When you hear “security breach,” what springs to mind? A malevolent hacker sitting in front of screens covered in Matrix-style digital text? Or a basement-dwelling teenager who hasn’t seen daylight in three weeks? How about a powerful supercomputer attempting to hack the entire world?Hacking is all about one thing: your password. If someone can guess your password, they don’t need fancy hacking techniques and supercomputers. They’ll just log in, acting as you. If your password is short and simple, it’s game over.Read Also:

There are eight common tactics hackers use to hack your password.

1. Dictionary Hack

top 20 leaked passwords 2016

First up in the common password hacking tactics guide is the dictionary attack. Why is it called a dictionary attack? Because it automatically tries every word in a defined “dictionary” against the password. The dictionary isn’t strictly the one you used in school.

No. This dictionary is actually a small file containing the most commonly used password combinations, too. That includes 123456, qwerty, password, iloveyou, and all-time classic, hunter2.

The above table details the most leaked passwords in 2016. The below table details the most leaked passwords in 2020.

Note the similarities between the two—and make sure you don’t use these incredibly simple options.

top 20 leaked passwords 2020

Pros: Fast; will usually unlock some woefully protected accounts.

Cons: Even slightly stronger passwords will remain secure.

Stay safe: Use a strong single-use password for each account, in conjunction with a password management app. The password manager lets you store your other passwords in a repository. Then you can use a single, ridiculously strong password for every site.

2. Brute Force

Next up, the brute force attack, whereby an attacker tries every possible character combination. Attempted passwords will match the specifications for the complexity rules, e.g. including one upper-case, one lower-case, decimals of Pi, your pizza order, and so on.

A brute force attack will also try the most commonly used alphanumeric character combinations first too. These include the previously listed passwords, as well as 1q2w3e4r5t, zxcvbnm, and qwertyuiop. It can take a very long time to figure out a password using this method, but that depends entirely on password complexity.

Pros: Theoretically, it will crack any password by way of trying every combination.

Cons: Depending on password length and difficulty, it could take an extremely long time. Throw in a few variables like $, &, {, or ], and figuring out the password becomes extremely difficult.

Stay safe: Always use a variable combination of characters, and where possible, introduce extra symbols to increase complexity.

3. Phishing

This isn’t strictly a “hack,” but falling prey to a phishing or spear-phishing attempt will usually end badly. General phishing emails send by the billions to all manner of internet users around the globe.

A phishing email generally works like this:

  1. Target user receives a spoofed email purporting to be from a major organization or business.
  2. Spoofed email demands immediate attention, featuring a link to a website.
  3. This link actually connects to a fake login portal, mocked up to appear exactly the same as the legitimate site.
  4. The unsuspecting target user enters their login credentials and is either redirected or told to try again.
  5. User credentials are stolen, sold, or used nefariously (or both).

The daily spam volume sent worldwide remains high, accounting for over half of all emails sent globally. Furthermore, the volume of malicious attachments is high, too, with Kaspersky noting over 92 million malicious attachments from January to June 2020. Remember, this is just for Kaspersky, so the real number is much higher.

kaspersky malicious attachments jan june 2020

Back in 2017, the biggest phishing lure was a fake invoice. However, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic provided a new phishing threat.

In April 2020, not long after many countries went into pandemic lockdown, Google announced it was blocking over 18 million COVID-19 themed malicious spam and phishing emails per day. Huge numbers of these emails use official government or health organization branding for legitimacy and catch victims off-guard.

Pros: The user literally hands over their login information, including passwords—relatively high hit rate, easily tailored to specific services or specific people in a spear-phishing attack.

Cons: Spam emails are easily filtered, spam domains blacklisted, and major providers like Google constantly update protections.

Stay safe: Stay skeptical of emails, and increase your spam filter to its highest setting or, better still, use a proactive whitelist. Use a link checker to ascertain if an email link is legitimate before clicking.

4. Social Engineering

Social engineering is essentially phishing in the real world, away from the screen.

A core part of any security audit is gauging what the entire workforce understands. For instance, a security company will phone the business they are auditing. The “attacker” tells the person on the phone they are the new office tech support team, and they need the latest password for something specific.

An unsuspecting individual may hand over the keys without a pause for thought.

The scary thing is how often this works. Social engineering has existed for centuries. Being duplicitous to gain entry to a secure area is a common method of attack and one that is only guarded against with education.

This is because the attack won’t always ask directly for a password. It could be a fake plumber or electrician asking for entry to a secure building, and so on.

