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What Is A Brute Force Attack? (An In-Depth Guide)

Updated on July 13, 2023

8 Min Read

If you have an online presence, via business or personal, you are vulnerable to security threats like brute force attacks.

A brute force attack is a cybercrime that involves successive repetitive attempts of trying various password combinations to break into a website. Hackers attempt this using the bots that they have installed maliciously in other computers to boost the power required for running such attacks.

Want to learn more about brute force attacks? Read along to discover everything about the brute force attack along with the prevention strategies. 

So let’s begin.

What is a Brute Force Attack?

A brute force attack is the simplest method to access a site or server (or anything password-protected). It tries various combinations of usernames and passwords repeatedly until it gets access. 

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Different Types of Brute Force Attacks

Brute force attacks are divided into five main types that allow users to gain unauthorized access to your data. Let’s take a look at these types of attacks in detail:

Types of Brute Force Attacks

1. Simple Brute Force Attacks

A simple brute force attack refers to the guesswork user makes while logging in manually. The hackers make combinations of standard password combinations or PIN codes.

These attacks are common and easily affect users using weak passwords or practicing poor password etiquette, making their data vulnerable to security breaches.

2. Dictionary Attacks

Dictionary attacks happen when the attacker runs through dictionaries and amends words using multiple characters and numbers to test possible passwords. While this is not deemed a brute force attack, it can play a crucial role in cracking weak passwords.

Moreover, dictionary attacks have a low probability of happening because they are time-taking and require extra effort.

3. Hybrid Brute Force Attacks

A hybrid brute force attack combines a simple brute force attack and a dictionary attack. This involves a hacker trying a list of potential words and testing various characters, letters, and number combinations to guess the password.

4. Reverse Brute Force Attacks

Reverse brute attacks occur when a hacker already has your old password, which they could’ve gotten through a network breach. Hackers use the known password to search the database for similar login credentials by making calculated guesses. 

5. Credential stuffing

Credential stuffing occurs when the attacker searches for patterns in the users’ password. They analyze the password etiquette from the username and password combinations they already have and try to guess the target’s new password. 

This brute force attack works well with people with the same usernames and passwords for various accounts or frequently reuses passwords.

Why Do Brute Force Attacks Occur?

Hackers want to get into other people’s systems for many reasons. Although sometimes their intentions can be unknown or personal, from general assumptions, here are a few common reasons why a brute force attack occurs.

Exploit Activity Data for Financial Gains

Hackers mostly invade systems or websites to gain financial benefits. Usually, hackers profit from advertising commissions by placing spam ads on websites. Whenever a user clicks an ad, the revenue goes to the hacker. Also, they sell victims’ activity data at times.

Gain Access to Personal Data

Hackers may launch a brute force attack to spoof a person’s identity. They may use personal accounts to get user’s information, including their medical records and financial details, which are exploited further to launch wider attacks.

Spreading Malware

Hackers can launch a brute force attack by spreading malware in the target’s system. This helps the attackers access other connected systems and networks and launch a wider attack against the target.

Sometimes, the brute force attacks aren’t personal, as hackers may want to showcase their hacking skills and try to play around with them.

Damage a Company’s Reputation

Hackers also launch brute attacks to damage a company’s reputation by stealing their confidential data or altering information. They do this in such a way that it goes against the company’s core values.

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How to Prevent Brute Force Attacks (Easy Steps)

You can prevent brute force attacks by taking some precautionary measures, as shown in the image below:

Prevent Brute Force Attacks

Password Length

The first step towards brute force attack prevention should be a longer password length. Nowadays, many websites and platforms force their users to create a password of a certain length (8 – 16 characters) so that it’s not easily guessed.

Password Complexity

Another important thing is to create a complex password to minify vulnerabilities. 

Don’t use passwords like “ilovemycountry” or “password123456”; instead, your password should have a combination of UPPERCASE & lowercase alphabets and also use numbers and special characters to become more complex. The complexity of the password delays the cracking process.

Limit Login Attempts

Limiting the login attempts on your WordPress admin or any other admin panel also helps solidify your site’s security against brute force attacks. For example, if your website receives five failed login attempts, it should block that IP for a certain period to stop further attempts.

Modifying the .htaccess file

Adding a few rules in the .htaccess file further hardens your site’s security. The objective is to allow access to wp-admin to only specific IP addresses listed in the .htaccess file.

To do so, open your .htaccess file and modify it as follows:

<Files /wp-login>

 order deny,allow

 allow from IP1

 allow from IP2

 deny from all

 </Files>

IP1 and IP2 will be the IPs you allowed access to.

Using Captcha

Captchas are commonly used on websites to prevent bots from executing automated scripts mainly used in brute force attacks. Moreover, you can easily install a captcha on your WordPress site by following the steps below:

  • Go to your WordPress site’s admin dashboard.
  • Click Plugins and search for the Invisible reCAPTCHA plugin.
  • Install and activate the plugin.
  • Now, log in to your Google account. 
  • Register your site with your Google account by filling in the required fields on this form. 
  • Get the Site and Secret keys after registration and paste them into the plugin’s settings on your site’s dashboard.
  • Go back to the plugin’s settings and define the places where you want to place the captcha.

