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FBI Warns of Hackers Selling US College VPN Credentials on Underground Forums

The price of stolen credentials varies between a few U.S. dollars to thousands.


Threat actors are advertising network credentials and virtual private network (VPN) access for colleges and universities based in the United States on underground and public criminal marketplaces. 

Last week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued an advisory regarding usernames and passwords giving access to colleges and universities based in the U.S. that are put up for sale on Russian cybercriminal platforms. The price of stolen credentials varies between a few U.S. dollars to thousands. 

Hackers use several tactics such as ransomware and spear-phishing, to execute credential harvesting attacks and sell them on Russian hacking forums. The credentials allow hackers to launch brute-force attacks to infiltrate into victim accounts spanning different accounts, internet sites, and services. 

"If attackers are successful in compromising a victim account, they may attempt to drain the account of stored value, leverage or re-sell credit card numbers and other personally identifiable information, submit fraudulent transactions, exploit for other criminal activity against the account holder, or use for subsequent attacks against affiliated organizations," the FBI warned. 

Last year in May, the agency said it identified more than 36,000 email and password combinations for email accounts ending in the ".edu" domain publicly available on an instant messaging platform posted by a group that specialized in the trafficking of stolen login credentials. 

According to Emsisoft threat analyst Brett Callow, 10 of the 13 attacks on colleges this year involved data exfiltration. Ohlone College, Savannah State University, University of Detroit Mercy, Centralia College, Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas, Florida International University, and Stratford University are just a few of the schools impacted by ransomware this year. 

Security tips 

The FBI advises academic institutions to liaise with their local FBI Field Office and update their incident response and communication plans. Implementing brute-force protection, training sessions for students and faculty to identify phishing attempts, using strong, unique passwords, and multi-factor authentication are regular recommendations that are valid for all organizations. 

"Universities, especially, should be providing students and staff with training to spot convincing phishing emails and the steps to undertake when opening various attachments or emails. Students are an easy target because unlike in a work environment, they often lack the necessary understanding to spot these types of attacks," stated Steven Hope, CEO, and co-founder of password management firm Authlogics.
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