Brute Force Attack

Brute Force Attack

A brute force attack is a trial-and-error method used to decode sensitive data. The most common applications for brute force attacks are cracking passwords and cracking encryption keys. Other common targets for brute force attacks are API keys and SSH logins. Brute force password attacks are often carried out by scripts or bots that target a website's login page.

What differentiates brute force attacks from other cracking methods is that brute force attacks don’t utilize an intellectual strategy; they simply try using different combinations of characters until the correct combination is found. This is kind of like a thief trying to break into a combo safe by attempting every possible combination of numbers until the safe opens.

The biggest advantages of brute force attacks are that they are relatively simple to perform and, given enough time and the lack of a mitigation strategy for the target, they always work. Every password-based system and encryption key out there can be cracked using a brute force attack. In fact, the amount of time it takes to brute force into a system is a useful metric for gauging that system’s level of security.

On the other hand, brute force attacks are very slow, as they may have to run through every possible combination of characters before achieving their goal. This sluggishness is compounded as the number of characters in the target string increases (a string is just a combination of characters). For example, a four-character password takes significantly longer to brute force than a three-character password, and a five-character password takes significantly longer than a four-character password. Once character count is beyond a certain point, brute-forcing a properly randomized password becomes unrealistic.

If the target string is sufficiently long, then it could take for brute force attacker days, months, or even years to decode a properly randomized password. As a result of the current trend of requiring longer passwords and encryption keys, brute force attacks are quite a bit more difficult. When good passwords and encryption are utilized, attackers typically try other methods of code breaking such as social engineering or man-in-the-middle attacks.