Note: The Google Invisible reCAPTCHA plugin also supports WooCommerce, BuddyPress, and custom forms. Read our detailed blog for additional information: WordPress security with the Google Invisible reCaptcha plugin.

Two-Factor Authentication

Two Factor Authentication is an extra layer of defense that decreases the chances of brute force attacks. There are various ways to implement 2FA on your WordPress site, and the easiest way is using any of the top WordPress plugins for two-factor authentication.

Cloudflare

Cloudflare is a renowned service for WordPress that usually deals with CDN and caching. Also, it offers a protective shield against Brute Force Attacks. It lets users set rules for accessing login pages and set browser integrity checks.

If you already use Cloudflare then I suggest you check out this guide to protect your WordPress site from Brute Force attacks.

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5 Best Brute Force Attack Tools for Penetration Testing

You need penetration testing to ensure your system is strong enough to block cyber attacks.

Penetration testing lets you identify the security holes in your system by letting you hack your IT system using the same way a hacker would. Here are some of the best tools that you may use for penetration testing:

BruteX

BruteX

BruteX automatically brute forces all services running on your target system, including:

  • Open ports
  • Usernames
  • passwords

Moreover, it systematically generates many possible passwords to check your system’s robustness. It also includes services like Nmap, Hydra & DNS enum, which enables you to check for open reports, start brute force FTP, and SSH, and find out the running service of the target server.

Disreach

Disreach

Disreach is based on the command line and lets you brute force files and directories in web servers. Although it recently became part of the official Kali Linux packages, it still functions well on Linux, Windows, and macOS. 

Disreach is written in Python, making it compatible with the existing scripts and projects. Also, it works really well with recursive scanning.

Some of the prominent features of disreach include:

  • Request delaying
  • User-agent randomization
  • Proxy support
  • Multithreading
  • Scanner arena
  • Support for multiple extensions

Callow

Callow

Written in Python 3, Callow is a customizable and user-friendly brute force tool that even lets non-tech-savvy users experiment with the system. It has an easy error-handling mechanism and is designed to meet the needs of newbies.

Some noticeable features of Callow include:

  • Easily customizable
  • Intuitive 
  • Open source

SSB

SSB

Secure Shell Bruteforcer is among the fastest and most intuitive tools for brute-force SSH servers. Unlike other tools that crack the encryption keys of an SSH server, this tool uses the SSB secure shell to give you an appropriate interface.

  • Finds out leaked databases with approximately 97% accuracy rate
  • Supports Instagram, Gmail, and Spotify accounts
  • Highly secure

Burp Suite Professional

Burp Suite Professional

Burp suite professional is an important tool kit to test your web security. It automates monotonous testing tasks, and experts use it to test the top ten vulnerabilities of OSWASP. Moreover, it records the authentication sequences and produces reports for end-users, which they can use and share directly.

This brute force test tool lets you:

  • Scan coverage increase
  • Customize in dark mode
  • Test/scan feature-rich modern web applications, JavaScript, and test APIs
  • Conduct out-of-band application security testing (OAST) to reach invisible vulnerabilities

Final Thoughts

Brute force attacks are easy to launch and have a 100 percent success rate. Therefore, following the proper measures to prevent them is highly recommended, saving your business from financial, personal, or reputational damage. This blog has covered all the basics of brute force attacks, but if you have any queries, feel free to drop them in the comments section.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are examples of brute force attacks?

Some examples of brute force attacks include:

  • Personal/company/customer’s account breaches
  • Database invasion
  • Simple hacking
  • Installing malicious software in other systems

What is the best defense against brute force attacks?

The best defense against a brute force attack is to ensure that your passwords are strong enough so that hackers have a hard time cracking them.

How to strengthen passwords against brute force attacks?

Here are some of the tips to strengthen your password against brute force attacks:

  • Don’t use your personal information for passwords
  • Don’t recycle your passwords
  • Use long passphrases that contain numbers and special characters
  • Ideally, your passwords should be 15 characters long
  • Avoid dictionary words for your password.

What type of attack is brute force?

A brute force attack is a cyber-attack that aims to hack the target system by guessing the passwords.

How successful is a brute force attack?

Brute force attacks have a very high success rate because they are easy to perform, and the target usually lacks a mitigation strategy.

Which device is most vulnerable to brute force attack?

All devices connected to the internet are vulnerable to brute force attacks.

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Sarim Javaid

Sarim Javaid is a Digital Content Producer at Cloudways. He has a habit of penning down his random thoughts and giving words and meaning to the clutter of ideas colliding inside his mind. His obsession with Google and his curious mind add to his research-based writing. Other than that, he's a music and art admirer and an overly-excited person.

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