process by providing a greater level of certainty that a user is who they claim to be. For example, biometric authentication processes like fingerprint scanning or iris recognition offer greater assurance that the user is genuine than simply entering login credentials.
Passwordless authentication methods remove reliance on users remembering their passwords. People often forget their passwords for various online accounts or reuse the same password for different services. This presents significant security risks, so removing the need for passwords is crucial to strengthening logins.
Passwordless authentication systems also use modern authentication methods, such as Fast IDentity Online (FIDO)-compliant devices that reduce an organization’s vulnerability to malware and phishing attacks.
How Fortinet Can Help
The effects of login credentials falling into the wrong hands can be highly damaging for users and organizations. Users must protect their accounts and data with complex, strong, and unique login credentials, which must be strengthened with secure authentication like 2FA.
Organizations must introduce zero-trust network access, enabling them to identify all users that access their systems and the devices connected to their network. The Fortinet FortiAuthenticator improves the authentication process by guaranteeing that only the right person with the right level of access can access sensitive data and networks at the right time. It works in conjunction with FortiToken to authenticate users and prevent common attack vectors that result in lost or stolen login credentials.