Internet standards expert, CEO of web company iFusion Labs, and blogger John Pozadzides knows a thing or two about password security—and he knows exactly how he’d hack the weak passwords you use all over the internet.
Note: This isn’t intended as a guide to hacking *other people’s* weak passwords. Instead, the aim is to help you better understand the security of your own passwords and how to bolster that security.
If you invited me to try and crack your password, you know the one that you use over and over for like every web page you visit, how many guesses would it take before I got it?
Let’s see… here is my top 10 list. I can obtain most of this information much easier than you think, then I might just be able to get into your e-mail, computer, or online banking. After all, if I get into one I’ll probably get into all of them.
Statistically speaking that should probably cover about 20% of you. But don’t worry. If I didn’t get it yet it will probably only take a few more minutes before I do…
Hackers, and I’m not talking about the ethical kind, have developed a whole range of tools to get at your personal data. And the main impediment standing between your information remaining safe, or leaking out, is the password you choose. (Ironically, the best protection people have is usually the one they take least seriously.)
One of the simplest ways to gain access to your information is through the use of a Brute Force Attack. This is accomplished when a hacker uses a specially written piece of software to attempt to log into a site using your credentials. Insecure.org has a list of the Top 10 FREE Password Crackers right here.
So, how would one use this process to actually breach your personal security? Simple. Follow my logic:
And how fast could this be done? Well, that depends on three main things, the length and complexity of your password, the speed of the hacker’s computer, and the speed of the hacker’s Internet connection.
Assuming the hacker has a reasonably fast connection and PC here is an estimate of the amount of time it would take to generate every possible combination of passwords for a given number of characters. After generating the list it’s just a matter of time before the computer runs through all the possibilities – or gets shut down trying.
Pay particular attention to the difference between using only lowercase characters and using all possible characters (uppercase, lowercase, and special characters – like @#$%^&*). Adding just one capital letter and one asterisk would change the processing time for an 8 character password from 2.4 days to 2.1 centuries.
Remember, these are just for an average computer, and these assume you aren’t using any word in the dictionary. If Google put their computer to work on it they’d finish about 1,000 times faster.
Now, I could go on for hours and hours more about all sorts of ways to compromise your security and generally make your life miserable – but 95% of those methods begin with compromising your weak password. So, why not just protect yourself from the start and sleep better at night?
Believe me, I understand the need to choose passwords that are memorable. But if you’re going to do that how about using something that no one is ever going to guess AND doesn’t contain any common word or phrase in it.
Here are some password tips:
By request I also created a short RoboForm Demonstration video. Hope it helps…
Another thing to keep in mind is that some of the passwords you think matter least actually matter most. For example, some people think that the password to their e-mail box isn’t important because “I don’t get anything sensitive there.” Well, that e-mail box is probably connected to your online banking account. If I can compromise it then I can log into the Bank’s Web site and tell it I’ve forgotten my password to have it e-mailed to me. Now, what were you saying about it not being important?
Often times people also reason that all of their passwords and logins are stored on their computer at home, which is safe behind a router or firewall device. Of course, they’ve never bothered to change the default password on that device, so someone could drive up and park near the house, use a laptop to breach the wireless network and then try passwords from this list until they gain control of your network — after which time they will own you!
Now I realize that every day we encounter people who over-exaggerate points in order to move us to action, but trust me this is not one of those times. There are 50 other ways you can be compromised and punished for using weak passwords that I haven’t even mentioned.
I also realize that most people just don’t care about all this until it’s too late and they’ve learned a very hard lesson. But why don’t you do me, and yourself, a favor and take a little action to strengthen your passwords and let me know that all the time I spent on this article wasn’t completely in vain.
Please, be safe. It’s a jungle out there.
EDIT: You might also want to listen to my interview on Connecticut Public Radio about password security.
Steven has a technical background in System Design, Unix Systems and Enterprise Architecture & Design. He also has a background with 15 years of Unix Systems Primarily HP-UX, Linux and AIX Open Systems. He also has a background in programming languages such as C, Perl, PHP, CGI and Web Environments.