The Different Types of Password Attacks and How to Prevent Them

In this blog, we will look at the different types of password attacks that attempt to compromise your sensitive information. We also share some important advice for preventing these attacks in order to improve your overall security and effectively protect your data.

The Different Types of Password Attacks and How to Prevent Them

What are Password Attacks?

Password attacks are a concerning type of cyber attack that is aimed at accessing sensitive information by compromising your passwords. These attacks are often responsible for significant data breaches and include methods such as brute-force attacks, credential stuffing, and password spraying. Each of these techniques uses different methods to guess passwords or exploit weak security measures.

In this blog, we cover the many different types of password attacks to help you better protect your data. We also go over some top tips on how to prevent these attacks to bolster your security.

Common Types of Password Attacks

Phishing Password Attacks:

Phishing attacks are a common type of password attack that cybercriminals use to steal your important data. They often use fake emails, text messages, or websites that appear like they're from legitimate sources to deceive people into thinking they’re handing over their data to a trusted source. The contents of these attacks usually have urgent messages or security warnings to create a sense of urgency.

One common type of phishing attack is known as a spear phishing attack. Spear phishing attacks target a particular person or business with personalised messages that heavily resonate with the recipient. Cybercriminals create these messages using information they gathered from social media or other sources, which leads to a much higher success rate.

Another phishing method is credential harvesting which is where scammers create fake websites or login pages such as online banking portals or email platforms. When users enter their details, scammers capture this information, which they can then use to access the victims’ accounts.

To avoid phishing password attempts, always verify the legitimacy of emails or texts. Check to see if the emails or mobile numbers match the company they claim to be impersonating. Another method to keep yourself safe is to avoid clicking on suspicious links or attachments. If they ask you to go to a specific page on their website, try to find the link yourself using search engines.

Brute Force Attacks:

Brute force attacks are another common type of password attack that hackers use to break into systems or networks by guessing passwords. In a brute force attack, the hacker tries every possible combination of characters until they find the correct password. This approach is often used when the password is weak or easily guessed. While brute force attacks can be time-consuming and demanding on resources, they are incredibly effective against systems with poor security.

One type of brute force attack is the dictionary attack. Here, the cybercriminal uses a list of frequently used passwords to guess the password. This method often works because many people choose simple, weak passwords that are used universally. Some examples of these passwords include “Password123” and “123456.” NordPass conducted an interesting study where they researched password habits to find the top 200 most common passwords, as well as the number of times the password was used and the time it would take a hacker to crack the password. Some of the passwords on the list being able to be cracked down in less than a second!

Another type of brute force attack is the hybrid attack, which blends dictionary attacks with traditional brute force methods. In a hybrid attack, the hacker starts with a list of common passwords and then tries variations, like adding numbers or special characters. This increases the success rate by covering a wider range of potential passwords.

To defend against brute force attacks, it's important to use strong password policies and additional security measures like multi-factor authentication (MFA). Using complex and unique passwords make it much harder for hackers to guess them. Some systems can also be set to lock out users after several failed login attempts. This stops cybercriminals from continuously trying different passwords.

Credential Stuffing:

Credential stuffing is a type of attack where hackers use your previously exposed username and password combinations to gain unauthorised access to user accounts on other platforms. This attack exploits the fact that many people reuse the same passwords across multiple accounts.

Credential stuffing is popular because it’s efficient. Attackers use automated scripts to test thousands of stolen credentials on various websites in minutes. Even a small list of compromised usernames and passwords can enable access to a large number of accounts, making this attack highly scalable and profitable for cybercriminals.

The success of credential stuffing is also due to the widespread availability of stolen credentials on the dark web. Hackers can easily buy or trade databases of usernames and passwords obtained from data breaches, allowing them to launch large-scale attacks with minimal effort.

The key to protecting against credential stuffing is to use unique passwords for each online account you have. Also, make sure to regularly change your passwords in case your credentials were exposed in a data breach. Another defence is to enable multi-factor authentication. This makes sure that even if a cybercriminal gains access to your account, they still need another verification method to log in successfully. Many organisations also implement built-in security measures like rate limiting and CAPTCHA challenges to make it harder for automated scripts to perform brute force attacks.

Man-in-the-Middle Attack:

A Man-in-the-middle (MitM), also known as an on-path attack involves a cyber attack intercepting communication between two parties. This allows the attacker to read all the conversations between the two parties, steal sensitive information, or change the information being exchanged.

In a password MitM attack, the attacker positions themselves between the victim and the intended destination, like a website or server. When the victim tries to log in, the attacker intercepts the login credentials before passing them on to the legitimate destination. This way, the attacker can access the victim's account and potentially steal valuable information.

Attackers use various methods to conduct MitM attacks. A common approach is exploiting public Wi-Fi networks. This is done by setting up a network with a name similar to a legitimate one. When users connect to the attacker’s network, the attacker can intercept their communication, including login credentials.

