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Table Of Contents  CertiGuide to Security+
 9  Chapter 1:  General Security Concepts (Domain 1.0; 30%)
      9  1.4  Attacks
           9  1.4.11  Password Guessing

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1.4.11  Password Guessing
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Next Page  Dictionary
Next Topic/Section  Brute Force

In a Brute Force attack, muscle (in this case, CPU and/or network muscle) is applied to break through a particular security mechanism, rather than using particular intelligence or logic. “Brute force” is most commonly applied to password guessing, taking advantage of computer power available to an attacker, to try every possible password value, until the right one is found.

Even just a couple years ago, brute force was considered difficult due to the lack of lost cost processing capable of the sheer crunching power needed. Today, the AMD 2200XP processor costs less than $100 USD and the 3000XP (Morgan CPU) is shipping.

That puts the brute force method within reach of anyone. Rather than go on with the usual blah blah about strong passwords, we are encouraging you to follow the footnote to a free Brute-Force Password Cracking Simulator87. Play with this simulator and you will discover that, in general, the longer the password, the more difficult a brute force attack becomes. Note that password cracking techniques have improved considerably since this simulator was written. Real world password crackers today are much faster.

Figure 12: Even telling the simulator to search through all 256 characters, by brute force with a 1.5Ghtz CPU, this password (“lootball”) can be broken in less than a day.


The simulator program is less than one megabyte in size and runs in Windows. Instead of actually attempting to “crack” a stored password, you just set the variables (including testing a real password) and it will calculate how long the brute force method takes. In one test Brute Force with a 1.5Ghtz processor would take 170 years, 309 days, 21 hours, 32 minutes, and 22 seconds to crack 4July1776. However, a dictionary password program would rip that same password almost instantly.

Figure 13: Just adding one special (high-order) character makes a brute force attack almost a month of effort with the same CPU.


Brute Force

A brute force attack involves throwing computer and/or network power at a security mechanism until it is broken.

Bruce force is commonly used to “crack” passwords, often for user accounts. It can also be applied to ZIP files and many other types of encrypted data.

One way to protect against brute force password cracking is to use as long a password as possible, because the longer the password, the harder it is to crack via brute force.

Figure 14: This more complex ten-character pass phrase (“Tcat=Yuma!”) takes the same CPU a few hundred thousand years to crack.




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1.4.11  Password Guessing
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CertiGuide for Security+ ( on
Version 1.0 - Version Date: November 15, 2004

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