Advances in graphics processing technology have slashed the time needed to crack a password using brute force techniques, says Hive Systems.

Password security concept
Image: Daniel Chetroni/Shutterstock

Security experts keep advising us to create strong and complex passwords to protect our online accounts and data from savvy cybercriminals. And “complex” typically means using lowercase and uppercase characters, numbers and even special symbols. But complexity by itself can still open your password to cracking if it doesn’t contain enough characters, according to research by security firm Hive Systems.

As described in a recent report, Hive found that an 8-character complex password could be cracked in just 39 minutes if the attacker were to take advantage of the latest graphics processing technology. A seven-character complex password could be cracked in 31 seconds, while one with six or fewer characters could be cracked instantly. Shorter passwords with only one or two character types, such as only numbers or lowercase letters, or only numbers and letters, would take just minutes to crack.

SEE: Password breach: Why pop culture and passwords don’t mix (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

On the plus side, even simpler passwords with a greater number of characters are less vulnerable to cracking in a short amount of time, according to Hive’s research. An 18-character password with just numbers would require three weeks to crack, but one with the same number of characters using lowercase letters would take 2 million years to crack. This piece of data shows why passphrases, which use a long string of real but random words, can be more secure than a complex but short password.

Image: Hive Systems

A hacker aiming to crack complex yet short passwords quickly enough would need the latest and most advanced graphics processing technology. The more powerful the graphics processing unit, the faster it can perform such tasks as mining cryptocurrencies and cracking passwords. For example, one of the top GPUs around today is Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3090, a product that starts at $1,499. But even less powerful and less expensive GPUs can crack passwords of a small length and low complexity in a relatively short amount of time.

Hackers who don’t have the latest and greatest graphics processing on their own computers can easily turn to the cloud, according to Hive. By renting computer and graphics hardware through Amazon AWS and other cloud providers, a cybercriminal can tap into multiple virtual instances of a powerful GPU to perform the password cracking at a fairly low cost.

Due to the progress in graphics technology, most types of passwords require less time to crack than they did just two years ago. For example, a 7-character password with letters, numbers and symbols would take 7 minutes to crack in 2020 but just 31 seconds in 2022. Given these advances in technology, how can you and your organization better secure your password-protected accounts and data? Here are a few tips.

  • Use a passphrase instead of a password. A passphrase is a long string of often random words. Passphrases are often more secure than passwords but are usually easier to remember. For example: “sunset-beach-sand” uses words and a dash to separate each word and would take 2 billion years to crack, according to Security.org.
  • Use a password manager. Since creating and remembering multiple complex and lengthy passwords on your own is impossible, a password manager is your best bet. By using a password manager for yourself or within your organization, you can generate, store and apply strong passwords for websites and online accounts.
  • Use a strong master password. If you do adopt a password manager, you’ll want to protect your stored passwords as effectively as possible. The way to do that is through a strong master password. Create a complex and long password or passphrase that you can remember.
  • Test your passwords. To gauge the strength of a potential password, enter it at a site such as Security.org. The site will tell you how long it would take to crack that password.