To create a strong password, you must create something highly resistant to password cracking. But most people aren’t aware of the various techniques hackers use to compromise digital accounts.

We’ll review six of the most popular techniques to crack passwords. Also, you will learn some of the best ways to protect your accounts from these common strategies.

The 6 Most Common Password Cracking Techniques

1. Guessing

When you think about how hackers steal passwords, you might imagine them using bots to enter thousands of characters until they hit the right combination. While this technique still exists, it’s relatively inefficient and difficult to execute since most websites place limits on consecutive login attempts.

The more complex your password is, the less likely someone will randomly guess it. As long as you use a strong password, it’s difficult for anyone to access your accounts by guessing.

According to NordPass, the five most common passwords are:

  • 123456
  • 123456789
  • 12345
  • Qwerty (the first six keys on the top left keyboard row)
  • password

The main reason guessing is still a viable tactic is that so many people continue to use predictable passwords. If you’re having trouble remembering complex passwords, use a password manager that can generate and store strong ones.

2. Data breaches

Websites and applications store hashed and encrypted bits of your password to authenticate your account when you log in correctly. If a data breach hits a platform you use, your password could be available on the dark web.

As a general user, it may seem like you can do nothing to prevent a data breach. However, some cybersecurity providers now offer monitoring services that notify you when any of your passwords are compromised.

Even if you aren’t aware of any data breaches, you should change passwords every 90 days to prevent stale passwords from being captured and used.

In general, websites and applications store your passwords in hashed or encrypted form. Hashing is a kind of encoding that only works in one direction. You enter your password, which is hashed and compared to the hash associated with your account.

Despite hashing only working one way, hashes contain signs or clues about the passwords that produced them. Rainbow tables are datasets that help hackers identify potential passwords based on the corresponding hash.

Rainbow tables enable hackers to crack hashed passwords in a fraction of the time it would take without these datasets. While a complex password is more difficult to crack, it’s still only a matter of time for a skilled hacker.

Persistent dark web monitoring is the best way to get in front of a data breach so that you can change your password before it’s cracked. You can get dark web monitoring from top password managers.

3. Spidering

Even if your password is resistant to totally random guesses, it may not offer as much protection against spidering, which is gathering information and making an “educated” guess.

Spidering is usually associated with companies rather than personal accounts. Corporations use passwords that relate to their brand, making them easier to guess. A hacker could use a combination of publicly available information and internal documents, such as employee handbooks, with details about their security practices.

Though spidering attempts against individuals are less common, avoiding passwords related to your personal life is still a good idea. Anyone with commonly used information such as birthdays, kids’ names, and pets’ names could guess using that information.

4. Phishing

Phishing is when hackers pose as legitimate websites to trick people into sending their login credentials. Internet users get better at recognizing phishing attempts over time, but hackers are also developing more sophisticated techniques to continue cracking passwords.

Like data breaches, phishing works just as well against strong passwords as against weak ones. On top of creating strong passwords, you also need to follow some other best practices to block phishing attempts.

First, make sure you understand the telltale signs of phishing. For example, hackers often send extremely urgent emails to cause the recipient to panic. Some hackers even pose as friends, coworkers, or acquaintances to gain the target’s trust.

Second, don’t fall for the most common phishing traps. A reputable website never asks you to send a password, authentication code, or other sensitive information through email or short message service (SMS). If you need to check your account, manually enter the URL in your browser instead of clicking on any links.

Finally, turn on two-factor authentication (2FA) on as many of your accounts as possible. With 2FA, a phishing attempt won’t be enough — the hacker still needs an authentication code to access your account.

5. Malware

Malware refers to many kinds of software created and distributed to harm the end-user. Hackers use keyloggers, screen scrapers, and other types of malware to pull passwords directly from the user’s device.

Naturally, your device is more malware-resistant if you install antivirus software. Antivirus is a reliable platform that identifies malware on your computer, warns you about suspicious websites, and stops you from downloading harmful email attachments.

6. Account matching

Having one of your accounts hacked is bad, but it is much worse if all get hacked at once. If you use the same password for multiple accounts, you’re significantly increasing the risk attached to that password.

Unfortunately, it’s still common for people to have a single password for every single account. Remember that strong passwords aren’t any better than weak passwords in the event of a data breach, and there’s no way to predict when a breach occurs.

With that in mind, it’s just as important for your passwords to be unique as it is for them to resist hacking. Even if you’re having trouble remembering your passwords, you should never reuse the same ones. A secure password manager can help you keep track of your passwords across different devices.

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What Should You Do Next?

Hackers use many different strategies to break into accounts. Earlier password hacking attempts were generally rudimentary, but hackers have stepped up their tactics in response to a more technically literate public.

Some websites have basic password strength requirements, such as at least eight characters, one number, and one special character. While these requirements are better than nothing, the truth is that you need to be even more careful to avoid the most popular password-cracking techniques.

To optimize your cybersecurity, enable 2FA wherever possible and use strong, unique passwords for each account. A password manager is the best way to create, store, and share passwords. Furthermore, many password managers come with built-in authenticators. Check out our list of the best password managers to learn more about the top providers.


Frequently Asked Questions About Cracking Passwords

  • What are the impacts of password cracking?

    Those cracking passwords can obtain unauthorized access to resources, like stealing banking credentials or using the information for identity theft and fraud.

  • How fast can a hacker crack a password?

    Typically it takes a hacker two seconds to crack an 11-character password consisting only of numbers. But a seven-character password with upper and lower-case letters may take the hacker one minute.

Learn More


About The Password Manager, Gunnar Kallstrom:

Kallstrom, The Password Manager, is a Cyber Team Lead for a Department of Defense (DOD) contracting company in Huntsville, Alabama, and has worked as a Computer Network Defense (CND) Cyber Analyst. An author and content creator for a cybersecurity academy, Kallstrom spent nearly 15 years in the Army as a musician before entering the cybersecurity field.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Thomas Edison State University and a master’s in organizational development and leadership from the University of the Incarnate Word.

Kallstrom has completed several Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) courses, including Security+, Network+, A+ Core 1, and A+ Core 2. He earned a CompTIA Security+ Certification. Additionally, he has completed the Cyber Warrior Academy program with more than 800 hours of hands-on, intensive, and lab-driven technical training in cybersecurity methods and procedures.

Passionate about all things cyber, Kallstrom was a speaker on a panel at the 2022 InfoSec World conference, giving a talk entitled “Hacking into a Cyber Career – True Stories.” Kallstrom is also a mentor to entry-level cybersecurity candidates seeking to break into the field. When he’s not working, he still enjoys playing guitar and fishing (not phishing).