Defending Against Brute Force Attacks: Strategies and Prevention

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defend against brute force attacks

In today’s digital world, defending against brute force attacks is highly important, especially if you have an online presence, be it for personal or business use. Imagine a brute force attack as a cybercriminal’s relentless assault on your digital fortress.

This malicious endeavour involves trying countless password combinations, a tactic known as password cracking or dictionary attack. Hackers use malicious bots, often taking control of unsuspecting computers, to increase the strength of their attacks.

To safeguard your online assets, it’s necessary to comprehend the ins and outs of these brute force attacks and arm yourself with effective prevention strategies. 

What Are Brute Force Attacks?

brute force attacks

A brute force attack is a method used to break into password-protected accounts or systems by trying every possible character combination. In this type of cyberattack, an automated system is employed by the attacker to guess the right username and password combination to access a system or website.

Typically, this attack is used to breach secure systems, accounts, or websites. The attacker keeps trying various username and password combinations until they eventually guess the correct one, granting them access to the system. To guard against brute force attacks, it is imperative for businesses to maintain updated security measures

How Does It Work?

In a brute force attack, a hacker employs advanced software to methodically test thousands or even millions of character combinations until they discover the correct password. If successful, this type of attack grants the hacker access to a system and all the data it holds.

For instance, if your password is ‘banana,’ the bot conducting the brute force attack will tirelessly try every possible combination until it hits upon the right one. This process can be quite time-consuming and inefficient, especially for longer passwords.

However, a password as short as ‘banana’ can be cracked relatively quickly. Therefore, the most effective defense against brute force attacks is to focus on the length of the password rather than its complexity. The longer your password, the more challenging it becomes to crack.

Why Does It Occur?

Hackers have various motives for attempting to infiltrate other people’s systems. While their intentions can sometimes be unclear or personal, several common reasons for conducting a brute force attack are as follows:

1. Accessing Personal Data

One primary reason is to gain access to personal data. Hackers may employ a brute force attack to impersonate individuals, allowing them to access personal accounts and acquire sensitive information like medical records and financial details. This stolen data can then be used for broader and more harmful cyberattacks.

2. Spreading Malware

Another motive is to spread malware. Hackers may initiate a brute force attack to introduce malicious software into the target’s system. This malware can help the attackers gain access to interconnected systems and networks, enabling them to launch more extensive and destructive attacks against the target.

3. Damaging Company Reputation

Hackers may also launch brute force attacks with the aim of tarnishing a company’s reputation. They achieve this by either stealing confidential data or tampering with information in a way that contradicts the company’s core values. Such actions can have a detrimental impact on the organization’s image and trustworthiness.

4. Showcasing Hacking Skills

In some instances, brute force attacks are not driven by personal motives. Hackers might engage in such attacks to demonstrate their hacking prowess and engage in exploratory activities or experimentation. 

 

5 Types of Brute Force Attacks

Brute force attacks employ various methods to uncover sensitive data, and you may encounter some of the following well-known brute force techniques:

1. Simple Brute Force Attacks

In these attacks, hackers rely solely on logical guessing to uncover your credentials, without the assistance of software tools or other means. They are effective at revealing very simple passwords and PINs, like “hello12345.”

2. Dictionary Attacks

This method involves a hacker selecting a target and testing potential passwords against a specific username. Although not strictly brute force attacks on their own, dictionary attacks are commonly used as a vital component in password cracking.

Some hackers run through extensive dictionaries, supplementing words with special characters and numbers, or use specialized dictionaries, making this sequential approach time-consuming.

3. Reverse Brute Force Attacks

As the name suggests, these attacks reverse the strategy by starting with a known password. Hackers search through millions of usernames until they find a match. Often, criminals begin with leaked passwords available online from previous data breaches.

4. Hybrid Brute Force Attacks

In hybrid attacks, hackers combine external resources with logical guesses to attempt a breach. Typically, these attacks blend elements of dictionary and brute force attacks. They aim to discover passwords that mix common words with random characters.

