Cyber threats and understanding the nuances of different attack techniques are crucial to fortifying your organization’s security. Password spraying is a form of brute force attack that makes use of the common usage of weak and simple-to-guess passwords to pose a threat. We explore the complexities of password spraying attacks, their possible effects on businesses, and most importantly how to prevent them in this blog.
What is Password Spraying?
A password spraying attack is a systematic and persistent attempt to gain unauthorized access to multiple user accounts by trying a limited number of common or default passwords across a large number of accounts. Unlike traditional brute force attacks, where attackers try numerous passwords against a single account, password spraying involves trying a few passwords across many accounts. This method is often successful because it exploits the fact that many users still use easily predictable passwords like “password” or “123456.”
One distinctive feature of password spraying is its ability to target thousands or even millions of users simultaneously, often in an automated manner. This enables cybercriminals to evade account lockout mechanisms that would typically trigger after multiple failed login attempts on a single account.
Password spraying attacks are not confined to specific industries or organizations. So, top security companies in dubai they can target any entity that utilizes weak passwords, especially those with single sign-on (SSO) or cloud-based platforms. Even state-sponsored cyber actors have employed password spraying as part of their toolkit, as evidenced by a 2022 alert from the US Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
How Does a Password Spraying Attack Work?
Password spraying attacks typically follow a structured approach, comprising several stages:
Step 1: Obtaining a List of Usernames
Cybercriminals initiate password-spraying attacks by acquiring a list of usernames. These lists can be purchased from dark web sources, where stolen credentials from various breaches are readily available. Alternatively, attackers may create their lists by adopting common email address formats or gathering employee information from public sources like LinkedIn. Targeted approaches may focus on specific employee groups, such as finance or administrators.
Step 2: Compiling a List of Common Passwords
To increase their chances of success, attackers utilize lists of common or default passwords. These lists can be easily sourced from various reports and studies that regularly publish the most common passwords. Some attackers also conduct custom research to guess passwords, leveraging information related to sports teams or landmarks near the targeted organization.
Step 3: Trying Different Username/Password Combinations
With a list of usernames and passwords at their disposal, attackers systematically attempt different combinations to find one that works. Automation plays a significant role in this stage, as attackers use password-spraying tools to speed up the process. They often use a single password for multiple usernames before moving on to the next password to avoid account lockouts and IP address blocks.
Impact of Password Spraying Attacks
When an attacker successfully gains access to an account through a password-spraying attack, they often seek to exploit the compromised account for various malicious purposes. This can lead to significant damage to the targeted organization:
- Financial Consequences: Attackers can use seemingly legitimate credentials to access financial accounts and engage in fraudulent activities, potentially causing financial losses for the organization.
- Operational Disruption: Malicious emails sent from compromised accounts can disrupt daily operations, reduce productivity, and damage a company’s reputation.
- Reputational Damage: A security breach resulting from a password spraying attack can erode trust among customers, leading them to seek services elsewhere.
Password Spraying vs. Brute Force
It’s essential to distinguish between password spraying and traditional brute force attacks. Password spraying attempts to access multiple accounts with a limited set of common passwords, employing many usernames for one password. In contrast, brute force attacks involve using numerous passwords for a single username. These are two distinct approaches to authentication attacks, each with its unique characteristics.
Signs of a Password Spraying Attack
Detecting a password-spraying attack is crucial for a timely response. Key indicators of a password spraying attack include:
- High Volume of Login Activity: A sudden surge in login attempts across multiple accounts within a short period is a strong signal of a password spraying attempt.
- Increased Failed Login Attempts: A notable increase in failed login attempts by active users is a clear sign of ongoing password spraying activity.
- Logins from Non-existent or Inactive Accounts: Suspicious logins from accounts that shouldn’t be active or that don’t exist in your organization’s records should raise alarms.
How to Defend Against Password Spraying Attacks?
Mitigating the risk of password-spraying attacks requires a proactive approach to security. Here are key measures to defend against such attacks:
Implement a Strong Password Policy
Enforce a policy that encourages the use of strong and complex passwords, reducing the likelihood of successful password spraying.
Set Up Login Detection
Implement detection mechanisms to identify login attempts to multiple accounts from a single host within a short time frame, a telltale sign of password spraying.
Ensure Strong Lockout Policies
Set appropriate thresholds for lockout policies at the domain level, balancing security with usability. Establish clear procedures for unlocking and resetting verified accounts.
Adopt a Zero Trust Approach
Embrace the zero trust model, which limits access to only what’s necessary at any given time, enhancing network security.
Use Non-Standard Usernames
Avoid using common username conventions for accounts other than email. Unique login identifiers for single sign-on accounts can thwart attackers.
Some organizations deploy biometric authentication to strengthen security by relying on unique physical characteristics, making it difficult for attackers to impersonate users.
Monitor for Suspicious Patterns
Deploy security measures that quickly identify unusual login patterns, such as simultaneous login attempts from a large number of accounts.
Use a Password Manager
For individual users, employing a password manager like Kaspersky Password Manager can simplify password management, generate complex and unique passwords, and eliminate the risk of password repetition across different services.
Password spraying attacks remain a potent tool in the arsenal of cybercriminals. By understanding the intricacies of these attacks and implementing robust security measures, organizations can significantly reduce their vulnerability to this threat, safeguarding their assets and reputation from potential harm.