What is a Brute Force Attack?

What is a Brute Force Attack?

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Anshuman
Anshuman Singh
Senior Executive - Content
Updated on Mar 27, 2024 11:45 IST

Among the most common password-cracking techniques is the brute force attack. However, it is not only for password cracking; attackers also use the brute force attack to discover hidden web posts and pages. This attack is essentially “hit and try” until successful. This attack takes a bit longer, but it is more successful.

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So, what exactly is a brute force attack? This article will cover the brute force attack in great depth. But, before doing so, let’s go over the topics that we will be covering in this blog:

What is a brute force attack?

A brute force attack is the most basic way to gain access to a password-protected website or server. In this, an attacker tries various username and password combinations over and over until it gains access. Attackers also use hacking or automated tools to accomplish this task. Once inside, the attacker can access as the genuine user and continue to stay until they have been found. They take advantage of these opportunities to perform various activities, such as installing back doors, learning about the system for future attacks, and stealing data.

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This attack is analogous to a thief attempting to open a combo safe by trying every potential set of characters and numbers until the safe opens.

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Types of brute force attacks

There are five types of brute force attacks, which are:

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Simple brute force attack

A simple brute force attack happens when an attacker manually attempts to guess a user’s login credentials without using any software. These attacks are simple since many folks use weak passwords, such as “password123” or “1234”. And some people still practice poor password norms, such as using identical passwords for different online platforms.

Reverse brute force attack

In this method, the attacker starts with a known password, usually found through a network breach. Attackers use that password to search through lists of millions of usernames for a matching login credential.

Dictionary attack

The attacker chooses a target in this method and then analyses default combinations against that individual’s user account. Dictionary attacks begin with just some presumptions about common passwords to try to guess from a dictionary list.

Hybrid brute force attack

This method is created whenever an attacker incorporates a dictionary attack and simple brute force attack methods. The hacker starts with a username, then uses a dictionary attack and simple brute force methods to discover an account login combination.

Credential stuffing attack

In this method, an attacker gathers username and password combinations that they have stolen or obtained from the dark web due to a data breach. They then use those credentials to gain access to additional user accounts on other websites.

Real-life brute force attack examples

Alibaba: In 2016, attackers used a login detail database of 99 million users, and because of this, more than 20 million accounts on Alibaba’s e-commerce were compromised.

Magento: Approximately 1,000 open-source accounts were targeted by brute force attacks as the passwords were weak.

If you have an eight-character password with numbers and letters (upper and lowercase), there are 62 different possibilities for that character. It will be 628 for an 8-character password, giving a total of 2.1834011×1014 possible combinations. In order to learn your eight-character password, this attack would attempt every possible character, and this will only require some seconds.

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Brute force attack tools

Guessing a user’s password can be time-consuming, notably if the passwords are strong. To make the process easier, hackers use software and tools to assist them in cracking passwords. There are various tools that an attacker can use to perform this attack. Some of the most common of those tools are:

Hashcat: Hashcat is a free CPU-based password cracking tool. It is compatible with Mac OS, Windows, and Linux systems. It is effective in a range of attacks, such as simple, dictionary, and hybrid brute force.

Ncrack: It is a popular password-cracking tool used to crack network authentications. This tool supports a variety of protocols, including RDP, SSH, and others. It is capable of a variety of attacks, including brute-forcing. It operates on various platforms, such as Linux, BSD, Mac OS, and Windows.

John the Ripper: This is a free password-cracking utility that is available for 15 different platforms, including Windows, OpenVMS, and DOS. This tool works by detecting the type of hashing used in a password.

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Aircrack-ng: A set of tools for assessing Wi-Fi network security, monitoring and exporting data, and attacking an organization using methods such as spoofing and packet injection.

THC Hydra: This tool cracks network authentication passwords. It conducts dictionary attacks on over 30 protocols, including HTTPS, FTP, and Telnet.

What does a brute force attack accomplish?

An attacker can use such an attack to accomplish various tasks, such as:

Earning: A hacker may launch such an attack on a website in order to profit financially by placing spam ads on popular websites, allowing the attacker to earn money each time an ad is clicked or viewed by a visitor.

Stealing data: Hacking into a user’s accounts can provide information ranging from financial details to sensitive medical information. An attacker with access to an account can perform various activities, such as spoofing a person’s identity, selling their credentials to third parties, stealing their money, etc.

Performing malicious activity: Brute force attacks can help malicious actors launch larger-scale attacks using multiple devices. This is likely a DDoS attack designed to overwhelm the target’s security defenses and systems.

Ruining a website’s reputation: Attackers can target websites and infect them with offensive or hostile text and images, tarnishing their reputation.

Spreading malware: Attackers use brute force to gain access to the system, and once they are in, they infect the system using malware to gain something out of it.

Brute force attack prevention 

You can follow various practices to prevent your system from brute force attacks. Some of those are:

  • Enforce strict password policies to make passwords difficult to guess. You can also prevent users from using their username in their password.
  • Instruct users to change their passwords on a regular basis.
  • As an added layer of security, use two-factor authentication (2FA).
  • Use threat hunting techniques to detect attacks even when disguised as a legitimate user.
  • Limit login attempts for a set period or by a fixed amount. The account must be locked for a set period if an attempt exceeds the threshold limit.
  • Use different passwords for different services. If one service is compromised, attackers can use the same credentials to gain access to other services.
  • Instruct users on best password practices, such as not using four numbers at the end of a password and ignoring standard numbers, such as those beginning with 1 or 2.
  • Introduce CAPTCHA during the login process, which requires users to identify a pattern of letters and numbers or images.

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Conclusion

The brute force attack’s success depends on several factors, such as password length and the combination of characters, letters, and special characters. Most organizations recommend using a password that combines lowercase letters, capital letters, numbers, and special characters. Using such a combination makes brute-forcing difficult but not impossible. You can also employ the prevention methods we just discussed. It is preferable to follow them than to be sorry!

FAQs

What does a brute force attack accomplish?

The primary goal of a brute force attack is to gain unauthorized access to individual accounts as well as systems and networks of organizations.

What keeps brute force attacks at bay?

Various techniques, such as using strong passwords, limiting login attempts, monitoring IP addresses, disabling Root SSH logins, and so on, can be used to prevent a brute force attack.

Why are brute force attacks so effective?

Because users do not use strong passwords, brute force attacks are frequently successful.

Is it possible to detect a brute force attack?

You can detect a brute force attack by monitoring various things, such as increased network activity, access violations, and unusual user behavior.

What is the simplest way to stop brute force attacks?

The simplest way to stop brute force attacks is to add a few unique characters to your password or PIN.

About the Author
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Anshuman Singh
Senior Executive - Content

Anshuman Singh is an accomplished content writer with over three years of experience specializing in cybersecurity, cloud computing, networking, and software testing. Known for his clear, concise, and informative wr... Read Full Bio