When someone says they were tricked into revealing their password, it is often the result of social engineering.

Pros: Skilled social engineers can extract high-value information from a range of targets. It can be deployed against almost anyone, anywhere. It’s extremely stealthy.

Cons: A social engineering failure can raise suspicions about an impending attack, and uncertainty as to whether the correct information is procured.

Stay safe: This is a tricky one. A successful social engineering attack will be complete by the time you realize anything is wrong. Education and security awareness is a core mitigation tactic. Avoid posting personal information that could be later used against you.

5. Rainbow Table

md5 hash password cracking

A rainbow table is usually an offline password attack. For example, an attacker has acquired a list of user names and passwords, but they’re encrypted. The encrypted password is hashed. This means it looks completely different from the original password.

For instance, your password is (hopefully not!) logmein. The known MD5 hash for this password is “8f4047e3233b39e4444e1aef240e80aa.”

Gibberish to you and I. But in certain cases, the attacker will run a list of plaintext passwords through a hashing algorithm, comparing the results against an encrypted password file. In other cases, the encryption algorithm is vulnerable, and most passwords are already cracked, like MD5 (hence why we know the specific hash for “logmein.”

This where the rainbow table comes into its own. Instead of having to process hundreds of thousands of potential passwords and matching their resulting hash, a rainbow table is a huge set of precomputed algorithm-specific hash values.

Using a rainbow table drastically decreases the time it takes to crack a hashed password—but it isn’t perfect. Hackers can purchase prefilled rainbow tables populated with millions of potential combinations.

Pros: Can figure out complex passwords in a short amount of time; grants the hacker a lot of power over certain security scenarios.

Cons: Requires a huge amount of space to store the enormous (sometimes terabytes) rainbow table. Also, attackers are limited to the values contained in the table (otherwise, they must add another entire table).

Stay safe: Another tricky one. Rainbow tables offer a wide range of attacking potential. Avoid any sites that use SHA1 or MD5 as their password hashing algorithm. Avoid any sites that limit you to short passwords or restricts the characters you can use. Always use a complex password.

6. Malware/Keylogger

Another sure way to lose your login credentials is to fall foul of malware. Malware is everywhere, with the potential to do massive damage. If the malware variant features a keylogger, you could find all of your accounts compromised.

Alternatively, the malware could specifically target private data or introduce a remote access Trojan to steal your credentials.

Pros: Thousands of malware variants, many customizable, with several easy delivery methods. A good chance a high number of targets will succumb to at least one variant. It can go undetected, allowing further harvesting of private data and login credentials.

Cons: Chance that the malware won’t work, or is quarantined before accessing data; no guarantee that data is useful.

Stay safe: Install and regularly update your antivirus and antimalware software. Carefully consider your download sources. Do not click through installation packages containing bundleware and more. Steer clear of nefarious sites (easier said than done). Use script blocking tools to stop malicious scripts.

7. Spidering

Spidering ties into the dictionary attack. If a hacker targets a specific institution or business, they might try a series of passwords relating to the business itself. The hacker could read and collate a series of related terms—or use a search spider to do the work for them.

You might have heard the term “spider” before. These search spiders are extremely similar to those that crawl through the internet, indexing content for search engines. The custom word list is then used against user accounts in the hope of finding a match.

Pros: Can potentially unlock accounts for high ranking individuals within an organization. Relatively easy to put together and adds an extra dimension to a dictionary attack.

Cons: Could end up fruitless if organizational network security is well configured.

Stay safe: Again, only use strong, single-use passwords comprised of random strings; nothing linking to your persona, business, organization, and so on.

8. Shoulder Surfing

The final option is one of the most basic. What if someone just looks over your shoulder while you’re typing in your password?

Shoulder surfing sounds a little ridiculous, but it does happen. If you’re working in a busy downtown café and not paying attention to your surroundings, someone could get close enough to note your password as you type.

Pros: Low technology approach to stealing a password.

Cons: Must identify the target before figuring out the password; could reveal themselves in the process of stealing.

Stay safe: Remain observant of those around you when typing your password. Cover your keyboard and obscure your keys during input.

Read Also:

Conclusion: Always Use a Strong, Unique, Single-Use Password

So, how do you stop a hacker stealing your password? The really short answer is that you cannot truly be 100 percent safe. The tools hackers use to steal your data are changing all the time and there are countless videos and tutorials on guessing passwords or learning how to hack a password.

One thing is for sure: using a strong, unique, single-use password never hurt anyone.

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See you soon!