Welcome!

Microsoft Cloud Authors: Stackify Blog, Liz McMillan, David H Deans, Automic Blog, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Cloud Security, Java IoT, Mobile IoT, Microsoft Cloud, Linux Containers

Cloud Security: Article

A Complex Password May Not Be a Strong Password

Anything you can do to be non-standard and random in creating a password will afford you a reasonably high degree of protectiion

(This content was originally posted on JasonPalmer.com.)

Just because your password meets complexity requirements does not necessarily make it a strong password. It is a given that many sites require you to have a password of a minimum length of at least six or eight characters, and some go so far as to require the addition of a number and at least one upper case letter. At first glance, this gives the appearance of a complex password that, in theory, should be harder to crack. If we consider a blind brute force attack that starts at six characters with “000000” and cycles through every combination of upper and lower case letters and numbers through “zzzzzz”, this is essentially true.

The problem is that automated password attacks have become intelligent in the sense that hackers have added “Pattern Matching” and LEET algorithms. (LEET refers to the substitution of a character in a word with a corresponding number or special character. Read more about LEET in Wikipedia here.)

In my article, “Strengthening Common Passwords”, I discuss that Hackers will look first to the most common passwords. For example, “123456” is first and “Password” is fourth on the list of common passwords. This fact reduces the need to even begin a brute force attack on your Password until thousands of common words, phrases, and numbers such as Sports Teams, Birth Years in the 1900’s, Popular Baby Names, Movie Titles, and Fictional Characters have been tried first through a pattern match attack.

This is just the tip of the iceberg in breaking a password that appears to be complex.

If we start with a common password, “yankees” and modify it to meet complexity requirements, it might become “Yankees1” which is not necessarily any more secure than if it were all lower case without the addition of the number. Applying “Pattern Matching”, what would be the most obvious “Pattern” modification to any common word (password) to meet complexity requirements? Answer: The capitalization of the first letter, which follows standard English Grammar rules and the addition of the number 1 or even 12. Even adding LEET so the password becomes [email protected] is not really a significant improvement because the next “pattern” applied in the attack to the well-known password list will be LEET substitutions.

How many of you just realized that your own password that properly met complexity requirements is not nearly as strong as you thought it was sixty seconds ago?

A pattern match attack program will first try making common pattern modifications to its list of well-known passwords before it starts a brute force sequential search. This will significantly increase the chances of success with minimal increase in the time required to crack your password.

Some of you are thinking, my password is really strong, it’s “1234qwerUIOP”. “No one could possibly guess that password, right? Again, on a pure sequential, brute force attack, to break a twelve character, non-dictionary password is a very long time. If we look closely at this password we see that it is three groups of four sequential characters from a standard computer keyboard: “1234” are the first four numbers of the numeral row, “qwer” are the first four characters of the top row, and “UIOP” are the last four letters of the top row. In short: it is a common pattern used for a password.

In order for a Password to be strong, it needs to be more than complex. It needs to be sufficiently long and suitably random to be truly effective.

Before you decide to abandon all online banking and social media activity for fear that almost no password you could create could ever be strong enough to protect your digital accounts, keep in mind a few key points: The above discussion applies to a hacker making a concerted specific effort to crack your password to gain access to one of your digital accounts. The likelihood that you will be a specific “high value” target is minimal. Again, I go back to my analogy that car thieves look for unlocked cars with the keys in the ignition.

The key take away is to make it as difficult as possible so that the hacker gives up after trying obvious well-known Passwords with or without Pattern Matching algorithms applied and moves on to someone else.

Follow best practices by trying to make your passwords sufficiently long with at least eight characters, use upper and lower case letters (if recognized as different by your particular web site account), always include a few numbers either as substitutions for letters (LEET) or as additional characters added at random places in the Password (do not just put at the beginning or end), and where permitted, try to do the same with special characters such as @ $ %! # by placing them at random locations in the Password.

As a closing example looking back to “yankees”, we can even make it reasonably strong by applying all of the techniques so that it becomes “y@!nk3#3”. (Note that it uses LEET and adds in two special characters in random locations.) Even though we start with a very common password, “yankees”, a pattern match attack will most likely fail and the only option for the hacker will be to use a brute force sequential search.

Finally, you can also use “Patterns” to your advantage. (The Patterns which just capitalize the first letter, add a number 1 at the end or only use LEET on a well-known common password or dictionary word should not be used.)

In an effort to be able to remember your passwords you can create a non-obvious pattern to strengthen your common passwords: Perhaps you always add a # after the third letter and an ! before the last letter or instead of using a U in your spelling, you always use a V.

Anything you can do to be non-standard and appear random in creating your Password will afford you a reasonably high degree of protection from hackers who use common, pattern match and brute force passwords attacks.

Technical Note: The ability of a brute force sequential attack to succeed in cracking your Password depends largely on who is behind the attack and the amount of computer power brought to the task. A Hacker with a single computer may take months or centuries to crack your sufficiently long complex random password. A Hacker who has tens of thousands of zombie PC’s coordinating an attack will take significantly less time to be successful. If a Government Security Agency is behind the attack, with that amount of computer power, it might be a matter of hours or days to crack your password.

As scary as this all sounds, the provider of your digital account can go a long way to slow these attacks to a crawl. Many web sites will not allow another login attempt for a certain period of time after three to five login failures or will lock the account completely after five or ten login attempts. No automated attack can proceed if the web site will not allow a login due to failed attempts – human or automated.

