How VPN Credentials are Stolen with Social Engineering?

how-vpn-credentials-stolen
Pinar Ormeci
Pinar Ormeci
27 February 2024

Nowadays,  businesses rely heavily on virtual private networks (VPNs) to secure remote access and protect sensitive data. However, even with robust security measures in place, cybercriminals continue to find ways to exploit vulnerabilities. One such method is through social engineering, a deceptive technique used to manipulate individuals into revealing confidential information. In this blog post, we will explore how VPN credentials can be stolen through social engineering and discuss preventive measures and better alternatives to protect your business.


Understanding Social Engineering

Social engineering involves manipulating human psychology to gain unauthorized access to systems or information. Cybercriminals exploit human trust, curiosity, and willingness to help in order to deceive individuals into divulging sensitive data. Through various tactics, they trick employees into unknowingly revealing their VPN credentials, providing an entry point for unauthorized access to the network.


Common Social Engineering Tactics

Social engineering tactics can take many forms, some of which are specifically designed to target VPN credentials. Here are a few commonly used techniques:

  1. Phishing: Attackers send fraudulent emails or messages that appear legitimate, tricking individuals into clicking on malicious links or providing their credentials.

  2. Pretexting: By impersonating a trustworthy source, attackers create a false narrative to gain the target's trust and manipulate them into revealing sensitive information.

  3. Baiting: A physical device, such as a USB drive or CD, is intentionally left in a public place to entice an individual to pick it up and unknowingly install malware or reveal their credentials.

  4. Spear Phishing: Attackers personalize their messages by gathering information about their target through social media or other online sources, increasing the perceived legitimacy of their communication.


Real-Life Examples of VPN Credential Theft

Numerous high-profile cases highlight the effectiveness of social engineering in stealing VPN credentials. One such example is the "Watering Hole" attack, in which attackers compromise websites frequently visited by the target organization's employees. By injecting malicious code into these websites, they gain access to the employees' systems and subsequently their VPN credentials.


Preventive Measures and Best Practices

To protect your organization from social engineering attacks targeting VPN credentials, it is crucial to implement preventive measures and adopt best practices:

  1. Employee Training and Awareness: Regularly educate employees about social engineering tactics, how to identify phishing attempts, and the importance of safeguarding their credentials.

  2. Strong Password Policies: Enforce password guidelines such as using complex passwords, regularly updating them, and not reusing them across multiple accounts.

  3. Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Implement MFA for VPN access, requiring an additional authentication factor beyond passwords, such as a biometric scan or a one-time passcode.

  4. Security Awareness Testing: Conduct regular simulated phishing campaigns to assess employees' susceptibility to social engineering attacks and provide targeted training based on the results.


Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) and Secure Remote Access as Alternatives to VPNs

While VPNs have long been the standard for secure remote access, the evolving threat landscape calls for more advanced solutions. Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is a security framework that focuses on verifying every user and device attempting to access resources, regardless of their location. With ZTNA, access is granted based on the principle of least privilege, ensuring that only authorized users can access specific resources.

Secure remote access solutions, such as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and secure web gateways, provide an added layer of security. These solutions limit direct access to the network and applications, reducing the attack surface and preventing unauthorized access.


Conclusion

As cyber threats grow in sophistication, it is crucial for managed service providers and small-medium businesses to be proactive in protecting their VPN credentials. By understanding the tactics used in social engineering attacks, implementing preventive measures, and exploring more secure remote access alternatives like ZTNA, you can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access and data breaches.

Remember, cybersecurity is a continuous process. Stay vigilant, keep your employees informed, and regularly assess and update your security practices to stay one step ahead of cybercriminals. Safeguarding your VPN credentials is not just about protecting your business; it is also about maintaining the trust and confidence of your customers and partners.

Embrace a proactive and multi-layered approach to security, and together, we can navigate the ever-evolving threat landscape with confidence.

FAQ

VPN authentication is the process by which a VPN verifies the identity of a user or device before granting them access to the network. This often involves the use of credentials such as usernames and passwords, and may also include multi-factor authentication methods for added security.

Social engineering attacks target VPN users by manipulating them into revealing their VPN credentials. This can be done through various tactics, such as phishing emails, misleading messages, or pretexting, where attackers impersonate a trusted entity to gain the user's trust.

VPNs are vulnerable to phishing because they rely on user credentials for access. If a user is tricked into revealing their credentials through a phishing attack, an attacker can gain unauthorized access to the VPN.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) involves the use of two or more verification methods to authenticate a user's identity. This adds an additional layer of security, making it harder for attackers to gain access even if they have the user's credentials. For VPNs, MFA is especially important as it can help protect against unauthorized access due to credential theft.

Organizations can protect against cyber threats by implementing a multi-layered security strategy that includes regular employee training, strong password policies, the use of multi-factor authentication, and regular security testing. Additionally, organizations can consider adopting a Zero Trust approach and using secure remote access solutions for enhanced protection.