Simple passwords easier to hack: experts

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Re: Simple Password

WASHINGTON - Simple and easy-to-remember passwords such as “123456″ or “iloveu” can allow hackers easy access to the secured zones of internet users, experts warn.

According to a new analysis, one out of five web users still choose a simple, easily guessed password like “abc123″, “iloveyou” or even “password” to protect their data.

“I guess it’s just a genetic flaw in humans,” said Amichai Shulman, chief technology officer at Imperva, which makes software for blocking hackers. “We’ve been following the same patterns since the 1990s.”

Shulman and his company examined a list of 32 million passwords that an unknown hacker stole last month from RockYou, which develops software for users of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

The list was posted on the web, and RockYou advised its customers to change their passwords, as the hackers gained information about their e-mail accounts.

Imperva found that nearly one percent of the 32 million people it studied had used “123456″ as a password. The second-most-popular password was “12345″. Others in the top 20 included “qwerty”, “abc123″ and “princess”, The New York Times reported.

More disturbing, Shulman said, was that about 20 percent of people on the RockYou list picked from the same, relatively small pool of 5,000 passwords.

That suggests that hackers could easily break into many accounts just by trying the most common passwords. Because of the prevalence of fast computers and speedy networks, hackers can fire off thousands of password guesses per minute.

“We tend to think of password guessing as a very time-consuming attack in which I take each account and try a large number of name-and-password combinations,” Shulman said. “The reality is that you can be very effective by choosing a small number of common passwords.”

Researchers say social networking and entertainment websites often try to make life simpler for their users and are reluctant to put too many controls in place.

Overusing simple passwords is not a new phenomenon. A similar survey examined computer passwords used in the mid-1990s and found that the most popular ones at that time were “12345″, “abc123″ and “password”.

Software experts, however, cite overworking brain in the digital age as a reason behind the overuse of such passwords.

“Nowadays, we have to keep probably 10 times as many passwords in our head as we did 10 years ago,” said Jeff Moss, who founded a popular hacking conference and is now on the Homeland Security Advisory Council. “Voice mail passwords, ATM PINs and Internet passwords - its so hard to keep track of.”

The experts suggest that everyone choose at least two different passwords - a complex one for websites where security is vital, such as banks and e-mail, and a simpler one for places where the stakes are lower, such as social networking and entertainment sites.

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