There are two specifically related but not interchangeable threats to your identity, and the terms can often get confused. Credential cracking and credential stuffing both involve someone getting their hands on your personal data, especially your usernames and passwords, but how those two things take place are somewhat different.
Credential cracking happens when a hacker targets you or your company specifically. They spend a significant amount of time and tech resources on breaking into your accounts by undermining your password defenses. While victims of credential cracking can absolutely be random citizens caught up in a hacker’s trap, the effort behind it often means that the victim was targeted specifically. It might be a business account or a company’s social media accounts, financial accounts, or even the personal finances for someone within a company.
Credential stuffing, on the other hand, usually occurs when a hacker casts a wider net. They either steal a database filled with information, buy it on the Dark Web, or even stumble upon it in an unsecured web-based storage server. Then, they use software that lets them attempt thousands of “matches” at a time, cross-referencing the stolen usernames and passwords that work on one website with many other websites. When they land on a match—meaning the victim’s username and password from PayPal, for example, are the same one they use on Amazon—they can use that information to steal money and even more identifying information.
Another major difference between these two forms of attack is in how the tech-using public can take action. Credential cracking is potentially in your own hands, unless a cybercriminal targets your place of employment; a lot of your preventive strategy will involve practicing good password hygiene. Credential stuffing, on the other hand, is a result of finding a treasure trove of information that someone else did not properly secure. You often have no way of knowing whether or not your information was included in such a database until you receive a notification letter from the company who allowed it to become compromised.
How to Protect Yourself
As always, one of the best defenses against either of these attacks is to use strong, unique, unguessable passwords that you change routinely. Changing your password can actually prevent credential stuffing since your old (and stolen) information would no longer be valid; by keeping your passwords unique—meaning they are valid on one account only—you can also work to avoid credential stuffing since they will not work on any other account.