What is a Brute Force Attack? Definition, Types & How It Works

Haseeb Awan
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October 25, 2022
Modified On
April 5, 2023

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Modified On
April 5, 2023

Passwords cannot protect user accounts on their own, but you can.

Setting a widely used password merely for the purpose of doing so gives you a sham sense of security. However, since passwords are frequently predictable, you become a primary target for brute force attacks.

By cracking usernames and passwords or encryption keys, brute force attacks try to decrypt or steal your sensitive data or infect systems with malware.

We'll have to disappoint you if you believe that a brute force attack is something you should not be worried about. The full force of brute force attacks can be felt on any website.

Consider how many online accounts you currently have. Your website's passwords—are they all secure? Or perhaps you use a single password for all logins to prevent forgetting it? Your website password's likelihood of failing under a brute force attack increases with its ease of use.

A Brute Force Attack: Definition

A brute force attack is a common cracking technique; according to some estimates, brute force attacks were responsible for 5% of acknowledged security breaches. Passages and usernames are "guessed" during a brute force attack to log into a network without authorization. Brute force is classified as a primary method attack with a high success rate.

Some attackers employ scripts and applications as brute force techniques. These techniques evaluate various password combinations to circumvent authentication mechanisms. For access to online applications in other circumstances, attackers search for the proper session ID. An attacker's goal could be to disrupt services, steal information, or infect websites with malware.

Bots currently tackle most of these attacks. However, some cybercriminals still conduct manual brute force attacks. Because of security weaknesses or the dark web, cybercriminals have lists of commonly used passwords or legitimate user credentials. Bots test these credentials in a planned attack on websites and notify the hacker when they successfully gain access.

What Situations Call For Brute Force Attacks?

The zero-knowledge approach is the primary defence for choosing brute force hacking over alternative techniques. It implies that the hacker doesn't need to be familiar with the system being compromised beforehand. Even with the most robust password, victims may still be in danger. Regardless of how secure a user's credentials are, brute force attacks try every possible combination of characters and characters, so given enough time and processing capabilities, they will be broken. We will discover later that security measures against brute force attacks include two-factor authentication and restricting login attempts.

Brute-Force Attacks: Types

The classification of a brute force attack is more complicated than it would typically be due to the many factors that go into it. Depending on the password extraction method, you have:

Online Attacks Using Brute Force

The more straightforward method of brute forcing is this one. Hackers use the direct login interface for an online service (which may be a web page or command-line prompt) and attempt a variety of combinations of login details until they are successful in guessing the correct user/pass combination.

Offline Attacks Using Brute Force

A stolen database is the first step in an offline brute force attack. The best practices for password storage state that service providers should always keep user passwords in simple text.

The host should use a cryptographic operation called hashing to encrypt your password prior to storing it in a secure database when you sign up.

In that it turns your passwords into an unintelligible string of characters and digits, hashing is similar to encryption. Hashing, on the other hand, is a one-way method. The hash cannot be converted back to an unencrypted password using a decryption key. The idea is that even if hackers stole the user database, they would still lack the login credentials needed to capture other user accounts. Offline brute force attacks are helpful for them in this situation. Hackers can compute the hash values of well-known passwords and search the stolen database for matches.

They are aware of the victim's password if there is a match. Because the attackers do not communicate with the service directly while password-cracking, it is referred to as "offline brute-forcing."

In terms of the data used throughout login attempts, there are several types of brute force attacks:

Simple Attacks Using Brute Force

In this kind of attack, the hacker chooses a target username and attempts several different passwords. Most of the time, the guesses are premised on some logic or mechanism, such as "aaa," "aab," "aac," "aad," etc. With PIN codes, this kind of attack is effective.

Dictionary Brute Force Attacks

In a dictionary attack, the attacker doesn't come up with their password guesses right away.

As an alternative, they go for a list of widely used passwords and attempt those in conjunction with the chosen username. Dictionary attacks are frequently effective due to the widespread usage of popular passwords like "password," "123456," and "abcdefg."

Hybrid Attacks Using Brute Force

The brute-forcing methods we've already discussed are combined in hybrid attacks to generate likely passwords.

