What is Password Cracking? All You Need to Know (2023)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is Password Cracking? All You Need to Know (2023)

What is Password Cracking?

Imagine the power to access any online account without permission, unlocking the secrets within. This power exists in the form of password cracking, a technique that has both legitimate and malicious applications.

In today’s digital age, understanding password cracking is crucial to secure your online presence and protecting sensitive information. Let’s get started!


  • Password cracking is a process used to recover or guess passwords, often employed by cybercriminals for unauthorized access.

  • Techniques include brute force, dictionary attacks, and rainbow table attacks, exploiting weak password choices.

  • Strong, unique passwords and multi-factor authentication are key defenses against password cracking.

Don’t become a victim of cybercrime. Protect your devices with the best antivirus software and your privacy with the best VPN service.

Defining Password Cracking

Password cracking is a technique used to recover passwords. It is done by extracting stored passwords or those being transmitted over a network. It serves as a means to gain unauthorized access to computer systems or networks, bypassing security measures. Password crackers employ a myriad of techniques, such as guessing, using automated toolsets, or understanding password complexity to crack passwords and infiltrate systems.

To protect yourself from password cracking, adopting good security practices is essential. Using password management tools, staying vigilant against memory-scraping malware, and never storing unencrypted or weakly-encrypted passwords on servers are some steps you can take to enhance your password security.

The Evolution of Passwords

Passwords were initially introduced as a means of role-based access control, granting authorized individuals access to resources. Yet, their effectiveness relies solely on the confidentiality maintained by the password holder. Over time, passwords have become the weak link in identity security, leading to a continuous search for more secure authentication methods.

As technology evolves and the number of passwords in use increases, the future of password security remains uncertain. For years, predictions of a passwordless future have circulated, but so far, passwords continue to be a dominant authentication method.

The Psychology Behind Password Hacking

Hackers target passwords driven by various motives, such as financial gain, power, control, revenge, or the need to expose system vulnerabilities. Password hacking can result in significant consequences, with password attacks being one of the most widespread forms of corporate and personal data breaches.

Understanding the psychology behind password hacking is essential in protecting oneself from potential threats. By being aware of hackers’ motivations, individuals and organizations can better anticipate and defend against potential password attacks.

Types of Password Cracking Techniques

Let’s explore different password cracking techniques, including brute force attacks, dictionary attacks, and rainbow table attacks, which aim to decipher or guess passwords for unauthorized access to systems or networks.

Brute force attacks involve trying every possible combination of characters until the correct password is found. Dictionary attacks use a list of words to try and guess the password. Rainbow table attacks use pre-computed hashes to try and guess the password.

Brute Force Attacks

A brute force attack is a methodical approach where an attacker tries every possible character combination until the correct password is identified. Although it is the least effective way of password cracking, automated password cracking tools can increase the success rate of these attacks.

Recent findings suggest that passwords with lowercase and uppercase letters can be cracked in about 22 minutes, while complex passwords may take up to 8 hours to crack using brute force attacks.

Dictionary Attacks

In contrast to brute force attacks, dictionary attacks focus on guessing passwords using precompiled lists of common words and phrases, significantly reducing the number of potential passwords to try. This technique is more efficient because it narrows down the possibilities based on frequently used passwords or easily guessed phrases from dictionaries.

The downside of using complex passwords is that people often choose predictable patterns, such as adding symbols and numbers to a base word. This predictability makes it easier for password crackers to guess the correct password using dictionary attacks.

Rainbow Table Attacks

Rainbow table attacks involve the use of pre-generated tables of hash values to quickly identify plaintext passwords. Attackers can look up the plaintext password for a given hash using these tables, allowing them to crack passwords more efficiently than brute force or dictionary attacks.

To defend against rainbow table attacks, employing large salts and key stretching can increase the hashing time and limit the number of attempts an attacker can make in a given period. This makes it more difficult for attackers to generate tables for all salts and successfully crack hashed passwords.

Popular Password Cracking Tools

There are numerous password cracking tools available, each with its own set of features and capabilities. Hashcat, a free and open-source password cracking tool, offers various techniques ranging from basic brute force attacks to more advanced hybrid mask attacks with wordlists.

John the Ripper is a well-known password cracking tool. It is free and open-source with a command-line interface. It can handle a wide range of cipher and hash types and even has a Pro version with additional features and native packages for supported operating systems.

