'Andyhave3cats' is a better password than 'Shehave3cats,' study finds
Carnegie Mellon University researchers find that certain grammar use can make passwords easy to crack, no matter the length or use of numbers, symbols
Computerworld - Using a long phrase or a short sentence as a password may not be as secure as some security experts think.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Institute for Software Research have found that long passwords that incorporate grammar -- good or bad -- are easier to crack than short passwords without structure.
The research team tested more than 1,400 passwords containing 16 or more characters against a grammar-aware password-cracking algorithm and found that grammatical structure can undermine security.
Ashwini Rao, a Carnegie Mellon software engineering doctoral student and the lead researcher on the project, said that while phrases and sentences can make passwords easier to remember, their grammatical structure significantly narrows the possible word combinations and sequences that hackers -- and their tools -- need to guess.
"We should not blindly rely on the number of words or characters in a password as a measure of its security," said Rao who is scheduled to present the findings of the study on Feb. 20 at the Association for Computing Machinery's Conference on Data and Application Security.
"I've seen password policies that say, 'Use five words,'" Rao said in a statement. "If four of those words are pronouns, they don't add much security."
The passwords used in the study were gleaned from a previously published research paper on password strengths that was presented at an IEEE security conference last year.
About 18% of the passwords had defined grammatical structures in a sequence of two or more dictionary words, Rao said.
Some of the passwords were simple, some contained letter substitutions (such as a "3" for "e") while others tacked on an extra symbol or number. Examples include "abiggerbetterpassword," "thereisnomorered0ts" and "longestpasswordever8."
Several of the passwords also contained other types of structures, such as email addresses, URLs and postal addresses.
The research team developed what it described as a proof-of-concept grammar-aware password-cracking tool to test how long it would take to crack such passwords. The tool used a dictionary for each part of speech and identified a set of grammatical sequences such as "determiner-adjective-noun" that might be used to create a password.
The research team discovered that the strength of a password often has little to do with its length. In fact, the team found that two passwords of identical lengths can differ in strength by orders of magnitude depending on the use grammar.
According to the researchers, the tool evaluates different parts of speech are be used to construct a grammatically correct sentence or phrase.
For instance, pronouns are used less than verbs, which are used less than adjectives which are in turn used less than nouns, the researchers noted in the paper. So a passphrase like "Andyhave3cats" will always be stronger than "Shehave3cats", because the use of a pronoun in the latter passphrase allows it to be broken with a fewer number of guesses, the team noted.
- Researcher claims two hacker gangs exploiting unpatched IE bug
- Update: Third of Internet Explorer users at risk from attacks
- Microsoft plans another short patch slate for next week, but finds a few XP bugs to crush
- Target attack shows danger of remotely accessible HVAC systems
- Target hackers try new ways to use stolen card data
- Update: Microsoft to patch just-revealed Windows zero-day tomorrow
- NSA spying prompts open TrueCrypt encryption software audit to go viral
- Microsoft warns of Office zero-day, active hacker exploits
- Hackers move to create next Blackhole after 'Paunch' arrest
- Adobe hack shows subscription software vendors lucrative targets
- Best iPhone, iPad Business Apps for 2014
- 14 Tech Conventions You Should Attend in 2014
- 10 Desktop Apps to Power Your Windows PC
- How to Add New Job Skills Without Going Back to School
- Slideshow: 7 security mistakes people make with their mobile device
- iOS vs. Android: Which is more secure?
- 11 sure signs you've been hacked
- The 12 PCI DSS 3.0 requirements addressed by Peer 1 Hosting This handy quick reference outlines the 12 PCI DSS 3.0 requirements, who needs to be compliant and how Alert Logic solutions address the...
- Defense Throughout the Vulnerability Life Cycle This whitepaper provides insight into how to leverage threat and log management technologies to protect your IT assets throughout their vulnerability life cycle.
- Mobile Policy Checklist Here's what to consider when putting together a mobile policy designed to support a highly productive workforce.
- Securing BYOD Mobile computing is becoming so ubiquitous that people no longer bat an eye seeing someone working two devices simultaneously. Individuals and organizations are...
- Live Webcast On-demand webinar: "Mobility Mayhem: Balancing BYOD with Enterprise Security" Check out this on-demand webinar to hear Sophos senior security expert John Shier deep dive into how BYOD impacts your enterprise security strategy...
- Live Webcast Endpoint Backup & Restore: Protect Everyone, Everywhere Arek Sokol from the bleeding-edge IT team at Genentech/Roche explains how he leverages cross-platform enterprise endpoint backup in the public cloud as part...
- Streamline Software Asset Management, Compose a software Management Symphony Keeping track of your organization's software is easy with effective software management solutions from CDW. View the videos in our software solutions channel
- Druva inSync: Endpoint Data Protection & Governance CLICK HERE to watch this video about protecting corporate data on laptops and mobile devices, sponsored by Druva. All Security White Papers | Webcasts