Valid Accounts

Adversaries may obtain and abuse credentials of existing accounts as a means of gaining Initial Access, Persistence, Privilege Escalation, or Defense Evasion. Compromised credentials may be used to bypass access controls placed on various resources on systems within the network and may even be used for persistent access to remote systems and externally available services, such as VPNs, Outlook Web Access and remote desktop. Compromised credentials may also grant an adversary increased privilege to specific systems or access to restricted areas of the network. Adversaries may choose not to use malware or tools in conjunction with the legitimate access those credentials provide to make it harder to detect their presence.

In some cases, adversaries may abuse inactive accounts: for example, those belonging to individuals who are no longer part of an organization. Using these accounts may allow the adversary to evade detection, as the original account user will not be present to identify any anomalous activity taking place on their account.[1]

The overlap of permissions for local, domain, and cloud accounts across a network of systems is of concern because the adversary may be able to pivot across accounts and systems to reach a high level of access (i.e., domain or enterprise administrator) to bypass access controls set within the enterprise.[2]

ID: T1078
Sub-techniques:  T1078.001, T1078.002, T1078.003, T1078.004
Platforms: Azure AD, Containers, Google Workspace, IaaS, Linux, Office 365, SaaS, Windows, macOS
Permissions Required: Administrator, User
Effective Permissions: Administrator, User
Defense Bypassed: Anti-virus, Application control, Firewall, Host intrusion prevention systems, Network intrusion detection system, System access controls
Contributors: Jon Sternstein, Stern Security; Mark Wee; Netskope; Praetorian; Prasad Somasamudram, McAfee; Sekhar Sarukkai, McAfee ; Syed Ummar Farooqh, McAfee; Yossi Weizman, Azure Defender Research Team
Version: 2.4
Created: 31 May 2017
Last Modified: 01 April 2022

Procedure Examples

ID Name Description
G0026 APT18

APT18 actors leverage legitimate credentials to log into external remote services.[3]

G0007 APT28

APT28 has used legitimate credentials to gain initial access, maintain access, and exfiltrate data from a victim network. The group has specifically used credentials stolen through a spearphishing email to login to the DCCC network. The group has also leveraged default manufacturer's passwords to gain initial access to corporate networks via IoT devices such as a VOIP phone, printer, and video decoder.[4][5][6][7]

G0016 APT29

APT29 used different compromised credentials for remote access and to move laterally.[8][9][10]

G0064 APT33

APT33 has used valid accounts for initial access and privilege escalation.[11][12]

G0087 APT39

APT39 has used stolen credentials to compromise Outlook Web Access (OWA).[13]

G0096 APT41

APT41 used compromised credentials to log on to other systems.[14][15]

G0001 Axiom

Axiom has used previously compromised administrative accounts to escalate privileges.[16]

G0008 Carbanak

Carbanak actors used legitimate credentials of banking employees to perform operations that sent them millions of dollars.[17]

G0114 Chimera

Chimera has used a valid account to maintain persistence via scheduled task.[18]

G0035 Dragonfly

Dragonfly has compromised user credentials and used valid accounts for operations.[19][20][21]

S0567 Dtrack

Dtrack used hard-coded credentials to gain access to a network share.[22]

S0038 Duqu

Adversaries can instruct Duqu to spread laterally by copying itself to shares it has enumerated and for which it has obtained legitimate credentials (via keylogging or other means). The remote host is then infected by using the compromised credentials to schedule a task on remote machines that executes the malware.[23]

G0051 FIN10

FIN10 has used stolen credentials to connect remotely to victim networks using VPNs protected with only a single factor.[24]

G0085 FIN4

FIN4 has used legitimate credentials to hijack email communications.[25][26]

G0053 FIN5

FIN5 has used legitimate VPN, RDP, Citrix, or VNC credentials to maintain access to a victim environment.[27][28][29]

G0037 FIN6

To move laterally on a victim network, FIN6 has used credentials stolen from various systems on which it gathered usernames and password hashes.[30][31][32]

G0046 FIN7

FIN7 has harvested valid administrative credentials for lateral movement.[33]

G0061 FIN8

FIN8 has used valid accounts for persistence and lateral movement.[34]

G0117 Fox Kitten

Fox Kitten has used valid credentials with various services during lateral movement.[35]


