From instant messaging to login credentials, companies in all industries rely on technology to complete many business procedures. You can use cloud-based software to store data, track customer purchases, communicate with other employees and officials and much more. Many organizations use login credentials to let employees and officials access company-based interfaces and software.

However, storing data in any cloud-based application can leave it vulnerable to cyberattacks. Hackers use various methods to break into company systems and steal data. One type of cyberattack is a brute force attack. This hacking method uses trial and error to discover login credentials. Once they find the right combination, the hackers can access sensitive data and use it for malicious purposes.

Learn more about brute force attacks and how you can protect your company from them.

What Is a Brute Force Attack in Cybersecurity?

A brute force attack is a type of hacking method that targets login credentials. It uses a simple technique to hack into company accounts — trial and error. The hackers try thousands of username and password combinations in the hopes of getting unauthorized access to company systems. The title “brute force” refers to the hackers’ repeated, forceful attempts at breaking through.

Brute force cyberattacks use a simple strategy, making them an easy, low-effort technique for hackers everywhere. Many attackers use computer programs to test countless usernames and passwords at once. The programs continue to generate combinations until they get a successful match.

A significant component of the brute force attack definition is speed. The quickness of a brute force attack depends on the strength of your password and the power of the hacker’s computer. But if hackers have access to a company’s network, it becomes very challenging to remove them.

Types of Brute Force Attacks

There are various types and forms of brute force attacks. While each strategy varies, all can give attackers the breakthrough they need to access an organization’s data.

Here are some common examples of a cybersecurity brute force attack:

  • Simple brute force attack: A simple brute force attack doesn’t use any additional software to guess someone’s login credentials. They can use simplistic passwords, short PIN codes or other identifying information to gain access. These attacks are often successful due to weak passwords. For example, if a user used “password123” as their password, a simple brute force attack could easily break through. Attackers could also perform basic research on a target and use personal information to crack a password. For instance, they might look up an employee and use their favorite musician or sports team to log in successfully.
  • Dictionary attack: A dictionary attack is one of the most basic forms of brute force attacks. During this strategy, an attacker selects a target. Then, they test possible passwords until they discover a match. Hackers usually learn more about their target and use interests to guess passwords. They also use a list of words and close variations to uncover the password. For instance, they might take a word like “baseball” and try different variations with special characters or numbers. As one of the first forms of brute attacks, a dictionary attack is more time-consuming and often less effective than newer methods.
  • Hybrid brute force attack: The hybrid brute force method combines the simple brute force attack with the dictionary attack. In this strategy, the attacker already has a target’s username. They then use simple brute force and dictionary methods to discover the accompanying password. Hackers experiment with a list of possible words, adding various letters, characters and numbers to find the password. Many passwords consist of letters and numbers, and attackers take advantage. For instance, many add a year at the end of their passkey, like “baseball99.” Hackers keep trying combinations until they uncover the other login credential.
  • Reverse brute force attack: A reverse brute force attack takes the opposite approach of the hybrid strategy. A hacker starts with a password and works backward to find the matching username. Passwords are often leaked through company-wide data breaches, giving attackers instant access. Using lists of millions of usernames, attackers test combinations with the password they discovered.
  • Credential stuffing: This type of brute force attack directly targets weak passwords and usernames. Once attackers gain access to a set of credentials, they test it on other sites. Unfortunately, many account users have similar login data for separate websites. The weak planning makes it easier for attackers to access data on different sites. For instance, many websites ask for an email and password combination. If you reuse the same email and password for every site, attackers could instantly access your data across all websites.
  • Rainbow table attack: A rainbow table attack uses a rainbow table to crack password information. Websites store passwords as a series of encryptions with hashes. The hashes automatically check a user’s authentication each time they log in. Interfaces use rainbow tables to store hashes and user information. Launching a rainbow table attack requires access to a rainbow table. Attackers can steal these or buy them off the dark web, then use them to uncover thousands of passwords at once. Rainbow table attacks have been behind many large data breaches.

No matter what type of attack they use, the key to success is persistence. If a hacker has strong computer systems or access to half of a user’s login credentials, brute force attacks become simple. And they only continue to get smarter.

What Is the Motive Behind These Attacks?

A brute force attack in cybersecurity could have many motives. If hackers gain access to sensitive data, like credit card information or financial records, they could use it for various purposes. And once they can enter the network, getting rid of them becomes much more difficult.

Here are some reasons hackers launch a brute force cyberattack:

  • Exploit ads: Financial gain is the motivation behind many brute force attacks. A straightforward way to gain financial profit is through advertisements. Many hackers target high-traffic websites and insert spam ads. Whenever a user views or clicks on the ad, the attacker earns money. Hackers might also reroute website traffic to illegal ad commission websites or implement spyware onto the website. Spyware tracks user activity and collects data, selling it to other advertisers without consent.
  • Steal personal information: From medical records to credit card information and bank account details, online personal accounts contain highly sensitive data. Companies often store personal information about employees and customers, financial records or other crucial information in their online networks. Hackers often use brute force attacks to access personal information. They can use it to steal money, commit identity fraud or sell the information to other interested parties. Brute force attackers might also use personal data to launch wider attacks.
  • Spread malware: An attacker might also use a brute force attack without a specific reason, just the intent of causing havoc. They might insert various forms of malware, or intentionally harmful software, onto an interface. The malware could include false text messages, spoofed websites or misleading links to harmful websites. Malware can infect entire computer systems and allow attackers to launch a more widespread attack.
  • Hijack systems: Hackers frequently have specific targets for their attacks. They might target companies with vast amounts of revenue or influence, then use the attack for financial gain. A brute force attack could be the first step in a larger hacking plan with the intent to break down entire security systems. For instance, a brute force attack could give a hacker one user’s login information. They could start spreading malware and gain enough personal data to build a larger attack.
  • Ruin a company’s or person’s reputation: A hacker might focus on destroying a reputation rather than earning money. Hackers can use their newfound access to post obscene or offensive content, degrading the website’s quality. They could also leak important information to third parties or use personal data as a threat against their target. For instance, they could use a form of attack called ransomware, where the attackers hold data for ransom until the company pays a large sum. Attacks like these can harm a company’s financial reputation, with some unable to recover the costs.

