In today's digital landscape, cyber threats have become more sophisticated and pervasive than ever before. From phishing scams to ransomware attacks, businesses and organizations are under constant threat from hackers and cybercriminals seeking to steal valuable data, disrupt operations, and cause havoc.
One of the most common and dangerous types of cyber attack is a brute force attack. Brute force attacks involve using automated tools to repeatedly try different combinations of usernames and passwords until the correct combination is found, allowing the attacker to gain access to the targeted system or network. As businesses and organizations increasingly rely on digital systems and networks to store sensitive data and conduct business operations, the need for strong cybersecurity measures has never been greater. Fortunately, there are a variety of tools and techniques available to help prevent brute force attacks and keep systems and networks secure.
In this article, we will explore the basics of brute force attacks, how they work, and the different tools and techniques used by attackers. We will also discuss strategies for preventing and defending against these types of attacks, including the use of strong passwords, two-factor authentication, and intrusion detection systems.
What is Brute Force Hacking?
Brute force hacking is a type of cyberattack in which an attacker tries to guess a password by systematically checking all possible combinations of characters until the correct one is found. This method can be used to crack passwords of all types, from simple ones that are only a few characters long to more complex ones that contain multiple words, numbers, and symbols.
While brute force attacks can be time-consuming and require a lot of computing power, they are still one of the most common types of cyberattacks used by hackers. In fact, according to a report by Verizon, about 23% of organizations had security events related to brute force attacks and credential stuffing in 2022, with 95% of them getting between 637 and 3.3 billion attempts against them.
How Does a Brute Force Attacker Work?
Brute force attackers work by systematically checking all possible combinations of characters until the correct password is found. This process can be automated by using software that generates random passwords and tries them one by one until the correct one is found.
The time it takes to crack a password using brute force depends on the length and complexity of the password, as well as the computing power of the attacker's machine. For example, a simple password that consists of only a few characters can be cracked in seconds, while a more complex password that contains multiple words, numbers, and symbols can take weeks or even months to crack.
Dictionary vs Brute Force Attack
There are two main types of brute force attacks: dictionary attacks and exhaustive attacks.
In a dictionary attack, the attacker uses a predefined list of words, phrases, or commonly used passwords to try to gain access to the system. These lists are often available online and can be easily downloaded.
On the other hand, exhaustive attacks try every possible combination of characters, numbers, and symbols until the correct password is found. They can take much longer and require more resources to perform than dictionary attacks.
Brute Force Attackers and Their Tools
Brute force attacks can be carried out by anyone with basic knowledge of computers and access to the necessary tools. In fact, there are many freely available software tools that can automate the process of generating and trying passwords, making it easy for even novice hackers to carry out a brute force attack.
In addition to software tools, a brute force attacker may also use botnets, which are networks of infected computers that can be controlled remotely to carry out attacks on a large scale. These botnets can be used to launch distributed brute force attacks, in which multiple machines are used to try passwords simultaneously, making the attack faster and more effective.
Overall, brute force attackers can use various tools to carry out their attacks, including:
- Automated password cracking tools: Software programs that try different combinations of passwords until the correct one is found.
- Botnets: A network of compromised computers used to carry out the attack.
- Rainbow tables: A precomputed table used to reverse cryptographic hash functions, allowing attackers to retrieve passwords more easily.
- Password lists: A list of commonly used passwords used to increase the likelihood of success.
Preventing Brute Force Attacks
Preventing brute force attacks is crucial for both businesses and individuals to protect their sensitive information and avoid significant financial losses. Here are some measures that you can take to prevent brute force attacks:
- Use strong passwords: As we've discussed in a previous blog post about NIST password guidelines, there are specific recommendations around password length and complexity that businesses and organizations should follow in order to minimize the risk of a successful brute force attack. The NIST guidelines recommend the use of longer, more complex passwords that are less likely to be guessed or cracked by automated tools. Strong passwords should be at least 12 characters long and should include a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Limit login attempts: Many web applications and services allow users to try an unlimited number of login attempts, which makes them vulnerable to brute force attacks. Limiting the number of login attempts and implementing temporary lockouts after failed attempts can help prevent these types of attacks.
- Implement two-factor authentication: Two-factor authentication is an effective way to increase security and prevent brute force attacks. 2FA requires users to provide a second form of identification, such as a fingerprint or a one-time code, in addition to their password. However, while one-time SMS codes are a common form of 2FA, we don't recommend relying on them exclusively as they may not be 100% secure. Using a separate security key is a more secure and reliable option compared to using your smartphone, and here's is why.
- Use hardware security keys: Hardware security keys are physical devices that provide an extra layer of security by requiring the user to physically insert the key into their computer or press the button. Using a separate hardware key for 2FA ensures that even if a hacker gains access to your smartphone or computer, they still won't be able to log in without physical access to the key. This added layer of security significantly reduces the risk of a successful brute force attack.
- Use password management solutions: Password management solutions can help prevent brute force attacks by generating and storing strong, unique passwords for each account. These solutions can also autofill login credentials, making it easier for users to log in without having to remember complex passwords.
- Implement a centralized identity management system: A centralized identity management system, such as the Hideez Authentication Service, can help prevent brute force attacks in complex multi-user environments by eliminating the need to use passwords altogether. This type of system uses both hardware security keys and other forms of authentication, such as mobile apps for biometric user verification, to provide secure access to applications and services.
By implementing these measures, you can significantly reduce their risk of falling victim to a brute force attack. However, it's important to note that no system is 100% secure, and attackers are constantly developing new techniques to bypass security measures.
Businesses and indivisuals can try to protect themselves from brute force attacks by implementing the above measures or by using advanced cybersecurity solutions such as the Hideez Key 4 and Hideez Authentication Service.
The Hideez Key 4 is a personal security key that provides an affordable and convenient way to protect user credentials. It stores authentication information securely and provides passwordless authentication based on FIDO2 and U2F standards, which significantly reduces the risk of brute force attacks.
The Hideez Authentication Service is a centralized identity management system for organizations that eliminates the need to use passwords in multi-user environments. It provides secure, passwordless authentication and eliminates the risk of brute force attacks by using advanced encryption techniques.
Both solutions can help you avoid brute force attacks and provide a higher level of security for their sensitive data. Additionally, we offer a 30-day free trial of the Hideez Authentication Service for organizations to test out the product before committing to a subscription.