For example, passwords like “Indonesia1234” or “Great1998” could be targeted in this way.

5. Credential Stuffing

In this approach, if a hacker has a working username-password combination for one website, they will try it on numerous others. Since users frequently reuse login information across multiple websites, they become the primary targets of such attacks.

 

What Are Dictionary Attacks?

dictionary attack

A Dictionary Attack is a cyberattack where a malicious actor employs a list of words and phrases to gain unauthorized access to a system. This attack method uses a targeted sequence of words or phrases to attempt access to a secure system.

It exploits the common practice of people using familiar words or phrases as passwords or variations of the same password. Dictionary Attacks are often used in conjunction with other attack types, such as brute force or rainbow table attacks, to enhance their effectiveness in compromising security

What’s the Difference Between Brute Force and Dictionary Attack?

A brute force attack exhaustively tries all possible character combinations until one of them succeeds. In contrast, a dictionary attack operates by narrowing down the combinations to a predefined list of common or known passwords. This list includes both widely used passwords and those obtained from previous data breaches.

The list is organized based on password popularity, so the most common ones are checked first. Consequently, a dictionary attack is generally faster than a full brute-force attack. However, it is less effective when dealing with unique and unrevealed passwords.

It’s worth noting that when we refer to a brute force attack, we are usually talking about a straightforward brute force attack that attempts all combinations without considering any specific password rules.

Advanced brute force attacks, on the other hand, can incorporate password requirements, such as needing at least one uppercase character or a number. While these advanced attacks still try every possible combination, they include exclusion rules to enhance efficiency.

Strategies and Prevention against Brute Force Attacks

Individuals and organizations can employ several strategies to protect themselves against vulnerabilities. The following are some of the useful strategies to defend against brute force attacks.  

Strengthening Passwords

1. Increase Length

Start by setting longer passwords. Many websites and platforms now require passwords of a certain minimum length (typically 8 to 16 characters) to make guessing harder for attackers. Longer passwords significantly slow down brute force attacks, often causing hackers to give up.

2. Use Varied Characters

Opt for longer passwords that incorporate symbols or numbers. A 10-character password with these elements creates an enormous number of possibilities (1.71 x 10^20). For context, cracking such a password with a GPU processor attempting 10.3 billion hashes per second would take around 526 years, although a supercomputer could crack it in a few weeks. More characters make your password exponentially harder to crack.

3. Choose Passphrases

Some sites may not allow very long passwords, so consider complex passphrases composed of multiple words or segments, sprinkled with extra characters and special types. This approach thwarts dictionary attacks, which often target single words.

4. Create Unique Rules

Establish personalized rules for crafting passwords that are memorable but nonsensical to others. For example, you can truncate words (e.g., replacing “wood” with “wd”) or use only the first two letters of each word in a passphrase.

Limit Login Attempts

Implement a login attempt limit for your admin panels, such as WordPress. After a certain number of failed login attempts (e.g., five), block the IP address for a specific duration to deter further attacks.

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Enable Two-Factor Authentication as an additional layer of defense against brute force attacks. Various WordPress plugins make implementing 2FA easy and effective. It reduces the likelihood of successful brute force attempts by requiring an additional verification step beyond the password.

 

Final Takeaways 

It is important to stay one step ahead of cybercriminals. Brute force attacks and dictionary attacks are common methods hackers use to crack passwords and gain unauthorized access to your accounts.

One of the best ways to defend yourself and improve cyber security is through Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). MFA adds an extra layer of security, making it significantly harder for attackers to break in, even if they have your password. 

Protect your website today with Sucuri Website Security Solutions. Shield your online presence from brute force attacks and safeguard your digital assets. Don’t wait for threats to strike – take action now and fortify your cybersecurity defenses with Sucuri.

Get Started with Sucuri 

Related articles:

Why You Need a Strong Password to Safeguard Your Account

What’s are the Methods to Prevent Social Engineering Attacks

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