Password Spraying Attack: What Is It and How Can You Protect Yourself?

Password attacks have been on the rise in recent years, as hackers have become more sophisticated in their techniques. Learn how to protect yourself from one of the most common hacking attempts.

Ivan Stevanovic Image
Updated:

October 19,2022

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Have you ever had to create a password for an online account and been stuck because you couldn’t come up with something that's both unique and memorable? If so, you’re not alone. 

Password spraying is a common technique used by hackers to exploit weak passwords. In this post, we'll take a closer look at this popular technique, so stay with us to learn more about this type of cyberattack and how to avoid it. 

What Is Password Spraying? 

Password spraying is a type of brute force attack. In the case of a regular brute force attack, hackers try every possible combination of characters until they find the correct login credentials to an account. 

In this scenario, the hackers target a single user account and try thousands of different combinations before they find the right one. This is, of course, mostly automated.

However, this method is becoming less effective as organizations implement policies like account lockouts, which prevent hackers from trying an infinite number of passwords, as an account is locked after a certain number of failed login attempts.

In password spraying attacks, hackers target multiple accounts and try common passwords against all of them. It involves trying one password for multiple accounts, and if that doesn’t yield any results, the process is repeated with a different password.

Black hat hackers will often target a specific organization and try common passwords against a large list of users. If even a small percentage of users have weak passwords, the hacker will be able to gain access to multiple accounts. 

This method can be much more effective than regular brute force attacks because it doesn't trigger account lockouts. So, even if an organization has implemented this safety feature, a hacker could still gain access to one or more accounts through this kind of attack. 

Password Spraying vs. Credential Stuffing

Both password spraying and credential stuffing pose a major threat to online security. In some cases, they are used in tandem.

Credential stuffing is another common type of attack where hackers use stolen username and password combinations in an attempt to gain access to additional accounts. Once they have access to an account, they can then use it to exploit other systems and steal sensitive data.

Credential stuffing relies on data breaches like the famous 2013 Target data breach, when 40 million credit card and debit card records, as well as 70 million customer records, were stolen from the database of the retail giant Target.

This type of attack is often successful because people tend to use one password for multiple accounts. If you have been a victim of credential stuffing, it’s important to change your passwords immediately and enable two-factor authentication for all of your accounts.

How To Protect Yourself From Password Spraying Attacks 

When it comes to protecting yourself against cyberattacks, including password spraying, prevention is the best approach. There are several steps you can take to protect yourself from these kinds of password attacks:

  1. Use strong passwords that are at least eight characters long and include uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
  2. Don't use the same password for multiple accounts. If you're using the same password for multiple accounts and one of those accounts gets compromised, all of the other accounts are also at risk.
  3. Use multifactor authentication whenever possible, as it’s one of the best safeguards against a password spraying attack. In most cases, this means two-factor authentication that adds an extra layer of security by requiring you to enter a code that's sent to your phone, in addition to entering your username and password. 
  4. Beware of phishing attempts. Hackers often use phishing emails to trick users into revealing their login credentials. If you receive an email that looks suspicious, don't open it or click on any links or attachments unless you're absolutely sure it's safe to do so. 
  5. Follow the best practices for creating and managing passwords, such as federated authentication protocols and “salting” to protect your systems. 

The Bottom Line

Password spraying is becoming increasingly popular among hackers. This method of attack takes advantage of the fact that many people still use weak passwords or use the same password across multiple accounts.

By targeting multiple user accounts and trying common passwords, hackers can avoid triggering account lockouts. You should take precautions whenever possible, including using strong passwords, two-factor authentication, and being aware of phishing attempts. Ultimately, with password spraying, prevention is the best medicine.

FAQ
What is salting a password?

In the world of cybersecurity, "salting a password" is a technique used to make passwords more difficult to crack. It adds a random string of characters (known as a "salt") to the password before hashing it. This salt is then stored alongside the hashed password so that, when a user enters their password, the salt can be retrieved and used to generate the hash.

What is a password spray attack?

A password spraying attack is a type of cyberattack that uses a list of commonly used passwords in an attempt to gain unauthorized access to a computer system. The attacker will typically try each password on a large number of user accounts in the hopes that at least one is using the password in question.

 

What is the difference between brute forcing and password spraying?

When it comes to hacking passwords, these are the two most common methods. Brute forcing involves trying every possible combination of characters on an account until the correct password is found. 

This method can be very time-consuming, but it’s also fairly straightforward. Password spraying, on the other hand, involves using common passwords or word lists in an attempt to log into multiple accounts. 

 

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