Passwords are one of the most widely used authentication techniques. Attackers find this an easy entry point as many enterprise professionals and users do not follow strong password best practices. According to Verizon's Data Breach Investigation Report, weak passwords cause 81 percent of all data breaches.
Password spraying is a common attack technique that tries to guess the users' login credentials to bypass their accounts. According to Google's report, 45 percent of US consumers only change their passwords after a data breach.
This article will provide a glimpse into password spraying, how it works, and ways to detect and prevent it.
What is password spraying?
Password spraying is a type of password-based attack that falls under brute force. As the name suggests, it will spray a combination of usernames and common passwords to the authentication server so that the automated system unlocks the account. In this attempt, the threat actor attempts the same password on several victim accounts before shifting to another victim and repeating the process. Attackers leverage predictable passwords to conduct password spraying.
Password spraying attacks have become common at enterprises where employee usernames are easy to guess (first_name.last_name@company_Name.com). Attackers also target enterprises that use Single Sign-On (SSO) as an authentication technique. After compromising an email through password spraying, they move to other accounts through SSO, gaining access to highly-sensitive data and intellectual property (IP). Attackers also buy possible passwords from the dark web and other forums.
How does a Password Spraying attack work?
Cybercriminals are experienced investigators, often conducting extensive research prior to launching a targeted password-spraying attack. Attackers tend to prefer organizations with easily guessable usernames as targets for their malicious activity. `They also tap into other sources like the dark web and hackers' forums, where they get tons of datasets of known passwords or compromised ones downloadable for a fee or free. Modern attackers are clever and use sophisticated tools. This way, they do not get blocked for spamming the authentication server with accounts that don't exist. Once they spray the passwords using brute forcing tools, they follow these steps:
Feeding a list of all usernames with one password into the program.
If they cannot access an account with the password, they will move to the subsequent password (from the list).
Modern tools will automatically pick and try one password on all accounts.
Using this approach, attackers ensure they do not get blocked by servers. Once they find a compromised account, they try to access and change the password or move stealthily to other interconnected accounts and profiles to steal sensitive data, change enterprise system access permissions, or weaken the organization's security measures.
Detecting password-spraying attacks
All attack techniques follow a certain pattern. Learning to identify these patterns can help protect organizations against password spraying.
Professionals or users will receive multiple failed login attempts of valid accounts. In such a situation, individuals should remain vigilant and set more authentication factors into their accounts.
The victim might receive multiple OTPs or magic links if they enable MFA.
Enterprises can implement web monitoring services to monitor enterprise emails and employees' login credentials and notify employees and the IT team if any credentials get breached.
Ways to prevent password spraying attacks
There are several ways companies and individuals can prevent password spraying attacks.
Passwordless authentication techniques (magic links, biometric authentication, or hardware token-based authentication) can protect employees from password spraying. You are not susceptible to password-based attacks if you are not using passwords.
or multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a good practice. MFA will verify users' identities through additional authentication means like OTP, magic links, third-party authentication software, or biometrics.
Enterprises must implement a zero-trust framework. Through this model, enterprises can enforce regular employee verification. Also, keeping logs of entry/exit and notifying the user and security professionals through monitoring tools is an excellent practice to prevent password spraying.
Educate employees not to use the same passwords on different platforms. Also, tell them the pros and cons of using Single Sign On (SSO) authentication techniques. It is also important to ensure employees are changing default passwords as soon as possible.
Enterprises can also leverage IAM solutions that use adaptive authentication techniques. Through adaptive or risk-based authentication review, the safety system will provide additional security checks if the user logs into the account from a different IP address, web browser, or computer.
CAPTCHA is another effective way to prevent bot-based password spraying and automatic logins.
The danger of password spraying is reaching new heights with technological advances and the availability of password-cracking tools. Understanding password spraying attacks, their identification patterns, and prevention measures is essential. It is also important that organizations educate their employees about these threats and mandate strong passwords for all accounts. Individuals can protect themselves from these types of attacks by being vigilant and taking necessary precautions.