RockYou hack reveals easy-to-crack passwords
ABC, easy as 123
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).
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.
Too many pointless passwords
There are just so many places that need passwords that it is completely unrealistic to expect people to remember a different one for every place. As YAAC said above, most people I know keep one password for serious stuff and another for waste of space passwords that they don't care about.
Another problem is that best practise really doesn't work in most environments.
We have access to a government database which every member of the company needs to get into - from directors to pool secretaries, and there's supposed to be full traceability. Its password policy requires each user not only to have mixed alphanumeric 12 digit passwords with no logical sequences and so on, but requires a change every month. Surprise surprise, after the first couple of months no one could remember the passwords they had last come up with, so we spent hours every week on the phone to the govt dept concerned resetting accounts. In the end, we just decided it wasn't worth the bother and told everyone to write the blasted things down. Self defeating password policy. You could blame us for not having superhuman powers of recalling random character strings, but at the end of the day, humans are not machines - and people who come up with password policies need to be realistic.
But they don't
>If users (as they often do) use the same login credentials for social networking sites and more sensitive accounts
That's the whole point, people use junk passwords for all those sites that insist on a password for no good reason - and keep the secure ones separate for important uses, like er' reg comments.
Old vs New problem
"Persuading users to use stronger passwords is an age-old problem that dates back to the dawn of the PC era."
It's not an old problem, it's a new problem.
In the old days, you had about 3 passwords; you had to convince the user to make them strong. Once they were strong, you could use them for a long time because they were secure. Because you didn't change them, you could remember them.
Now, we all have a dozen or so passwords. If we make them strong, they're hard to remember. The harder they are to remember, the more likely we are to reuse them. Because some people use weak passwords, corporate policies add a layer of security by forcing us to change them every few months.
I can remember every password I had on the computers at uni, because I used them frequently for a long time. My password for the office PC expires so quickly that I've barely learnt it by the time I'm asked to change it. The cognitive load is high, and every time I sit back down and unlock my PC, I have to filter out "noise" from half-a-dozen old and "other system" passwords before I get to log in.
So my passwords are getting weaker all the time as it's the only way to remember them.
It is a new problem -- it just looks similar to an old one.