Feeds

Rainbow warriors crack password hashes

Is it safe? Nope

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

A trio of entrepreneurial hackers hope to do for the business of password cracking what Google did for search and, in the process, may remove the last vestiges of security from many password systems.

Over the past two years, three security enthusiasts from the United States and Europe set a host of computers to the task of creating eleven enormous tables of data that can be used to look up common passwords. The tables - totaling 500GB - form the core data of a technique known as rainbow cracking, which uses vast dictionaries of data to let anyone reverse the process of creating hashes - the statistically unique codes that, among other duties, are used to obfuscate a user's password.

Last week, the trio went public with their service. Called RainbowCrack Online, the site allows anyone to pay a subscription fee and submit password hashes for cracking.

"Usually people think that a complex, but short, password is very secure, something like $FT%_3^," said Travis, one of the founders of RainbowCrack Online, who asked that his last name not be used. "However, you will find that our tables handle that password quite easily."

While security professionals have questions whether a business can be created by offering access to rainbow tables, the endeavor does highlight the weaknesses in security of password-only authentication. History has shown that password systems are imminently breakable.

In August, a group of Chinese researchers found further breaks in a common hash function, the Secure Hash Algorithm or SHA-1, used by the U.S. government. In September, researchers from the University of California at Berkeley published a paper that demonstrated that the sound of a person typing can reveal the content, including passwords. Those technical breaks do not even account for the human factor: People tend to pick simple passwords and disclose them frequently. In fact, many viruses and worms have successfully spread by trying to log into administrator accounts using a small list of common passwords.

Because of the problems, the U.S. government is requiring that banks move towards two-factor authentication, where the typical password security is augmented by a biometric or a physical security device. Some security researchers maintain that even adding a second type of security check is not enough.

The latest attack focuses on the hash functions used to verify passwords. Because operating systems cannot keep a copy of the password on the disk without weakening system security, the software instead saves a statistically unique code generated from the pasword. While the code, or hash, is computationally easy to create, reversing the process to recover the password is nearly impossible, given a correctly implemented hash function.

Rainbow tables side step the difficulty in cracking a single password by instead creating a large data set of hashes from nearly every possible password. To break a password, the attacker merely looks up the hash to find the password that produces that code.

"Creating the tables takes much more time than cracking a single hash, but then you can use the tables over and over again," said Philippe Oechslin, CEO of Swiss information-technology firm Objectif Sécurité and the inventor of rainbow tables. "The advantage of rainbow tables is that once you have the tables it is faster than a brute force (attack) and it needs less memory than a full dictionary (attack) of the function."

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
Regin: The super-spyware the security industry has been silent about
NSA fingered as likely source of complex malware family
Why did it take antivirus giants YEARS to drill into super-scary Regin? Symantec responds...
FYI this isn't just going to target Windows, Linux and OS X fans
Privacy bods offer GOV SPY VICTIMS a FREE SPYWARE SNIFFER
Looks for gov malware that evades most antivirus
Patch NOW! Microsoft slings emergency bug fix at Windows admins
Vulnerability promotes lusers to domain overlords ... oops
HACKERS can DELETE SURVEILLANCE DVRS remotely – report
Hikvision devices wide open to hacking, claim securobods
'Regin': The 'New Stuxnet' spook-grade SOFTWARE WEAPON described
'A degree of technical competence rarely seen'
Astro-boffins start opening universe simulation data
Got a supercomputer? Want to simulate a universe? Here you go
You stupid BRICK! PCs running Avast AV can't handle Windows fixes
Fix issued, fingers pointed, forums in flames
prev story

Whitepapers

Driving business with continuous operational intelligence
Introducing an innovative approach offered by ExtraHop for producing continuous operational intelligence.
Why CIOs should rethink endpoint data protection in the age of mobility
Assessing trends in data protection, specifically with respect to mobile devices, BYOD, and remote employees.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Protecting against web application threats using SSL
SSL encryption can protect server‐to‐server communications, client devices, cloud resources, and other endpoints in order to help prevent the risk of data loss and losing customer trust.