For instance, in a hybrid attack, cybercriminals might try "Password" first, and if that doesn't work, they might try "Password123." Hybrid attacks exploit people's propensity to use similar passwords in close variations, mainly when character requirements are present.

Attacks Using Reverse Brute Force

An attacker uses a relatively small number of passwords with various usernames in a reverse brute force attack, also known as "password spraying," instead of using millions of passwords and one username. They are attempting to take advantage of people's custom of guarding their online accounts with recognizable credentials by doing this once more.

Rainbow Table Attack

The password hash algorithms in a database are broken using rainbow tables in a rainbow table attack, a technique for password cracking. Passwords are encrypted using hashes rather than stored in plain text by websites or applications. The password is immediately changed to a hash after being used for logging in. When a user uses their passwords to log in the following time, the server checks to see if the password matches the password hash that was previously generated. User authentication follows if the two different hashes match. Rainbow tables are the tables that retain password hashes.

The rainbow table must typically be available to the hacker before they can launch a rainbow table attack. Often, these can be purchased online. These can frequently be stolen or purchased on the dark web. Malicious people use the table during the attack to decipher the password hashes and obtain a plaintext password.

Credential Stuffing

The tendency for people to keep the same password across multiple accounts is helping this kind of attack gain popularity daily.

Online services of all sizes experience data breaches, and a sizable database of login information is constantly made public on darknet forums and markets.

Because password reuse is so common, cybercriminals try usernames and password combinations taken through one internet platform against a variety of others.

Victims frequently lose control over multiple accounts in a single breach because they have used the same login credentials across multiple websites.

What Do Brute Force Attacks Aim to Achieve?

The goal of a brute force attack is to gain access to a resource that is usually locked out to other users. This could be an administrative account, a password-protected page, or simply a list of all the active emails on a specific website.

Getting access to a legitimate account may compromise the entire website, which malicious people can use to expand their network of hacked websites.

What Happens During a Brute Force Attack?

Dictionary attacks, the most common type of brute force attacks, use a list of credentials and are typically used to access administrative accounts using widely used usernames and passwords.

Typically, generic dictionary attacks attempt to log in using the most frequently used credentials, such as "admin123".

How Do Brute Force Attacks Appear To Be?

It helps to use common sense to spot brute force attacks. A brute force attack attempt is being made if it seems someone is trying to log into an account repeatedly and failing.

An example of a sign is:

  • Multiple unsuccessful attempts to log in from the same IP address.
  • Multiple IP addresses trying in vain to log into the same account.
  • Several failed login attempts in a short period of time from different IP addresses.

What to Do if a Brute Force Attack Occurs?

Brute force attacks are almost never quiet.

The specific setup will determine how soon a sysadmin can notice it, but a high volume of login attempts will eventually be picked up. However, what would you do if you controlled the affected network and observed a break-in attempt?

  • When it comes to fending off brute force attacks, preparation is more crucial than response, but there are some things you can do to thwart hackers' efforts if you notice them attempting to brute force their way into your network.
  • By essentially requiring you to verify that you are human by carrying out a task, Captcha provides an additional layer of security as a defensive strategy against automated attacks (generally a picture identification or sum)
  • Cybercriminals aren't known for their patience, so if they can't quickly compromise the targeted account, they'll get bored and move on to targets that are simpler to compromise.
  • You can set a cap on the total number of failed login attempts in order to slow down attackers. Users who repeatedly need to enter the correct login information will temporarily be locked out of their accounts. It might aggravate those who have trouble remembering their passwords, but in the end, everyone will benefit.
  • You might think about implementing a policy that locks down accounts for a longer time when they encounter many unsuccessful login attempts. In such circumstances, the affected users ought to obtain access to their accounts following direct contact with you.
  • To reduce the likelihood of credential stuffing, think about turning off the login features or, at the very least, changing the user passwords if you notice an evident brute force attack targeting one or more accounts.
  • Blocking IP addresses that generate an abnormally high number of login attempts is also a good idea.
  • To send credentials is a prerequisite for brute force attacks. Changing the URL of the login page, such as from /wp-login.php to /mysite-login, can often be sufficient to disable most automated and bulk tools. This advice is a simple way to stop automated attacks, but it will only stop sophisticated attacks if the web address is guessable or visible on the page.

