Click here to close now.


Cloud Security Authors: Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Teresa Schoch, Marc Crespi, Elizabeth White

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

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
WebRTC is about the data channel as much as about video and audio conferencing. However, basically all commercial WebRTC applications have been built with a focus on audio and video. The handling of “data” has been limited to text chat and file download – all other data sharing seems to end with screensharing. What is holding back a more intensive use of peer-to-peer data? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Dr Silvia Pfeiffer, WebRTC Applications Team Lead at National ICT Australia, will look at different existing uses of peer-to-peer data sharing and how it can become useful in a live session to...
As a company adopts a DevOps approach to software development, what are key things that both the Dev and Ops side of the business must keep in mind to ensure effective continuous delivery? In his session at DevOps Summit, Mark Hydar, Head of DevOps, Ericsson TV Platforms, will share best practices and provide helpful tips for Ops teams to adopt an open line of communication with the development side of the house to ensure success between the two sides.
NHK, Japan Broadcasting, will feature the upcoming @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley in a special 'Internet of Things' and smart technology documentary that will be filmed on the expo floor between November 3 to 5, 2015, in Santa Clara. NHK is the sole public TV network in Japan equivalent to the BBC in the UK and the largest in Asia with many award-winning science and technology programs. Japanese TV is producing a documentary about IoT and Smart technology and will be covering @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley. The program, to be aired during the peak viewership season of the year, will have a major impac...
There are so many tools and techniques for data analytics that even for a data scientist the choices, possible systems, and even the types of data can be daunting. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Harrold, Global CTO for Big Data Solutions for EMC Corporation, will show how to perform a simple, but meaningful analysis of social sentiment data using freely available tools that take only minutes to download and install. Participants will get the download information, scripts, and complete end-to-end walkthrough of the analysis from start to finish. Participants will also be given the pract...
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM Cloud Data Services has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. IBM Cloud Data Services offers a portfolio of integrated, best-of-breed cloud data services for developers focused on mobile computing and analytics use cases.
The enterprise is being consumerized, and the consumer is being enterprised. Moore's Law does not matter anymore, the future belongs to business virtualization powered by invisible service architecture, powered by hyperscale and hyperconvergence, and facilitated by vertical streaming and horizontal scaling and consolidation. Both buyers and sellers want instant results, and from paperwork to paperless to mindless is the ultimate goal for any seamless transaction. The sweetest sweet spot in innovation is automation. The most painful pain point for any business is the mismatch between supplies a...
The buzz continues for cloud, data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) and their collective impact across all industries. But a new conversation is emerging - how do companies use industry disruption and technology enablers to lead in markets undergoing change, uncertainty and ambiguity? Organizations of all sizes need to evolve and transform, often under massive pressure, as industry lines blur and merge and traditional business models are assaulted and turned upside down. In this new data-driven world, marketplaces reign supreme while interoperability, APIs and applications deliver un...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data shows "less than 10 percent of IoT developers are making enough to support a reasonably sized team....
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
WebRTC has had a real tough three or four years, and so have those working with it. Only a few short years ago, the development world were excited about WebRTC and proclaiming how awesome it was. You might have played with the technology a couple of years ago, only to find the extra infrastructure requirements were painful to implement and poorly documented. This probably left a bitter taste in your mouth, especially when things went wrong.
Nowadays, a large number of sensors and devices are connected to the network. Leading-edge IoT technologies integrate various types of sensor data to create a new value for several business decision scenarios. The transparent cloud is a model of a new IoT emergence service platform. Many service providers store and access various types of sensor data in order to create and find out new business values by integrating such data.
The broad selection of hardware, the rapid evolution of operating systems and the time-to-market for mobile apps has been so rapid that new challenges for developers and engineers arise every day. Security, testing, hosting, and other metrics have to be considered through the process. In his session at Big Data Expo, Walter Maguire, Chief Field Technologist, HP Big Data Group, at Hewlett-Packard, will discuss the challenges faced by developers and a composite Big Data applications builder, focusing on how to help solve the problems that developers are continuously battling.
Who are you? How do you introduce yourself? Do you use a name, or do you greet a friend by the last four digits of his social security number? Assuming you don’t, why are we content to associate our identity with 10 random digits assigned by our phone company? Identity is an issue that affects everyone, but as individuals we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ben Klang, Founder & President of Mojo Lingo, will discuss the impact of technology on identity. Should we federate, or not? How should identity be secured? Who owns the identity? How is identity ...
Developing software for the Internet of Things (IoT) comes with its own set of challenges. Security, privacy, and unified standards are a few key issues. In addition, each IoT product is comprised of at least three separate application components: the software embedded in the device, the backend big-data service, and the mobile application for the end user's controls. Each component is developed by a different team, using different technologies and practices, and deployed to a different stack/target - this makes the integration of these separate pipelines and the coordination of software upd...
WebRTC converts the entire network into a ubiquitous communications cloud thereby connecting anytime, anywhere through any point. In his session at WebRTC Summit,, Mark Castleman, EIR at Bell Labs and Head of Future X Labs, will discuss how the transformational nature of communications is achieved through the democratizing force of WebRTC. WebRTC is doing for voice what HTML did for web content.
WebRTC services have already permeated corporate communications in the form of videoconferencing solutions. However, WebRTC has the potential of going beyond and catalyzing a new class of services providing more than calls with capabilities such as mass-scale real-time media broadcasting, enriched and augmented video, person-to-machine and machine-to-machine communications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Luis Lopez, CEO of Kurento, will introduce the technologies required for implementing these ideas and some early experiments performed in the Kurento open source software community in areas ...
WebRTC: together these advances have created a perfect storm of technologies that are disrupting and transforming classic communications models and ecosystems. In his session at WebRTC Summit, Cary Bran, VP of Innovation and New Ventures at Plantronics and PLT Labs, will provide an overview of this technological shift, including associated business and consumer communications impacts, and opportunities it may enable, complement or entirely transform.
“In the past year we've seen a lot of stabilization of WebRTC. You can now use it in production with a far greater degree of certainty. A lot of the real developments in the past year have been in things like the data channel, which will enable a whole new type of application," explained Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, in this interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Luxoft Holding, Inc., a leading provider of software development services and innovative IT solutions, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Luxoft’s software development services consist of core and mission-critical custom software development and support, product engineering and testing, and technology consulting.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Dyn, the worldwide leader in Internet Performance, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Dyn is a cloud-based Internet Performance company. Dyn helps companies monitor, control, and optimize online infrastructure for an exceptional end-user experience. Through a world-class network and unrivaled, objective intelligence into Internet conditions, Dyn ensures traffic gets delivered faster, safer, and more reliably than ever.