I didn't intend to discuss passwords again this week, but a unique opportunity presented itself. A major phishing attack occurred at MySpace, and I got over 34,000 real passwords to analyze for character frequency.
The phishing attack occurred because hackers were able to use MySpace’s HTML home page abilities to craft a malicious overlay page. That meant when a MySpace user thought they were logging in to a friend’s MySpace home page or profile, they were often sending their log-on names and passwords to hackers, who collected them on other compromised Web servers. It is estimated that the hackers collected more than 100,000 log-on names and password combinations before the phishing attack was noticed.
The hackers erred in making the collected passwords available for anyone to see and download. There were at least five different collection points. I picked up the password files from two of the locations; they came in at over 2GB.
After removing tons of garbage (some from coding errors, some from helpful people trying to crash the hacker’s collection files), I came up with more than 34,000 different log-on account/password combinations. Being able to collect and analyze such a large number of passwords from a wide range of users doesn’t usually happen when you’re on the white-hat side of things.
I collected the passwords into MS Access and MS Excel databases and then analyzed them for word and character distribution. Here are some of my findings from my initial queries:
*As expected, English vowels are by far the most frequent occurring password symbols (E, 48 percent; A, 46 percent; I, 34 percent; O, 33 percent). Other high-ranking letters included R (35 percent), S (32 percent), N (31 percent), L (28 percent), T (25 percent), C (21 percent), and M (21 percent).
*The letters, B, D, G, H, P, U, and Y appeared in 10 to 20 percent of the passwords.
*As expected, the letters Q (1 percent), X (3 percent), and Z (3 percent) were not popular.
*Numbers were used in well over half the passwords. The number 1 appeared 45 percent of the time, followed by the numbers 2 (22 percent), 0 (16 percent), and 3 (15 percent). Numbers 4 through 9 appeared roughly 9 to 11 percent of the time.
*As I’ve written many times, including in my last column, numbers are most often placed at the end of the password when used. For example, when the number 1 appeared, it only showed up 7 percent of the time as the first character, and only 15 percent of the time as one of the first four characters in the password.
*MySpace accounts don’t require complex passwords, so capital letters and other keyboard symbols -- such as ~, !, &, @, #, and so on -- were not present most of the time. The exclamation point was the most commonly used non-alphanumeric character at almost 3 percent, followed by the period symbol at 1.6 percent.
*Almost 1 percent of users had the word "password" as, or as part of, their password. Not real clever.