Welcome!

Security Authors: Anne Buff, John Grady, Gilad Parann-Nissany, Paige Leidig, David H Deans

Related Topics: Security, Java, Wireless, .NET, Linux

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 “Y@nK33s1” 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 “y@!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.


@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that SOA Software, an API management leader, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SOA Software is a leading provider of API Management and SOA Governance products that equip business to deliver APIs and SOA together to drive their company to meet its business strategy quickly and effectively. SOA Software’s technology helps businesses to accelerate their digital channels with APIs, drive partner adoption, monetize their assets, and achieve a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Aria Systems, the recurring revenue expert, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Aria Systems helps leading businesses connect their customers with the products and services they love. Industry leaders like Pitney Bowes, Experian, AAA NCNU, VMware, HootSuite and many others choose Aria to power their recurring revenue business and deliver exceptional experiences to their customers.
SYS-CON Events announced today that AgilePoint, the leading provider of Microsoft-centric Business Process Management software, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 2nd International @ThingsExpo which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. AgilePoint is the leading provider of Microsoft-based Business Process Management (BPM) software products, has 1,300+ on-premise and cloud deployments in 25+ countries and provides the same advanced BPM feature set as J2EE vendors like IBM and Appian for the Microsoft .NET native environment. AgilePoint customer...
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to evolve the way the world does business; however, understanding how to apply it to your company can be a mystery. Most people struggle with understanding the potential business uses or tend to get caught up in the technology, resulting in solutions that fail to meet even minimum business goals. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO / President / Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., will show what is needed to leverage the IoT to transform your business. He will discuss opportunities and challenges ahead for the IoT from a market and tec...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Utimaco will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Utimaco is a leading manufacturer of hardware based security solutions that provide the root of trust to keep cryptographic keys safe, secure critical digital infrastructures and protect high value data assets. Only Utimaco delivers a general-purpose hardware security module (HSM) as a customizable platform to easily integrate into existing software solutions, embed business logic and build s...
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, will describe an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device experiences grounded in people’s real needs and desires.
SYS-CON Events announced today that TeleStax, the main sponsor of Mobicents, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TeleStax provides Open Source Communications software and services that facilitate the shift from legacy SS7 based IN networks to IP based LTE and IMS networks hosted on private (on-premise), hybrid or public clouds. TeleStax products include Restcomm, JSLEE, SMSC Gateway, USSD Gateway, SS7 Resource Adaptors, SIP Servlets, Rich Multimedia Services, Presence Services/RCS, Diame...
Samsung VP Jacopo Lenzi, who headed the company's recent SmartThings acquisition under the auspices of Samsung's Open Innovaction Center (OIC), answered a few questions we had about the deal. This interview was in conjunction with our interview with SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson. IoT Journal: SmartThings was developed in an open, standards-agnostic platform, and will now be part of Samsung's Open Innovation Center. Can you elaborate on your commitment to keep the platform open? Jacopo Lenzi: Samsung recognizes that true, accelerated innovation cannot be driven from one source, but requires a...
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, will discuss how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money! Speaker Bio: Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, has spent 16 years as a marketing, product management, and busin...
Things are being built upon cloud foundations to transform organizations. This CEO Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Roger Strukhoff, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo conference chair, will address the big issues involving these technologies and, more important, the results they will achieve. How important are public, private, and hybrid cloud to the enterprise? How does one define Big Data? And how is the IoT tying all this together?
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
SYS-CON Events announces a new pavilion on the Cloud Expo floor where WebRTC converges with the Internet of Things. Pavilion will showcase WebRTC and the Internet of Things. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices--computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors – connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades.
The only place to be June 9-11 is Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo 2015 East at the Javits Center in New York City. Join us there as delegates from all over the world come to listen to and engage with speakers & sponsors from the leading Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data companies. Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo are the leading events covering the booming market of Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data for the enterprise. Speakers from all over the world will be hand-picked for their ability to explore the economic strategies that utility/cloud computing provides. Whether public, private, or in a hybrid form, clo...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in software-defined storage (SDS) purpose-built for Windows Servers and Hyper-V, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Gridstore™ is the leader in software-defined storage purpose built for virtualization that is designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Using its patented Server-Side Virtual Controller™ Technology (SVCT) to eliminate the I/O blender effect and accelerate applications Gridsto...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Red Hat, the world's leading provider of open source solutions, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Red Hat is the world's leading provider of open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to reliable and high-performing cloud, Linux, middleware, storage and virtualization technologies. Red Hat also offers award-winning support, training, and consulting services. As the connective hub in a global network of enterprises, partners, a...
As the Internet of Things unfolds, mobile and wearable devices are blurring the line between physical and digital, integrating ever more closely with our interests, our routines, our daily lives. Contextual computing and smart, sensor-equipped spaces bring the potential to walk through a world that recognizes us and responds accordingly. We become continuous transmitters and receivers of data. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Andrew Bolwell, Director of Innovation for HP’s Printing and Personal Systems Group, will discuss how key attributes of mobile technology – touch input, senso...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is making everything it touches smarter – smart devices, smart cars and smart cities. And lucky us, we’re just beginning to reap the benefits as we work toward a networked society. However, this technology-driven innovation is impacting more than just individuals. The IoT has an environmental impact as well, which brings us to the theme of this month’s #IoTuesday Twitter chat. The ability to remove inefficiencies through connected objects is driving change throughout every sector, including waste management. BigBelly Solar, located just outside of Boston, is trans...
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, will examine three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics...
Internet of @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley announced on Thursday its first 12 all-star speakers and sessions for its upcoming event, which will take place November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in California. @ThingsExpo, the first and largest IoT event in the world, debuted at the Javits Center in New York City in June 10-12, 2014 with over 6,000 delegates attending the conference. Among the first 12 announced world class speakers, IBM will present two highly popular IoT sessions, which will take place November 4-6, 2014 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, Calif...
From a software development perspective IoT is about programming "things," about connecting them with each other or integrating them with existing applications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Yakov Fain, co-founder of Farata Systems and SuranceBay, will show you how small IoT-enabled devices from multiple manufacturers can be integrated into the workflow of an enterprise application. This is a practical demo of building a framework and components in HTML/Java/Mobile technologies to serve as a platform that can integrate new devices as they become available on the market.