Welcome!

Cloud Security Authors: Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Maria C. Horton, Liz McMillan, Ravi Rajamiyer

Related Topics: Cloud Security, Java IoT, Mobile IoT, Microsoft Cloud, Linux Containers

Cloud Security: Article

A Complex Password May Not Be a Strong Password

Anything you can do to be non-standard and random in creating a password will afford you a reasonably high degree of protectiion

(This content was originally posted on JasonPalmer.com.)

Just because your password meets complexity requirements does not necessarily make it a strong password. It is a given that many sites require you to have a password of a minimum length of at least six or eight characters, and some go so far as to require the addition of a number and at least one upper case letter. At first glance, this gives the appearance of a complex password that, in theory, should be harder to crack. If we consider a blind brute force attack that starts at six characters with “000000” and cycles through every combination of upper and lower case letters and numbers through “zzzzzz”, this is essentially true.

The problem is that automated password attacks have become intelligent in the sense that hackers have added “Pattern Matching” and LEET algorithms. (LEET refers to the substitution of a character in a word with a corresponding number or special character. Read more about LEET in Wikipedia here.)

In my article, “Strengthening Common Passwords”, I discuss that Hackers will look first to the most common passwords. For example, “123456” is first and “Password” is fourth on the list of common passwords. This fact reduces the need to even begin a brute force attack on your Password until thousands of common words, phrases, and numbers such as Sports Teams, Birth Years in the 1900’s, Popular Baby Names, Movie Titles, and Fictional Characters have been tried first through a pattern match attack.

This is just the tip of the iceberg in breaking a password that appears to be complex.

If we start with a common password, “yankees” and modify it to meet complexity requirements, it might become “Yankees1” which is not necessarily any more secure than if it were all lower case without the addition of the number. Applying “Pattern Matching”, what would be the most obvious “Pattern” modification to any common word (password) to meet complexity requirements? Answer: The capitalization of the first letter, which follows standard English Grammar rules and the addition of the number 1 or even 12. Even adding LEET so the password becomes “[email protected]” is not really a significant improvement because the next “pattern” applied in the attack to the well-known password list will be LEET substitutions.

How many of you just realized that your own password that properly met complexity requirements is not nearly as strong as you thought it was sixty seconds ago?

A pattern match attack program will first try making common pattern modifications to its list of well-known passwords before it starts a brute force sequential search. This will significantly increase the chances of success with minimal increase in the time required to crack your password.

Some of you are thinking, my password is really strong, it’s “1234qwerUIOP”. “No one could possibly guess that password, right? Again, on a pure sequential, brute force attack, to break a twelve character, non-dictionary password is a very long time. If we look closely at this password we see that it is three groups of four sequential characters from a standard computer keyboard: “1234” are the first four numbers of the numeral row, “qwer” are the first four characters of the top row, and “UIOP” are the last four letters of the top row. In short: it is a common pattern used for a password.

In order for a Password to be strong, it needs to be more than complex. It needs to be sufficiently long and suitably random to be truly effective.

Before you decide to abandon all online banking and social media activity for fear that almost no password you could create could ever be strong enough to protect your digital accounts, keep in mind a few key points: The above discussion applies to a hacker making a concerted specific effort to crack your password to gain access to one of your digital accounts. The likelihood that you will be a specific “high value” target is minimal. Again, I go back to my analogy that car thieves look for unlocked cars with the keys in the ignition.

The key take away is to make it as difficult as possible so that the hacker gives up after trying obvious well-known Passwords with or without Pattern Matching algorithms applied and moves on to someone else.

Follow best practices by trying to make your passwords sufficiently long with at least eight characters, use upper and lower case letters (if recognized as different by your particular web site account), always include a few numbers either as substitutions for letters (LEET) or as additional characters added at random places in the Password (do not just put at the beginning or end), and where permitted, try to do the same with special characters such as @ $ %! # by placing them at random locations in the Password.

As a closing example looking back to “yankees”, we can even make it reasonably strong by applying all of the techniques so that it becomes “[email protected]!nk3#3”. (Note that it uses LEET and adds in two special characters in random locations.) Even though we start with a very common password, “yankees”, a pattern match attack will most likely fail and the only option for the hacker will be to use a brute force sequential search.

Finally, you can also use “Patterns” to your advantage. (The Patterns which just capitalize the first letter, add a number 1 at the end or only use LEET on a well-known common password or dictionary word should not be used.)

In an effort to be able to remember your passwords you can create a non-obvious pattern to strengthen your common passwords: Perhaps you always add a # after the third letter and an ! before the last letter or instead of using a U in your spelling, you always use a V.