Social Engineering and Human-Based Attacks

In addition to technical methods, password cracking can involve social engineering attacks that gather information about the target to make educated guesses about their passwords. These attacks include phishing, where malicious emails containing links or attachments install malware on the victim’s device, and vishing, where attackers call victims to obtain passwords or other sensitive information.

A successful social engineering attack can have severe consequences. In 2019, hackers utilized AI and voice technology to emulate a business owner’s voice. This clever maneuver was successful in fooling the CEO into transferring $243,000. End-user training is crucial to avoiding such attacks, as users need to stay alert and verify the authenticity of requests for personal information.

Securing Passwords: Best Practices and Recommendations

To protect against password cracking attempts, creating strong passwords is a must. A combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols increases password complexity and makes it more difficult for attackers to guess. Password managers, such as NordPass, play a vital role in maintaining password security by automating the storage and management of your credentials while ensuring adherence to best practices. These tools can generate strong passwords and autofill credentials during login, minimizing human error and enhancing security.

Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of protection by requiring users to provide multiple forms of identification before accessing an account. Combining MFA with strong password policies and privileged password management solutions like BeyondTrust Privileged Password Management can further secure sensitive information and reduce the risk of unauthorized access.

Legal Considerations of Password Cracking

The legality of password cracking depends on the circumstances and local laws. Generally, cracking passwords is considered legal if the data belongs to the person performing the cracking or if they have permission to access the data. However, password cracking becomes illegal when it involves hacking or unauthorized access to someone else’s information.

For example, it is legal to crack a password to reset it when forgotten, but it is illegal to gain access to someone else’s data without permission. Understanding the legal implications of password cracking is essential for avoiding potential legal issues and ensuring ethical behavior in online security practices.

Detecting and Preventing Password Cracking Attacks

Monitoring failed login attempts and unusual login behavior can help detect potential password cracking attacks. Implementing security measures, such as two-factor authentication and strong password policies, can further protect your accounts from unauthorized access.

BeyondTrust Privileged Password Management is an example of a solution that can secure human and machine credentials while monitoring and managing privileged sessions. By using such tools and staying vigilant, you can minimize the risk of password cracking attacks and keep your sensitive information safe.

Case Studies: Real-Life Examples of Password Cracking Incidents

Real-life examples of password cracking incidents highlight the impact and consequences of successful attacks. The Yahoo data breach, for instance, saw hackers gain access to the personal information of over 3 billion users, including names, email addresses, phone numbers, and passwords.

Other notable incidents include the LinkedIn data breach, where hackers accessed the personal information of over 117 million users, the Dunkin’ Donuts digital customer accounts hack, affecting over 20 million customers, and the eBay data breach, compromising the information of more than 145 million users.

These case studies emphasize the importance of understanding password cracking and implementing strong security measures to protect your online presence.


Password cracking is an ever-evolving field, with hackers employing various techniques to gain unauthorized access to computer systems and networks. By understanding the different methods, tools, and psychological factors involved in password cracking, individuals and organizations can better protect their sensitive information and online presence.

In today’s digital world, securing your passwords is more important than ever. Implementing best practices, using password managers, and staying vigilant against social engineering attacks can help ensure your online security. As we continue to rely on passwords for authentication, it is crucial to remain informed and proactive in the fight against password cracking. Stay safe out there!

How to stay safe online:

  • Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
  • Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
  • Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.

Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is the meaning of password cracking?

Password cracking is a hacker tactic where they try to gain access to an account by guessing or cracking the user’s password. It typically involves using automated software tools to generate hundreds of potential passwords and matching them against the encrypted passwords stored in a user’s profile. By cracking the right combination of characters, a hacker can gain access to sensitive accounts and information.

What are common password cracking methods?

Password cracking methods can include brute force attacks, dictionary attacks, and rainbow table attacks. Brute force attacks involve trying every possible combination of characters. Dictionary attacks use words found in a dictionary as potential passwords. Rainbow table attacks use pre-calculated hashes from many commonly used passwords.

Protect yourself by creating secure passwords with these types of attacks in mind.

Why do people crack passwords?

People crack passwords for a variety of reasons, such as to gain access to sensitive information or to take control of someone else’s account. Unfortunately, some malicious users take advantage of weak passwords and exploit their vulnerabilities to steal data or commit fraud.

So, it’s important to make sure passwords are secure and updated frequently to prevent hackers from accessing confidential information.

How easy it is to crack a password?

Making a secure password is not as hard as you might think. With some effort, your passwords can be extremely hard to crack. A mix of upper and lower-case characters, numbers, and symbols makes it almost impossible for anyone to guess or brute-force your password.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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