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June 9th, 2014

Are hackers’ passwords stronger than regular passwords?

Hackers use weak passwords just like the rest of us.

librarian_dict_sm

Nearly two thousand passwords used by hackers were leaked this week, when I tried to decode a PHP shell without knowing the key. Because I did not know the exact content of the encoded file and searching the key could take me years, I chose a different approach. I decided to find out how strong passwords used by hackers are and create a dictionary. :)

Over the years of fighting malware, the avast! Virus Lab has gathered many samples of various back-doors, bots and shells. Some of them are protected with a password encoded in MD5, SHA1 or in plain text, so it was good way to start. I looked at 40,000 samples of hackers’ passwords and found that nearly 2,000 were unique and 1,255 of those were in plain text. Another 346 passwords were easily cracked from MD5 hashes, because they were shorter than 9 characters. That gave me a total of 1,601 passwords and 300 hashes. I created statistics from those words, and here are my findings.

1Passwords that nobody will guess

Percentage of characters used in hackers' passwords

About 10% of the passwords were beyond normal capabilities of guessing or cracking. Of those, I found words as long as 75 characters, probably generated by a computer. Some of them were in long sentence form mixed with special characters such as lol dont try cracking 12 char+. Too bad it was stored in plain text. ;)

There were also passwords that don’t use characters from an English keyboard. But there was still a 90% chance it could be a normal word, maybe with some number in it. No less than 9% of the passwords could be found in an English dictionary.

The table on the right shows which characters are used in hackers’ passwords. The first row means that 58% of passwords contained only lower-case alphabet characters a-z. Read more…