Unveiling Common Password Mistakes and Cybersecurity Strategies
Our brains are incredibly adept at pattern recognition – a phenomenon that explains why we see animals in cloud formations and recall entire songs from a single lyric. When it comes to creating passwords, individuals naturally gravitate towards patterns and systems that are satisfying and easy to remember.
However, this inclination can sometimes lead users to bypass an organization’s password policies. Cyber attackers are keenly aware of this human tendency and employ strategies to exploit the mistakes made by end-users, and the password policies that inadvertently enable these mistakes.
In this article, we will delve into the critical art of penetration testing, explore how hackers leverage common password mistakes, and discuss ways organizations can strengthen their security measures, particularly in Active Directory environments.
Common Password Mistakes Exploited by Attackers
1. Common ‘Base’ Terms
End-users often begin creating passwords with a base word, which is rarely random and usually has personal relevance. They may incrementally modify this base word during resets or password changes to bypass default password history and complexity settings.
Common alterations include capitalizing the first letter and adding a special character at the end. Attackers capitalize on this by conducting dictionary attacks, where predefined lists of weak base terms and their common modifications are used to guess passwords.
The 2023 Specops Weak Password Report analyzed 4.6 million passwords, revealing that the most common base term was ‘password.’ Other frequently used base terms included ‘admin’ and ‘welcome.’ Attackers also exploit information available on social media platforms to target individuals effectively.
2. Short Password Length
Short passwords provide attackers with a broad range of potential variations to exploit through brute force techniques. Brute force attacks involve rapid iteration and endless login attempts until the correct password is identified. These attacks are particularly effective when targeting short passwords, especially those derived from common base terms found in dictionary lists, known as hybrid attacks.
Specops research showed that 88% of passwords used in live attacks against RDP ports had a length of 12 characters or less. Many organizations enforce even shorter password lengths of eight characters in their Active Directory settings. Users typically opt for shorter passwords when given the choice.
3. Keyboard Walk Patterns
Passwords inspired by keyboard layouts, while appearing complex, can be predictable. For instance, ‘P)o9I*u7Y^’ may seem intricate, but the characters are conveniently arranged in a ‘keyboard walk’ pattern, making them easy to remember. Attackers are aware of users’ tendencies to select such patterns and include them in lists of high-probability passwords for dictionary attacks.
In a study, the Specops team analyzed over 800 million passwords and identified the prevalence of patterns such as ‘qwerty,’ which was found over 1 million times.
4. Password Reuse
Even strong passwords can become compromised, especially if users reuse them across various applications and devices. This practice poses a significant risk, as a stolen password from one site can be exploited elsewhere. Google reports that 65% of people reuse passwords, making them prime targets for cybercriminals who aim to steal credential information for various purposes.
Surprisingly, 83% of compromised passwords meet the length and complexity requirements of regulatory standards, as revealed by Specops research. This underscores the importance of detecting compromised passwords through Active Directory audits, especially when users reuse strong work passwords on less secure personal sites or applications.
Mitigating Risks and Preventing User Mistakes
Addressing password-related risks requires a two-pronged approach. First, organizations must establish an effective password policy that ensures users create strong passwords, thereby mitigating risks associated with common base terms, short password lengths, and keyboard walk patterns. Additionally, a tool that can scan Active Directory for compromised passwords is essential to detect and promptly change any strong passwords that become compromised due to internal or external breaches or password reuse.
In conclusion, understanding the nuances of penetration testing and the mistakes commonly made by users in password creation is essential for bolstering cybersecurity defenses. By recognizing these vulnerabilities and implementing strong password policies, organizations can significantly reduce the risks associated with password-related breaches and fortify their digital environments against cyber threats.
How a DPO can help
Your appointed DPO can work with you on your PDPA compliance, ensuring that there will be policies in place to make sure that the handling of personal data is PDPA compliant.
A Data Protection Officer (DPO) oversees data protection responsibilities and ensures that organisations comply with the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA). Furthermore, every Organization’s DPO should be able to curb any instances of PDPA noncompliance as it is the officer responsible for maintaining the positive posture of an organisation’s cybersecurity.
DPOs complement organisations’ efforts to ensure that the organisation’s methods of collecting personal data comply with the PDPA. It also ensures that policies are set in place to make sure that there will be no instances of data breaches in the future.
Don’t wait any longer to ensure your organisation is PDPA compliant. Take our free 3-minute PDPA Compliance Self-audit checklist now, the same “secret weapon” used by our clients to keep them on track. Upon completion, we will send you the results so you can take the necessary action to protect your customers’ data. Complete the free assessment checklist today and take the first step towards protecting your customers’ personal data.