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Sony hack reveals password security is even worse than feared

Most conformed to very predictable patterns

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An analysis of password re-use from data spilled via the Sony and Gawker hack reveals that consumer password security is even more lax than we might have feared.

A million Sony users' password/username IDs and 250,000 Gawker login credentials, each stored in plain text, were exposed via separate hacks. In each case hackers posted a subset of these passwords as a torrent.

An analysis by security researcher Troy Hunt revealed that two-thirds of users with accounts at both Sony and Gawker used the same password on both sites. This conclusion is based on a relatively small sample of 88 email addresses found in common between the Sony and Gawker hacks. However, just the data gleaned by Hunt from the Sony hack alone shows this is unlikely to be some sort of statistical quirk. On the contrary, by any metric, consumer password security revealed via the Sony hack is dire.

Half the password sample from the Sony hack used only one character type and only one in a hundred passwords used a non-alphanumeric character, much the same as revealed by the earlier Gawker hack. Only 4 per cent of these passwords had three or more character types.

Four in five of the passwords in the 37,608 account sample from the Sony hack actually only occurred once. But users are independently making poor passwords choices, Hunt reports. Around 36 per cent of the passwords used appeared in a password dictionary, a factor that would leave them wide open to brute-forcing attacks in instances where the same passwords were used and only a password hash database was exposed by a hack. Hunt reckons more than four in five (82 per cent) of the passwords would have fallen to a basic rainbow table crack.

Hunt concludes that the only safe password is "one you can't remember".

"None of this is overly surprising, although it remains alarming," he writes. "We know passwords are too short, too simple, too predictable and too much like the other ones the individual has created in other locations.

"The bit which did take me back a bit was the extent to which passwords conformed to very predictable patterns, namely only using alphanumeric character, being 10 characters or less and having a much-better-than-average chance of being the same as other passwords the user has created on totally independent systems," he adds. ®

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