Password Cracking Techniques, Tools and Protection Recommendations

There are many ways to hack into an account. Password cracking is one of them – involves using various computational and other methods to break through the password authentication step. We’ll be discussing various password cracking techniques in this article. Nowadays, you can even find specialized password cracking tools, which don’t have to be used only for ill purposes. But before we go down to details, let’s discuss what password cracking is.

How to create a strong password?

No matter how good your memory or your password manager is, failing to create a good password will lead to undesired consequences. As we discussed in this article, password cracking tools can decipher weak passwords in days, if not hours. That’s why we feel obliged to remind some of the key tips for coming up with a strong passphrase: -Length. As it often is, length is the most important factor. -Combine letters, numbers, and special characters. This greatly increases the number of possible combinations. -Do not re-use. Even if your password is strong in theory, re-using it will leave you vulnerable. Avoid easy-to-guess phrases. A word that’s in the dictionary, on your pet’s collar or on your license plate is a big NO.

What is password cracking?

Password cracking means recovering passwords from a computer or from data that a computer transmits. This doesn’t have to be a sophisticated method. A brute-force attack where all possible combinations are checked is also password cracking. If the password is stored as plaintext, hacking the database gives the attacker all account information. However, now most passwords are stored using a key derivation function (KDF). This takes a password and runs it through a one-way encryption cipher, creating what’s known as a “hash.” The server stores the hash-version of the password. It’s easy to try different hashed passwords at a high rate when using a GPU or botnet. That’s why most password hash functions use key stretching algorithms, which increase the resources (and, therefore, time) needed for a brute-force attack. Some methods of password cracking become significantly more difficult if your password uses salting or key stretching. Unfortunately, there are still some services that store unencrypted or weakly-encrypted passwords on their servers.

Top-8 password cracking techniques used by hackers

Naturally, hackers want to use the easiest available method for password cracking. More often than not, that method is phishing, described in detail below. As long as the human is the weakest link of any security system, targeting her or him is the best bet. If that fails, there are plenty of other password cracking techniques to try.

While passwords are a very popular account security tool, they aren’t necessarily the safest option. That’s especially the case if a user creates a weak password, reuses it, and stores its plaintext copy somewhere online. That’s why using a password manager, biometric data (which has its cons too) or adding a second factor will make most of the cracking methods below useless.

A typical password cracking attack looks like this:

Get the password hashes

Prepare the hashes for a selected cracking tool

Choose a cracking methodology

Run the cracking tool

Evaluate the results

If needed, tweak the attack

Go to Step 2

Now let’s discuss the most popular password cracking techniques. There are many cases when these are combined together for greater effect.

Tools to use when cracking password:

1. John the Ripper

Featured in many popular password cracking tools lists, John the Ripper is a free, open-source, command-based application. It’s available for Linux and macOS while Windows and Android users get Hash Suite, developed by a contributor.

John the Ripper supports a massive list of different cipher and hash types. Some of those are:

  • Unix, macOS, and Windows user passwords
  • Web applications
  • Database servers
  • Network traffic captures
  • Encrypted private keys
  • Disks and filesystems
  • Archives
  • Documents

2. Cain and Abel

Downloaded almost 2 million times from its official source, Cain & Abel is another popular tool for password cracking. But contrary to John the Ripper, it uses GUI, making it instantly more user-friendly. That and the fact that it’s available on Windows only makes Cain & Abel a go-to tool for amateurs, also known as script kiddies. This is a multi-purpose tool, capable of many different functions. Cain & Abel can act as a packet analyzer, record VoIP, analyze route protocols, or scan for wireless networks and retrieve their MAC addresses. If you already have the hash, this tool will offer a dictionary or brute force attack option. Cain & Abel can also display passwords that are hiding beneath the asterisks.

3. Ophcrack

Ophcrack is a free and open-source password cracking tool that specializes in rainbow table attacks. To be more precise, it cracks LM and NTLM hashes where the former addresses Windows XP and earlier OSs and the latter associates with Windows Vista and 7. NTLM is also available, to a certain degree, on Linux and freeBSD. Both of these hash types are insecure – it’s possible to crack a NTLM hash in less than 3 hours with a fast computer.

It takes Ophcrack merely six seconds to crack an 8-symbol password while using a rainbow table that includes letters, numbers, and uppercases. That’s even more variables than a mainstream password usually has.

This tool comes with free Windows XP/Vista/7 rainbow tables and a brute force attack feature for simple passwords. Ophcrack is available on Windows, macOS, and Linux.

4. THC Hydra

Arguably the strongest point of THC Hydra is not the possible number of heads it can grow but the sheer number of protocols it supports that seems to be growing too! This is an open-source network login password cracking tool that works with Cisco AAA, FTP, HTTP-Proxy, IMAP, MySQL, Oracle SID, SMTP, SOCKS5, SSH, and Telnet, to name but a few.

The methods available with THC Hydra include brute force and dictionary attacks while also using wordlists generated by other tools. This password cracker is known for its speed thanks to the multi-threaded combination testing. It can even run checks on different protocols simultaneously. THC Hydra is available on Windows, macOS, and Linux.

5. Hashcat

Positioning itself as the world’s fastest password cracker, Hashcat is a free open-source tool that’s available on Windows, macOS, and Linux. It offers a number of techniques, from simple brute force attack to hybrid mask with wordlist.

Hashcat can utilize both your CPU and GPU, even at the same time. This makes cracking multiple hashes simultaneously much faster. But what makes this tool truly universal is the number of supported hash types. Hashcat can decipher MD5, SHA3-512, ChaCha20, PBKDF2, Kerberos 5, 1Password, LastPass, KeePass, and many more. In fact, it supports over 300 hash types.

But before you can start cracking, you need to have the password hash first. Here are some of the most popular tools for getting hash:

Mimikatz. Known as a password audit and recovery app, Mimikatz can also be used for malign hash retrieval. In fact, it might as well extract plaintext passwords or PIN codes.

Wireshark. Wireshark enables you to do packet sniffing. It is an award-winning packet analyzer used not only by hackers but also by business and governmental institutions.

Metasploit. This is a popular penetration testing framework. Designed for security professionals, Metasploit can also be used by hackers to retrieve password hashes.

Open chat
Hello 👋.
Tell me, how can I help you?