Anything you can do to be non-standard and appear random in creating your Password will afford you a reasonably high degree of protection from hackers who use common, pattern match and brute force passwords attacks.

Technical Note: The ability of a brute force sequential attack to succeed in cracking your Password depends largely on who is behind the attack and the amount of computer power brought to the task. A Hacker with a single computer may take months or centuries to crack your sufficiently long complex random password. A Hacker who has tens of thousands of zombie PC’s coordinating an attack will take significantly less time to be successful. If a Government Security Agency is behind the attack, with that amount of computer power, it might be a matter of hours or days to crack your password.

As scary as this all sounds, the provider of your digital account can go a long way to slow these attacks to a crawl. Many web sites will not allow another login attempt for a certain period of time after three to five login failures or will lock the account completely after five or ten login attempts. No automated attack can proceed if the web site will not allow a login due to failed attempts – human or automated.

More Stories By Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the host of Fox Television’s "Shelly Palmer Digital Living" television show about living and working in a digital world. He is Fox 5′s (WNYW-TV New York) Tech Expert and the host of United Stations Radio Network’s, MediaBytes, a daily syndicated radio report that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


IoT & Smart Cities Stories
There are many examples of disruption in consumer space – Uber disrupting the cab industry, Airbnb disrupting the hospitality industry and so on; but have you wondered who is disrupting support and operations? AISERA helps make businesses and customers successful by offering consumer-like user experience for support and operations. We have built the world’s first AI-driven IT / HR / Cloud / Customer Support and Operations solution.
Codete accelerates their clients growth through technological expertise and experience. Codite team works with organizations to meet the challenges that digitalization presents. Their clients include digital start-ups as well as established enterprises in the IT industry. To stay competitive in a highly innovative IT industry, strong R&D departments and bold spin-off initiatives is a must. Codete Data Science and Software Architects teams help corporate clients to stay up to date with the mod...
At CloudEXPO Silicon Valley, June 24-26, 2019, Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with expanded DevOpsSUMMIT and FinTechEXPO programs within the DXWorldEXPO agenda. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive over the long term. A total of 88% of Fortune 500 companies from a generation ago are now out of business. Only 12% still survive. Similar percentages are found throug...
Druva is the global leader in Cloud Data Protection and Management, delivering the industry's first data management-as-a-service solution that aggregates data from endpoints, servers and cloud applications and leverages the public cloud to offer a single pane of glass to enable data protection, governance and intelligence-dramatically increasing the availability and visibility of business critical information, while reducing the risk, cost and complexity of managing and protecting it. Druva's...
BMC has unmatched experience in IT management, supporting 92 of the Forbes Global 100, and earning recognition as an ITSM Gartner Magic Quadrant Leader for five years running. Our solutions offer speed, agility, and efficiency to tackle business challenges in the areas of service management, automation, operations, and the mainframe.
The Jevons Paradox suggests that when technological advances increase efficiency of a resource, it results in an overall increase in consumption. Writing on the increased use of coal as a result of technological improvements, 19th-century economist William Stanley Jevons found that these improvements led to the development of new ways to utilize coal. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Thiele, Chief Strategy Officer for Apcera, compared the Jevons Paradox to modern-day enterprise IT, examin...
With 10 simultaneous tracks, keynotes, general sessions and targeted breakout classes, @CloudEXPO and DXWorldEXPO are two of the most important technology events of the year. Since its launch over eight years ago, @CloudEXPO and DXWorldEXPO have presented a rock star faculty as well as showcased hundreds of sponsors and exhibitors! In this blog post, we provide 7 tips on how, as part of our world-class faculty, you can deliver one of the most popular sessions at our events. But before reading...
DSR is a supplier of project management, consultancy services and IT solutions that increase effectiveness of a company's operations in the production sector. The company combines in-depth knowledge of international companies with expert knowledge utilising IT tools that support manufacturing and distribution processes. DSR ensures optimization and integration of internal processes which is necessary for companies to grow rapidly. The rapid growth is possible thanks, to specialized services an...
At CloudEXPO Silicon Valley, June 24-26, 2019, Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with expanded DevOpsSUMMIT and FinTechEXPO programs within the DXWorldEXPO agenda. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive over the long term. A total of 88% of Fortune 500 companies from a generation ago are now out of business. Only 12% still survive. Similar percentages are found throug...
Scala Hosting is trusted by 50 000 customers from 120 countries and hosting 700 000+ websites. The company has local presence in the United States and Europe and runs an internal R&D department which focuses on changing the status quo in the web hosting industry. Imagine every website owner running their online business on a fully managed cloud VPS platform at an affordable price that's very close to the price of shared hosting. The efforts of the R&D department in the last 3 years made that pos...