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RockYou hack reveals easy-to-crack passwords

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Analysis of the 32 million passwords recently exposed in the breach of social media application developer RockYou last month provides further proof that consumers routinely use easy to guess login credentials.

Sensitive login credentials - stored in plain text - were left exposed because of a SQL injection bug in RockYou's website. RockYou admitted the breach, which applied to user password and email addresses for widgits it developed, and pledged to improve security in order to safeguard against future problems.

Database security firm Imperva analysed the frequency of password disclosed by the breach, prior to publishing a report on Thursday on Consumer Password Worst Practices, a problem illustrated by the top ten passwords thrown up by the RockYou security snafu (below).

  1. 123456
  2. 12345
  3. 123456789
  4. Password
  5. iloveyou
  6. princess
  7. rockyou
  8. 1234567
  9. 12345678
  10. abc123

The trivial nature of the top ten RockYou passwords is bad enough, but worse is that nearly 50 per cent of passwords records exposed by the RockYou breach used names, slang words, dictionary words or trivial passwords (consecutive digits, adjacent keyboard keys), Imperva discovered.

Password database breaches have happened before, of course, but the size of the RockYou breach allowed for the most in-depth analysis of real-world passwords to date. These days the average surfer maintains scores of login credentials for social networking and e-commerce sites.

If these login names and password are easy to guess then it's all the more likely that hackers will be able to break into accounts using brute force dictionary attacks and readily available password cracking tools. If users (as they often do) use the same login credentials for social networking sites and more sensitive accounts (email, online banking etc) then the problem gets even worse.

Consumers, or by extension business users, help themselves by using hard to guess (strong) passwords. Persuading users to use stronger passwords is an age-old problem that dates back to the dawn of the PC era.

Imperva’s CTO Amichai Shulman said that a 1990 Unix password study revealed a password selection pattern similar to that exposed by the RocKYou breach. "The problem has changed very little over the past 20 years," he added.

Tips from Microsoft (here), US CERT (here) and Sophos (here) outline strategies for choosing stronger passwords. ®

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