The Anatomy of a Brute Force Attack: What It Is And How You Can Stay Safe
by Zivaro, on Mar 18, 2021 12:17:46 PM
What is a brute force attack? And how can you stay safe from one? Here are some tips to help you keep cybercriminals from guessing your passwords.
On the surface, a brute force attack doesn't seem all that impressive or sophisticated.
After all, this cybercrime relies on logic and rudimentary tools to guess your passwords and gain access to your account(s).
But that doesn't mean brute force attacks aren't effective and still commonly used today.
Perhaps you're wondering, what exactly is a brute force attack? And how can you stay safe from one?
Here's everything you need to know.
What is a brute force attack?
A brute force attack is a type of cybercrime where hackers try to access people's accounts by guessing their credentials.
Hackers use brute force attacks to carry out all sorts of tasks. Once inside, they might collect your data, spread malware, or even ruin your business's reputation.
As far as data breaches go, brute force attacks are a relatively old technique. But they are still popular among hackers—mainly because they work.
Current estimates say about 1 in 20 data breaches are the result of brute force attacks.
How does a brute force attack work?
A common analogy used to explain a brute force attack is having a key ring full of keys and trying each one to open up a door. It's essentially a game of educated guessing and trial and error.
There are subcategories of brute force attacks. Here's how each works:
- Dictionary attack. Hackers try to gain access to a computer by using a dictionary headword list to generate possible passwords.
- Simple brute force attack. Hackers attempt to guess your passwords without using tools.
- Hybrid brute force attack. Hackers use multiple digital tools and logic simultaneously to try and crack your credentials.
- Reverse brute force attack. Hackers use the same common password against multiple usernames to try and gain access.
Naturally, hackers have developed tools overtime to make the job easier. Today, brute force attacks can happen quickly if you aren't prepared.
How fast is a brute force attack?
It largely depends on the type of brute force attack and how strong your passwords are.
The tools hackers use can check somewhere between a thousand and millions of different passwords each second.
The shorter and more common your password is, the easier it will be for a brute force attack to figure it out and gain access.
The tips below will go further in-depth and show you how to slow down an attack.
What is the best protection against brute force attacks? (5 Tips)
Being proactive about your security measures and catching a brute force attack while it's happening are the two best ways to prevent them from happening.
Here are five tips to help you prevent this type of cybercrime.
1. Use Longer Passwords
Adding even a few letters to your passwords can make a huge difference.
Remember, hackers use tools that help them guess millions of passwords each second. Even one extra letter forces a hacker to input thousands of additional combinations to guess your credentials.
Think about it this way:
- If the software could guess 15 million passwords per second (a reasonable estimate), a hacker could crack a 7-character password in under 10 minutes.
- If the software could guess 15 million passwords per second, a 13-character password could take thousands of years.
Remember, one form of brute force attacks doesn't even rely on technology. It simply depends on hackers using logic and lazy password-setting to guess your credentials to gain access. Longer passwords make this nearly impossible without digital tools.
2. Increase Password Complexity
We know not everyone loves adding a special character, a number, and an uppercase letter to their passwords. But this can also help prevent brute force attacks.
Unfortunately, many brute force attacks happen because someone has set a common password (like their name, business name, or even just "password").
Similar to the first tip, the more complicated a password is, the better. It simply adds thousands to millions of additional combinations a hacker must guess to gain access.
Complex passwords may deter hackers from trying somewhere else if they think it will take hours instead of minutes to crack the code.
3. Limit Login Attempts
Limiting login attempts is another tool you can use to prevent brute force attacks.
By giving users only three attempts to guess the correct password before they get locked out, you can seriously delay hackers from gaining access.
It's also a suitable method for noticing irregular activity. If hundreds of failed password attempts or lockouts occur all at once, that may be a sign that you're under attack.
Again, so much of it comes down to not making yourself an easy victim. Most hackers aren't personally invested in getting into your website. Time is of the essence, so many will move on if your website isn't worth their time.
4. Use Multi-Factor Authentication
Many IT professionals consider two-factor authentication the best way to ward off brute force attacks.
Passwords don't become less valuable with multi-factor authentication. They become the first locked door that opens up to a second locked door.
Without text or email verification, hackers are no further along than where they started, even if they get your password.
For an extra layer of security, you could also pair two tools like Captcha, which identifies humans from robots.
Are you protected from brute force attacks?
The best way to prevent brute force attacks is to not make yourself low-hanging fruit for hackers.
Remember that the strength of a brute force attack is its ability to guess millions of passwords each second.
By setting longer, more complex passwords and implementing strategies like Captcha, limited login attempts, and two-factor authentication, you can deter them from trying to break into your platform.
Many hackers simply won't waste their time on you when they know there are more accessible websites out there.
Want to learn how to protect yourself against cybercrime? Check out our managed IT services and the type of security standards we put in place today!