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.


Jan 20,2023

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Your password is the first line of defense when it comes to keeping your data safe. Learn how to protect yourself from a password spraying attack that can easily put your critical accounts at risk. 

One of the common channels used by hackers to compromise information systems and illegally gain access to accounts is through passwords. You may have heard of the terms phishing and keyloggers, but these are not the only threats to your password. 

One particularly sneaky method for cracking your login details, called a password spraying attack, might rob you of access to your account if you’re not careful enough and don’t employ appropriate measures. In this article, we’ll explain what a password spraying attack is and how to recognize it. Additionally, we’ll tell you about the steps you can take to protect your valuable accounts and data.

Password Spraying Attack: Definition

Password spraying is a hacking method in which one simple, common password is used for login attempts for multiple accounts, typically within one organization. Instead of targeting one user, password spraying attacks are directed at a large group of people, in the hope that one of them has a password such as “password123” or something similar. 

Threat actors who use this form of attack know that they could easily be locked out due to too many attempts, so they let a certain period pass between each “spraying.” In that way, hackers are playing the long game and patiently waiting to come across an account with a weak password. 

If they manage to breach at least one device successfully, it can later be utilized for further penetration of the entire network

How These Attacks Work 

Typically, a password spraying attack is executed in three steps. The first step is acquiring the usernames of the organization that will be hacked. These lists can be bought on the dark web, or the attackers can come up with potential usernames on their own. 

The method is not that challenging because most companies let their employees use their first and last names for their email usernames, and some of them can be found on the websites of those companies. Therefore, the attackers can just add a company’s email domain and check if the usernames are active. 

Furthermore, finding a list of common passwords is even easier - hackers are one Google search away from the most commonly used ones. In some cases, they can add region-specific passwords, such as ChicagoBulls123, for those who live in the Chicago area. 

Finally, even if only one user falls prey to this attack, their access can be used to penetrate the network on a deeper level, steal data, or simply sabotage the company’s operations.

Password Spraying Attacks vs. Traditional Brute Force Attacks

There are several password-based attacks that can be used to compromise the data of individuals and even entire businesses, and they can often be referred to interchangeably. Even though a password spraying attack is a variant of a traditional brute force attack, they’re not the same. So, let’s dive in and learn the difference between the two.

The key difference lies in the approach. Password spraying uses only one password at a time to try and crack at least one password from a pool of usernames. On the other hand, black hat hackers who rely on brute force attacks use hundreds of passwords in an effort to crack one device. Besides, with password spraying, only simple passwords are chosen, whereas attackers may use more complex passwords for brute force attacks. 

Warning Signs

Many cyber attacks were successful simply because the victims had no idea what was happening, as there were no signs that could help them detect an attack that was well underway. Luckily, you can detect this type of password attack by looking out for one of these warning signs. Pay close attention to these situations if you suspect you might have been exposed to a password spraying attack. 

The targeted organizations might notice a higher number of failed logins since this password attack may be used against dozens of emails within that business. When companies notice such an occurrence, certain measures need to be taken immediately. 

Similarly, if an administrator notices login attempts made with credentials from previous employees or email addresses that are no longer in use, they should alert other team members that a password spraying attack could be taking place. This happens due to the inaccurate lists that hackers use for the attack. 

Moreover, if you see many locked accounts within your team, this may happen because of unsuccessful password spraying attacks. If there were many failed login attempts, the system might have simply locked the account temporarily.

Prevention Strategies 

Now that we covered the definition of a password spray attack and we know how to recognize it, let's see what measures companies are taking to prevent such incidents from occurring in the first place. 

Enforcing Strong Passwords 

In a world where technology is changing rapidly, in both good and bad ways, companies must be careful lest their business operations be jeopardized via technology. They can protect sensitive data and the accounts of their staff by assigning complex passwords which are hard to guess or crack by any available means. 

Strong passwords should include lowercase and uppercase letters and symbols, and they should be as long as possible. The same password should never be used for two accounts and should be changed regularly. 

Setting Up Login Detection 

IT professionals often set up login attempt detection, which can help determine if there have been attempts to log in to multiple accounts from a single host. If it shows that there have been many login attempts from one host in a short period, it’s an indication that a password spraying attack could be taking place. 

Improving Lockout Policies 

Lockout policies at the domain level should be fine-tuned to stop attackers from making many login attempts but also avoid account lockouts of genuine users. 

Multifactor Authentication 

Multifactor authentication must be turned on on all devices as it’s probably the best defense against password spraying attacks

This way, even if you happen to have a simple password and hackers match it with your email address and try to log in, they won’t be able to gain unauthorized access to your account. Specifically, they will either be required to enter the code you got on your phone or face another form of verification. Nowadays, most websites such as social media platforms offer two-factor authentication.

Passwordless Authentication 

In order to entirely eliminate the possibility of falling victim to password spraying attacks, you can say goodbye to passwords for good and embrace passwordless authentication. Companies implement such authentication by including voice-activated or biometric access, so there’s no need for regular passwords at all. 

Final Thoughts 

Password spraying attacks are just one of the weapons in the large arsenal bad actors have at their disposal. Now that we understand how it works and how to recognize it, we should focus on creating strong passwords and, should anything look suspicious, change them immediately. Moreover, enabling multifactor authentication can work wonders when it comes to guarding against even the nastiest of password spraying campaigns.

What are the 3 main types of password attacks?

Some of the most common password attacks, other than password spraying attacks, are dictionary attacks, credential stuffing, and keyloggers. 

How is password spraying done?

The attacker first selects a common password that they’ll use for password spraying. After that, they procure a list of email usernames that could match this password. The process is repeated until the password and username match.


What 3 things make a strong password?

A strong password must be long enough and contain lowercase and uppercase letters, symbols, and numbers. Importantly, these should be selected completely randomly. You should avoid using words from popular culture or anything that can be tied to you. Another great strategy is to avoid dictionary words.


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