Friday, August 30, 2013

Anatomy of a hack: How crackers ransack passwords like “qeadzcwrsfxv1331”
One of the things Gosney and other crackers have found is that passwords for a particular site are remarkably similar, despite being generated by users who have never met each other. After cracking such a large percentage of hashes from this unknown site, the next step was to analyze the plains and mimic the patterns when attempting to guess the remaining passwords. The result is a series of statistically generated brute-force attacks based on a mathematical system known as Markov chains. Hashcat makes it simple to implement this method. By looking at the list of passwords that already have been cracked, it performs probabilistically ordered, per-position brute-force attacks. Gosney thinks of it as an "intelligent brute-force" that uses statistics to drastically limit the keyspace.

Where a classic brute-force tries "aaa," "aab," "aac," and so on, a Markov attack makes highly educated guesses. It analyzes plains to determine where certain types of characters are likely to appear in a password. A Markov attack with a length of seven and a threshold of 65 tries all possible seven-character passwords with the 65 most likely characters for each position. It drops the keyspace of a classic brute-force from 957 to 657, a benefit that saves an attacker about four hours. And since passwords show surprising uniformity when it comes to the types of characters used in each position—in general, capital letters come at the beginning, lower-case letters come in the middle, and symbols and numbers come at the end—Markov attacks are able crack almost as many passwords as a straight brute-force.

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