What is an Account Takeover Attack (ATO)

Account takeovers attempts can be prevented by taking the right steps.

An account takeover, or ATO, is a malicious attack on your online accounts where hackers gain account access with the intention of stealing your funds. Unfortunately, these types of attacks have become increasingly popular online, but that doesn’t mean they are a foregone conclusion. Account owners can take advantage of certain security measures to better protect against ATOs by crypto hackers.

This article walks you through how account takeovers happen and what you can do to better protect your account against them.

Table of Contents

  • What is an account takeover (ATO) and how does it happen?
  • How to protect against an account takeover

What is an account takeover (ATO) and how does it happen?

Account takeover (ATO) attacks can involve any number of malicious actions taken by a hacker or entity in an effort to gain control of a person's online assets. With crypto accounts, fraudsters often steal credentials and completely drain users’ funds by transferring them to their own accounts.

Account takeovers take place when login credentials are stolen from the account owner using a variety of methods, including phishing, sim swaps, and data breaches.


Phishing is a type of social engineering wherein a fraudster uses deceptive tactics to entice individuals into divulging confidential information which can then be used for nefarious purposes, such as an account takeover.

SIM Swaps

Sim swaps target weaknesses in two-factor authentications where the 2FA code is sent to the fraudsters phone instead of your own. This is achieved when scammers trick your mobile provider into activating a SIM card that they have control over. Once complete, the scammer will be able to approve any 2FA sent to your phone number, enabling easy access to your otherwise secure account.

Data Breaches

Data breaches happen on a large scale where hackers use different forms of malware technology to gain users’ information. The information can then be bought and sold on the dark web. Once login information is stolen, hackers are often able to acquire access to users’ other online accounts owned due to people’s tendency to reuse login credentials.

More targeted account takeover attacks involve hackers attempting to acquire a specific user's information by using the fraudulent practice of spear phishing — or sending emails from a seemingly trusted sender in order to obtain confidential information. These attacks are often carried out on a specific user with a large amount of crypto in their account or a specific organization. Targeted ATO attacks use a multi-pronged approach to obtain account logins and sometimes go the extra mile to ensure they secure two-factor authentication methods (2FA). This method often takes longer and is harder to perform but is also harder to detect.

Once a person’s cryptocurrency account has been taken over, the passwords can be quickly changed by the fraudsters, locking you out of your account and securing all of your digital assets in the blink of an eye.

Luckily, account owners can take action to minimize the likelihood of an ATO.

How to protect against an account takeover

Account takeovers are a very real threat in the emerging world of crypto as the value of various tokens can rise quickly, making owners newly wealthy and therefore susceptible to attack. Moreover, since crypto and the world of Web3 are inherently decentralized, exchanges often act as the central governing body, making it important for users to seek out a trusted crypto exchange with enhanced security measures to better protect their funds — such as Binance.US.

In addition to choosing a secure exchange, consider one or more of the following countermeasures to help prevent the chances of an ATO:

  • Two-factor authentication (2FA): While some advanced hackers may be able to gain access even when implementing a 2FA, the chances are incredibly low, especially when a 2FA is used in tandem with other measures on this list. 2FAs can be software or hardware based. Having at least one is highly recommended for your cryptocurrency account. Software 2FAs send an access code directly to your devices while hardware 2FA methods require a physical piece of hardware to be plugged into your computer in order to verify that you are the one trying to access your account. Hardware security keys — like Yubikey — deliver some of the strongest protection against an ATO.
  • Secure storage: Always make sure your digital assets are securely stored. Both hot and cold wallets provide protection in the event of an ATO. If you decide to place your assets in a cold wallet, consider creating an email specifically for that cryptocurrency account to better manage that email and reduce the vulnerability to attack. Cold wallet storage makes your assets harder to access and trade, which may be a con to some users, but they also ensure that your funds are protected from an online attack since the assets are not stored in an account.
  • Anti-phishing literacy: If you are an active user of the internet, you must take time to understand common phishing attacks that are conducted by nefarious actors in the online space. Almost all ATOs begin with an uninformed or disengaged user interacting with communications sent by hackers. Spend time learning the signs of phishing attempts to better protect yourself and your digital assets. Never divulge personal information to a source that you are not familiar with and cannot verify. Never click a link in an email before verifying the source or if it looks at all suspicious. Never download any software on your computer that comes from a suspicious account or website.
  • Password management: With an increasing number of online accounts, it can be hard to memorize passwords for each. For this reason, most internet users settle on one password across multiple accounts. This dangerous practice leaves them extra susceptible to ATOs. What’s more, most people opt for weak, easy-to-remember passwords, which are coincidentally the cause of most data breaches. This makes complex and differentiated passwords a crucial first line of defense in online account security. Using a password manager program offers users an efficient way to create, store, and keep track of passwords for their online accounts.

Beyond these measures, partnering with the right crypto platform greatly decreases the risk of an ATO. Make sure the platform you trade with secures your personal information and has technology in play to protect your digital assets from hacks and data breaches. Partnering with a crypto platform like Binance.US, which has experience, knowledge, and insight on all things crypto and digital security, can help set you up for success when trading.

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Legal disclaimer: This material has been prepared for general informational purposes only and should NOT be: (1) considered an individualized recommendation or advice; and (2) relied upon for any investment activities. All information is provided on an as-is basis and is subject to change without notice, we make no representation or warranty of any kind, express or implied, regarding the accuracy, validity, reliability, availability or completeness of any such information. Binance.US does NOT provide investment, legal, or tax advice in any manner or form. The ownership of any investment decision(s) exclusively vests with you after analyzing all possible risk factors and by exercising your own independent discretion. Binance.US shall not be liable for any consequences thereof.

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