To protect against MitM attacks, use secure communication channels, such as encrypted connections (HTTPS), and avoid connecting to unsecured public Wi-Fi networks. To find out more about the risks of connecting to public WiFi connections, read the blog today!

Rainbow Table Attack:

A Rainbow Table Attack is a password attack hackers use to crack encrypted passwords efficiently. This method involves creating a large database, called a "rainbow table," that contains precomputed hash values of all possible passwords. When a hacker gets hold of a hashed password, they can look it up in the rainbow table to find the corresponding plaintext password. This makes the cracking process much faster than traditional brute force attacks.

The main advantage of a rainbow table attack is that it doesn’t require hackers to try password combinations in real-time. They can quickly find the plaintext password by consulting the precomputed rainbow table. This speeds up the password-cracking process, especially for complex passwords that would take much longer to crack using brute force methods.

However, rainbow table attacks do have their limitations. One major drawback is the size of the rainbow table database, which can become extremely large and difficult to manage, especially when storing hash values for a wide range of possible passwords. Building and managing such a large database requires significant time and resources, which can make the attack less feasible in certain scenarios.

To defend against rainbow table attacks, security experts recommend using strong encryption algorithms and adding salt to passwords before hashing them. Salting involves adding a random value to each password before hashing it, ensuring each hash value is unique. Additionally, regularly changing your passwords and using multi-factor authentication can also help protect against rainbow table attacks and other forms of password cracking.

Keyloggers:

Keyloggers are malicious software downloaded onto your device to record each keystroke made on your computer or mobile device. This means that every password, username, credit card number, or other sensitive information typed into the device can be captured by the keylogger. Once the information is captured, it is usually sent to a remote server controlled by the attacker, who can then exploit it for malicious purposes. Keyloggers are difficult to detect because they operate silently in the background, posing a significant threat to cybersecurity.

There are several ways this software can enter your device. Phishing emails, infected software downloads, and clicking on suspicious links are just some of the most common ways. This is why it is so important for you to be cautious of suspicious links and attachments.

To protect against keyloggers, you should regularly scan your devices for malware. Another step is to keep your software up to date to ensure they have the latest security updates.

Password Spraying:

One other form of password attack is password spraying. Password spraying involves hackers trying to gain unauthorised access by using one commonly used password on multiple accounts. This method differs from brute force attacks where multiple passwords are used in one attack. The reason why password spraying is so popular is because this method is less likely to trigger account lockouts or security alerts. This makes it perfect for targeting large businesses or networks.

The best way to protect against password spraying attacks is by enabling multi-factor authentication while also regularly monitoring login attempts.

Shoulder Surfing:

Shoulder surfing is a form of password attack where an attacker looks over the victim’s shoulder to gain your passwords. This attack often occurs in crowded places like cafes, airports, or public transportation, where individuals are more likely to ignore their surroundings due to distractions. The attacker can quickly memorize or record the information without the victim's knowledge, putting their personal security at risk.

With advanced cameras on smartphones and other devices, hackers can easily record the target's screen or actions without the victim ever noticing. This technological twist adds a layer of complexity to traditional shoulder surfing, making it even more challenging for individuals to protect their sensitive information in public settings.

To prevent shoulder surfing attacks, be aware of your surroundings when entering sensitive information and only conduct these transactions in public if it’s absolutely necessary. You can also buy privacy screen protectors which block other people from seeing your screen.

Social Engineering Password Attacks:

Social engineering password attacks involve exploiting human psychology to trick individuals into revealing passwords or sensitive information. Attackers use tactics like phishing, where deceptive emails or messages resembling communications from trusted entities lure victims to fake websites to input their credentials. Another method is pretexting, where attackers pose as authority figures to manipulate victims into disclosing passwords under false pretences.

Protecting against these tactics requires a combination of awareness and security measures. You should always be cautious of emails or messages that request sensitive information, and should always verify the authenticity of requests before responding.

Password Best Practices

  1. Use a Password Manager: Use a reputable password manager to generate and store complex and unique passwords easily. This helps eliminate the risk of using weak passwords across your accounts. At Edmondson’s IT Services, we offer LastPass, as your handy password management solution to ensure your complex passwords are stored securely in one digital vault.
  2. Use Strong Password: Create passwords that combine letters, numbers, and special characters, while avoiding easily guessable patterns or common words. You should also regularly update passwords to further reduce the vulnerability of password attacks.
  3. Implement Multi-Factor Authentication: Enable MFA wherever possible to introduce an additional layer of verification beyond passwords. This security measure ensures that even if a hacker compromises a password, they still have to undergo another security check.
  4. Stay Updated and Educated: Always stay up-to-date against evolving threats, especially the latest phishing attack method.
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The Different Types of Password Attacks and How to Prevent Them
In this blog, we will look at the different types of password attacks that attempt to compromise your sensitive information. We also share some important advice for preventing these attacks in order to improve your overall security and effectively protect your data.

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