Is it really so simple to crack your password?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pierluigi Paganini

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(Translated from the original Italian)

The numerous attacks and data breaches occurred during the last 12 months demonstrated that despite high attentions in security the principal causes of the incidents are leak of authentication processes, absence of input validation on principal applications and of course the human factor is among the main accused.

Last year different data breaches exposed millions of passwords of the users of principal social media and private companies such as Yahoo!, LinkedIn and Last.fm, if this events represents a catastrophe under security perspective they could give to the analysts meaning information on the use and the choice of user’s credentials?

Are they secure? Do users follow best practices for the choice of the passwords?

SplashData, which develops password management applications, reveals its Annual "25 Worst Passwords of the Year" enumerating the list of most common password chosen by users.

The three worst passwords haven't changed respect previous year, they're “password”, “123456” and “12345678” and new passwords have been introduced in the top list such as “welcome”, “jesus” and “ninja”.

Following the top ten list:

  1. password (unchanged)
  2. 123456 (unchanged)
  3. 12345678 (unchanged)
  4. abc123 (up 1)
  5. qwerty (down 1)
  6. monkey (unchanged)
  7. letmein (up 1)
  8. dragon (up 2)
  9. 111111 (up 3)
  10. baseball (up 1)

 

Have you ever used one of the most popular passwords of 2012 for your own personal accounts?

It’s clear that the use of common passwords exposes user’s account to serious risks, it’s quite simple to find them simply repeatedly access using various combinations.

Which are other bad habits of users?

Surely the sharing of the same passwords for different services, a data breach on a single portal accessed by the user could compromise the security of all his accounts, more than 60 per cent of people use the same password across multiple sites.

The use of simple passwords represents another great problems, users prefer secret words easy to remind and what make more serious the situation is to leave unchanged the passwords for a long time, in many cases for years, exposing their credentials to the concrete risk of exploit.

We must also consider the availability of sophisticated hacking tools that facilitate the task of the attackers , but the use of so simple password makes really simple the hack of any application, data base or web site. SplashData Chief Executive Morgan Slain declared:

"Just a little bit more effort in choosing better passwords will go a long way toward making you safer online,"

What was said by Slain is true and to get an idea of the time required to violate passwords I propose an interesting Infographic That reports other interesting information.

 

How to choose a good password?

As I described in a previous article published on Malta Independent journal to compose hard-to-guess passwords I recommend:

Use long passwords (minimum length of seven characters, preferably more to increase strength)

Use a wide range of characters including A-Z, a-z, 0-9, punctuation and symbols, like # $ @, if possible

As a rule try to use at least one lower-case and one upper-case character, and at least one digit. If it is technically possible, also use a punctuation mark. This helps increase the total search space.

Use numbers in place of letters in some cases. Change “i” by “1”, “E” by “3”, “A” by “4” (or @), “S” by “5”, “G” by “6”, “O” by “0”. Again, this helps increase the search space.

WhiteHat Security fouder, Jeremiah Grossman, said the habit to use weak passwords is not only user's responsibilities, he blamed also information security professionals saying:

"Information security have to take personal responsibility for telling people to do exactly the wrong thing," he said. "We're telling people to make up passwords that are hard for them to remember, but easy for machines to guess."

I agree, that's why I wrote this post hoping that it could be useful!

Pierluigi Paganini

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