GALLIUM leveraged valid accounts to maintain access to a victim network.[36]

S0604 Industroyer

Industroyer can use supplied user credentials to execute processes and stop services.[37]

G0004 Ke3chang

Ke3chang has used credential dumpers or stealers to obtain legitimate credentials, which they used to gain access to victim accounts.[38]

S0599 Kinsing

Kinsing has used valid SSH credentials to access remote hosts.[39]

G0032 Lazarus Group

Lazarus Group has used administrator credentials to gain access to restricted network segments.[40]

G0065 Leviathan

Leviathan has obtained valid accounts to gain initial access.[41][42]

S0362 Linux Rabbit

Linux Rabbit acquires valid SSH accounts through brute force. [43]

G0045 menuPass

menuPass has used valid accounts including shared between Managed Service Providers and clients to move between the two environments.[44][45][46][47]

G0014 Night Dragon

Night Dragon has used compromised VPN accounts to gain access to victim systems.[48]

G0049 OilRig

OilRig has used compromised credentials to access other systems on a victim network.[49][50][15]

G0116 Operation Wocao

Operation Wocao has used valid VPN credentials to gain initial access.[51]

G0011 PittyTiger

PittyTiger attempts to obtain legitimate credentials during operations.[52]

G0034 Sandworm Team

Sandworm Team have used previously acquired legitimate credentials prior to attacks.[53]

S0053 SeaDuke

Some SeaDuke samples have a module to extract email from Microsoft Exchange servers using compromised credentials.[54]

G0091 Silence

Silence has used compromised credentials to log on to other systems and escalate privileges.[55]

G0122 Silent Librarian

Silent Librarian has used compromised credentials to obtain unauthorized access to online accounts.[56]

G0039 Suckfly

Suckfly used legitimate account credentials that they dumped to navigate the internal victim network as though they were the legitimate account owner.[57]

G0088 TEMP.Veles

TEMP.Veles has used compromised VPN accounts.[58]

G0027 Threat Group-3390

Threat Group-3390 actors obtain legitimate credentials using a variety of methods and use them to further lateral movement on victim networks.[59]

G0102 Wizard Spider

Wizard Spider has used valid credentials for privileged accounts with the goal of accessing domain controllers.[60]


ID Mitigation Description
M1013 Application Developer Guidance

Ensure that applications do not store sensitive data or credentials insecurely. (e.g. plaintext credentials in code, published credentials in repositories, or credentials in public cloud storage).

M1027 Password Policies

Applications and appliances that utilize default username and password should be changed immediately after the installation, and before deployment to a production environment. [61] When possible, applications that use SSH keys should be updated periodically and properly secured.

M1026 Privileged Account Management

Audit domain and local accounts as well as their permission levels routinely to look for situations that could allow an adversary to gain wide access by obtaining credentials of a privileged account. [2] [62] These audits should also include if default accounts have been enabled, or if new local accounts are created that have not be authorized. Follow best practices for design and administration of an enterprise network to limit privileged account use across administrative tiers. [63]

M1018 User Account Management

Regularly audit user accounts for activity and deactivate or remove any that are no longer needed.

M1017 User Training

Applications may send push notifications to verify a login as a form of multi-factor authentication (MFA). Train users to only accept valid push notifications and to report suspicious push notifications.


ID Data Source Data Component
DS0028 Logon Session Logon Session Creation
Logon Session Metadata
DS0002 User Account User Account Authentication

Configure robust, consistent account activity audit policies across the enterprise and with externally accessible services.[64] Look for suspicious account behavior across systems that share accounts, either user, admin, or service accounts. Examples: one account logged into multiple systems simultaneously; multiple accounts logged into the same machine simultaneously; accounts logged in at odd times or outside of business hours. Activity may be from interactive login sessions or process ownership from accounts being used to execute binaries on a remote system as a particular account. Correlate other security systems with login information (e.g., a user has an active login session but has not entered the building or does not have VPN access).

Perform regular audits of domain and local system accounts to detect accounts that may have been created by an adversary for persistence. Checks on these accounts could also include whether default accounts such as Guest have been activated. These audits should also include checks on any appliances and applications for default credentials or SSH keys, and if any are discovered, they should be updated immediately.


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