While specific motivations vary, brute force attacks almost always have malicious intents.

How Do Brute Force Attacks Work?

Brute force attacks are typically possible because of weak passwords and advanced computer systems. Many people use easy-to-guess passwords for login information, such as the word “password.” Or, many reuse passwords across multiple sites, making it simple for attackers to access information from various sources. If an employee used the same password for their personal accounts and company credentials, an attacker could gain unauthorized access to all their data.

Computer program strength also allows brute force attacks to occur. Some programs can check millions of passwords at once, letting hackers break into accounts in minutes. These computer programs generate possible password combinations until they find a match. So, the fewer combinations possible, the less time it will take to crack. For example, a password using only lowercase letters would take less time to solve than a password with uppercase letters, lowercase letters and special characters. In anticipation of possible attacks, many websites now require special characters in passwords.

Are Brute Force Attacks Illegal?

Because they involve unauthorized access to personal data, brute force attacks are almost always illegal. The only occasion where this attack type would be legal is during system security checks. Some organizations use fake brute force attacks to test the strength of their security defenses. On these occasions, the organization owner must give written consent, and there must be ethical intent behind the “attack.”

In all other cases, brute force attacks are illegal.

How Can You Prevent a Brute Force Attack?

You can take various measures to protect yourself from brute force attacks. Strong protective strategies make it more challenging for attackers to break through defenses or could keep them from getting in entirely.

Here are some ways you can prevent a brute force attack:

1. Implement a Strong Password System

Strong passwords are the best way to protect your organization from a brute force attack. If you make your passwords as difficult as possible, attackers might give up on hacking attempts. Companies can require employees to use strict password measures, such as requiring a certain number of characters or using special characters.

Strong password measures include:

  • At least 10 characters: A good rule of thumb is to make all passwords 10 characters or longer. Longer passwords take more time to crack, especially when they use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numerals and special characters.
  • Multiple special characters: Special characters create an extensive list of possible passwords or usernames. And when you use more than one, it extends the list even further. Using special characters in various positions can also increase the difficulty. For instance, the password “Hej%eD!s@” could be harder to solve than “HejeDs!%@.”
  • Using nonsensical phrases: Another strong strategy is changing words or phrases so they appear unreadable to others. For example, instead of using the word “hope” in your password, you might type “hp.” Many hackers use words or phrases to crack passwords, so making words appear nonsensical can make it much more difficult for them to access your information.
  • Keeping passwords unique: Use a different password for all your separate accounts to combat credential stuffing.

2. Consider MFA

Next, organizations can consider implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) as an additional security layer. These solutions initiate a two-step login process that requires users to authenticate their identities. For example, they might have to type in a one-time password sent to their phone number or answer an additional security question.

MFA adds another defense layer, making it extremely difficult for hackers to crack logins. It usually makes users input additional information, like a phone number or other email address. Many providers can create customized MFA solutions for companies.

3. Utilize a Strong IAM Solution

Your organization can also implement identity access management (IAM) software solutions. Investing in these software types can optimize your security measures and help you take further steps to protect against brute force attacks.

Optimal IdM offers a wide range of IAM solutions. We provide both on-site and cloud-based management solutions tailored to your company’s security needs. The software can mitigate security risks like brute force attacks, keeping company information safe and secure. Some features of our IAM solutions are:

  • Multi-factor authentication
  • Customizable portal
  • Virtual directories
  • Delegated administrator capabilities
  • Enhanced security and scalability

With a service provider like Optimal IdM, you can implement a comprehensive security strategy. And the stronger your defenses are, the less likely a brute force attack will succeed.

Contact Optimal IdM Today

Brute force attacks are dangerous for companies worldwide. Attackers discovering login credentials can lead to data breaches or other long-term consequences. Luckily, providers like Optimal IdM can keep your data protected.

Optimal IdM is a leading global provider of identity access management solutions. We help you find a custom software solution that meets your organization’s scale. Our dedicated team of professionals works with you to find the optimal strategy for preventing dangerous attacks.

To get started with Optimal IdM, contact us today to learn more about our Optimal Cloud.

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  • The database in which all of your organization’s sensitive identity data is stored.
  • A digital ledger in which digital transactions are recorded chronologically and publicly.
  • Securely managing customer identity and profile data, and controlling customer access to applications and services.
  • The means of linking a person's electronic identity and attributes, stored across multiple distinct identity management systems.
  • A legal framework that sets guidelines for the collection and processing of personal information of individuals within the EU.
  • The policy-based centralized orchestration of user identity management and access control.
  • An authentication infrastructure that is built, hosted and managed by a third-party service provider.
  • A security system that requires more than one method of authentication from independent categories of credentials to verify the user's identity for a login or other transaction.
  • A global provider of innovative and affordable identity access management solutions. 
  • Managing and auditing account and data access by privileged users.
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  • An authentication process that allows a user to access multiple applications with one set of login credentials.

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