More Stories By Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the host of Fox Television’s "Shelly Palmer Digital Living" television show about living and working in a digital world. He is Fox 5′s (WNYW-TV New York) Tech Expert and the host of United Stations Radio Network’s, MediaBytes, a daily syndicated radio report that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
Bert Loomis was a visionary. This general session will highlight how Bert Loomis and people like him inspire us to build great things with small inventions. In their general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Architect at IBM Bluemix, and Michael O'Neill, Strategic Business Development at Nvidia, discussed the accelerating pace of AI development and how IBM Cloud and NVIDIA are partnering to bring AI capabilities to "every day," on-demand. They also reviewed two "free infrastructure" pr...
In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
Data is an unusual currency; it is not restricted by the same transactional limitations as money or people. In fact, the more that you leverage your data across multiple business use cases, the more valuable it becomes to the organization. And the same can be said about the organization’s analytics. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bill Schmarzo, CTO for the Big Data Practice at Dell EMC, introduced a methodology for capturing, enriching and sharing data (and analytics) across the organization...
The explosion of new web/cloud/IoT-based applications and the data they generate are transforming our world right before our eyes. In this rush to adopt these new technologies, organizations are often ignoring fundamental questions concerning who owns the data and failing to ask for permission to conduct invasive surveillance of their customers. Organizations that are not transparent about how their systems gather data telemetry without offering shared data ownership risk product rejection, regu...
Grape Up is a software company, specialized in cloud native application development and professional services related to Cloud Foundry PaaS. With five expert teams that operate in various sectors of the market across the USA and Europe, we work with a variety of customers from emerging startups to Fortune 1000 companies.
Financial Technology has become a topic of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 20th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York, June 6-8, 2017, will find fresh new content in a new track called FinTech.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Interoute, owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017 at the Javits Center in New York, New York. Interoute is the owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform which encompasses 12 data centers, 14 virtual data centers and 31 colocation centers, with connections to 195 add...
Multiple data types are pouring into IoT deployments. Data is coming in small packages as well as enormous files and data streams of many sizes. Widespread use of mobile devices adds to the total. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will look at the tools and environments that are being put to use in IoT deployments, as well as the team skills a modern enterprise IT shop needs to keep things running, get a handle on all this data, and deli...
The age of Digital Disruption is evolving into the next era – Digital Cohesion, an age in which applications securely self-assemble and deliver predictive services that continuously adapt to user behavior. Information from devices, sensors and applications around us will drive services seamlessly across mobile and fixed devices/infrastructure. This evolution is happening now in software defined services and secure networking. Four key drivers – Performance, Economics, Interoperability and Trust ...
The Internet of Things is clearly many things: data collection and analytics, wearables, Smart Grids and Smart Cities, the Industrial Internet, and more. Cool platforms like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Intel's Galileo and Edison, and a diverse world of sensors are making the IoT a great toy box for developers in all these areas. In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists discussed what things are the most important, which will have the most profound e...
@ThingsExpo has been named the Most Influential ‘Smart Cities - IIoT' Account and @BigDataExpo has been named fourteenth by Right Relevance (RR), which provides curated information and intelligence on approximately 50,000 topics. In addition, Right Relevance provides an Insights offering that combines the above Topics and Influencers information with real time conversations to provide actionable intelligence with visualizations to enable decision making. The Insights service is applicable to eve...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Grape Up will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Grape Up is a software company specializing in cloud native application development and professional services related to Cloud Foundry PaaS. With five expert teams that operate in various sectors of the market across the U.S. and Europe, Grape Up works with a variety of customers from emergi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Hitachi, the leading provider the Internet of Things and Digital Transformation, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Hitachi Data Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi, Ltd., offers an integrated portfolio of services and solutions that enable digital transformation through enhanced data management, governance, mobility and analytics. We help globa...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftLayer, an IBM Company, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. SoftLayer, an IBM Company, provides cloud infrastructure as a service from a growing number of data centers and network points of presence around the world. SoftLayer’s customers range from Web startups to global enterprises.
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in compute, storage and networking technologies, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology, is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/...
Amazon has gradually rolled out parts of its IoT offerings in the last year, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to optimizing their back-end AWS offerings, Amazon is laying the ground work to be a major force in IoT – especially in the connected home and office. Amazon is extending its reach by building on its dominant Cloud IoT platform, its Dash Button strategy, recently announced Replenishment Services, the Echo/Alexa voice recognition control platform, the 6-7 strategic...
Judith Hurwitz is president and CEO of Hurwitz & Associates, a Needham, Mass., research and consulting firm focused on emerging technology, including big data, cognitive computing and governance. She is co-author of the book Cognitive Computing and Big Data Analytics, published in 2015. Her Cloud Expo session, "What Is the Business Imperative for Cognitive Computing?" is scheduled for Wednesday, June 8, at 8:40 a.m. In it, she puts cognitive computing into perspective with its value to the busin...
Cognitive Computing is becoming the foundation for a new generation of solutions that have the potential to transform business. Unlike traditional approaches to building solutions, a cognitive computing approach allows the data to help determine the way applications are designed. This contrasts with conventional software development that begins with defining logic based on the current way a business operates. In her session at 18th Cloud Expo, Judith S. Hurwitz, President and CEO of Hurwitz & ...
Cybersecurity is a critical component of software development in many industries including medical devices. However, code is not always written to be robust or secure from the unknown or the unexpected. This gap can make medical devices susceptible to cybersecurity attacks ranging from compromised personal health information to life-sustaining treatment. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Clark Fortney, Software Engineer at Battelle, will discuss how programming oversight using key methods can incre...