Some of the earlier-mentioned precautions can be taken in advance, and you should also make sure that your password storage policy adheres to industry best practices. Brute force attacks can be prevented without aggravating users by incorporating a two-factor authentication feature, implementing a CAPTCHA challenge on the login screen, and enforcing apparent password complexity and length guidelines.

How Much Time Does A Brute Force Attack Require?

Your website could go down at any time, from a few minutes to a few days. Although it may seem paradoxical, you decide this time. The more complex and secure your password will be harder to crack.

A brute force attack is one of the less advanced hacking techniques, so it is very likely that it can be stopped.

How to Strengthen Your Passwords?

  • Make a long and complex password.
  • Make a meaningless password using a combination of letters, numbers, and signs.
  • Don't divulge your passwords to anyone.
  • Change passwords occasionally.

Is Brute Force Legal Or Not?

Application of brute force attacks in penetration testing. To test the effectiveness of their security measures, a website owner, for instance, can authorize a brute force attack against their server.

However, if an attacker attempts to access the server and succeeds without the owner's knowledge, the attack is considered to be a type of cyberattack and is, therefore, unlawful.

A brute force attack is only acceptable if you were testing a system's security ethically and with the company owner's prior approval.

User credentials are typically stolen using a brute force attack, granting unauthorized access to financial accounts, memberships, sensitive/confidential files, and other services. That renders it unlawful.

Brute Force: Strengths and Weaknesses

In contrast to other hacking attempts, brute force attacks are easy and effective. It is possible to break every encryption key, password, and hash using brute-force attacks.

Strengths

  • It's easy. Why seek out back doors when they can gain access to networks through the front ones? Especially in comparison to other hacking techniques, brute force makes it relatively simple to enter legitimate accounts.
  • Tools for brute force attacks make it easier and less expensive to crack usernames and passwords.
  • The public (51%) uses the same 12-character, 23 million account-user-used passwords (123456) across multiple accounts.
  • Using automation and scripts to gain unauthorized access to networks is advantageous.
  • Additionally, bots and zombies facilitate quick and straightforward password cracking (which takes only a few seconds).

Weaknesses

  • Website owners also look for ways to counteract the advantages of brute force attacks.
  • Since a brute force attack depends heavily on passwords that are simple to guess and short, the website owner can change these to stop network breaches and intrusions.
  • The same IP addresses can be blocked to stop further harm if unsuccessful login attempts are continuously monitored coming from them.
  • This attack is rendered ineffective when 2FA or MFA are used because, regardless of whether the password is compromised, the multiple-layer security measures make it difficult for the attacker to seep into the network.
  • These attacks may occasionally take a long time (years for a devastating attack) and necessitate extensive research and tool development. These attacks can be weakened and avoided with the aid of protective factors.

Closing Thoughts

Take the necessary precautions and keep an eye out for suspicious activity on your network systems and traffic to ensure the security of your systems and network.

Hackers who are knowledgeable and skilled always figure out ways to breach networks. Although their ultimate goal is to disrupt services and obtain data, these attackers may alter their plans and choose a different target if they encounter roadblocks.

Given all the cutting-edge techniques used in today's online scams, it almost comes as a surprise that one of the most prevalent and effective ones has a strikingly human component. Simply altering your online behaviors, such as using complex passwords and never reusing them or updating easily guessed URLs, can prevent brute force attacks.

Additionally, you could take additional security precautions like enabling two-factor authentication or placing your website under a web application firewall tool. In actuality, a firewall halts malicious actors in their tracks.

Implementing the prevention techniques is crucial if you want to stop yourself from falling victim to brute force attacks and stop them in their tracks.

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Haseeb Awan
CEO, Efani Secure Mobile

I founded Efani after being Sim Swapped 4 times. I am an experienced CEO with a demonstrated history of working in the crypto and cybersecurity industry. I provide Secure Mobile Service for influential people to protect them against SIM Swaps, eavesdropping, location tracking, and other mobile security threats. I've been covered in New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Hulu, Nasdaq, Netflix, Techcrunch, Coindesk, etc. Contact me at 855-55-EFANI or haseebawan@efani.com for a confidential assessment to see if we're the right fit!

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