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Gawker hack analysis reveals weak passwords

Gregg Keizer | Dec. 14, 2010
Brute-force work by Michigan firm decrypts 200,000 Gawker account passwords in under an hour

FRAMINGHAM 14 DECEMBER 2010 - The most popular password among nearly 400,000 exposed by the Gawker hack was "12345," according to an analysis done by a security firm.

In second place was the word "password" itself.

The most common passwords were uncovered by Duo Security, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based two-factor authentication provider, after running John the Ripper (JtR), a password hash cracking tool, on the list of Gawker user passwords posted on the Web over the weekend.

On Sunday, Gawker, which operates several popular technology sites, including Gizmodo and Lifehacker, confirmed that its servers had been hacked, and that hundreds of thousands of registered users' e-mail addresses usernames and passwords had been accessed. A group calling itself "Gnosis" claimed credit for the attack and said it had pilfered more than 1.3 million accounts.

The top 25 passwords as ranked by Duo ranged from the absurdly easy-to-guess to the unintentionally hilarious, with "12345678" in third place, "monkey" in seventh, "letmein" in 10th, and "trustno1" -- a reference to the "Trust No One" expression popularized by the TV series The X-Files -- in 13th.

Using an eight-core Xeon-powered system, Duo Security brute-forced 400,000 password hashes of the 1.3 million stolen from Gawker, cracking the first 200,000 in under an hour.

That didn't come as a surprise to HD Moore, chief security officer at Rapid7.

"The DES crypt hash can be broken with ridiculous ease," said Moore in an e-mail reply to questions late Monday about the strength of the encryption used by Gawker to safeguard its users' passwords. "John the Ripper, along with most other tools, are well equipped to brute-force these."

Moore pointed out that the 56-bit DES (Data Encryption Standard) encryption used by Gawker had been broken more than a decade ago, when the Deep Crack machine built by the Electronic Frontier Foundation won a 1998 contest sponsored by RSA by breaking a DES key in just 56 hours. Six months later, EFF and collaborated to lower that time to just over 22 hours.

"These days, [graphics processor unit]-based cracking makes this even easier," noted Moore.

Duo Security uncovered other interesting tidbits during its analysis, including the fact that nearly all of the cracked passwords -- 99.45% -- were composed of alphanumeric characters only and did not contain any special characters or symbols.

Users are often urged to use special characters, such as the percent sign or ampersand symbol, and some enterprises require their employees to use the characters in self-set passwords.


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