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How To Crack Passwords in 2023 – An Ethical Hacker‘s Guide

Hey there! With data breaches rocking big companies every few months, it‘s no surprise that stolen passwords are more valuable than ever to cybercriminals. However, not all hope is lost. Understanding hacker strategies for cracking passwords can help you strengthen your logins and stay steps ahead.

In this guide, I‘ll showcase the most common tactics that ethical hackers leverage to reveal passwords. I‘ll also recommend strategies to guard your accounts by creating hacker-proof passphrases. Let‘s level up your password security!

Popular Techniques Hackers Use To Crack Passwords

Hackers have many approaches up their sleeve when it comes to obatining passwords. Here are the favorite tactics of ethical hackers:

Social Engineering

Humans tend to be the weakest security link. By manipulating employees through convincing phishing emails or posing as IT staff, passwords can be retrieved.

For example, a crafty phishing email impersonating IT support might urgently request a password reset "due to suspicious activity". If opened on a corporate device, this can trigger installation of stealthy malware to capture passwords typed on the keyboard.

Effective security awareness training is key to prevent social engineering. Teaching employees how to identify and report phishing attempts goes a long way.

Network Sniffing With Packet Inspection

Packet sniffers analyze network traffic for any login attempts. By inspecting packets in transit, hackers can intercept passwords typed into HTTPS websites during the initial handshake stage before encryption kicks in.

Always use sites that enforce HTTPS encryption to prevent sniffing attacks. Browser extensions like HTTPS Everywhere help enforce this as well.

Credential Stuffing Via Automation

In credential stuffing attacks, hackers use automated tools to test stolen usernames and passwords from one website against many other sites. Even outdated passwords leaked from past breaches can lead to account takeovers.

The key defense is using unique passwords for every website. Password managers help automate this without straining your memory.

Password Spraying

This method takes a single commonly used password and tries it against many different user accounts. For example, "Winter2022" and "Password123" are prime candidates for spray attacks.

Avoid commonly used passwords and leverage password manager generated strings for maximum security. Also watch for multiple failed login notifications.

Cracking Password Databases Offline

Hackers steal entire password databases and crack them offline without risk of account lockouts or detection. This method relies on initially breaching the system to dump the password hashes.

Regularly monitor security news and to know if your passwords are compromised in a breach and need changing. Enable MFA as well for critical accounts.

Malware & Keylogger Software

Malware infecting devices can record everything typed on the keyboard, including passwords. Physically installed hardware keyloggers are also a threat.

Reputable antivirus software, frequent scanning, and monitoring hardware for skimmers can catch these threats.

Brute Force Attacks

This technique focuses on raw computing power, iterating through every possible character combination to crack short or weak passwords. Modern GPUs can calculate billions of hashes per second.

Using long, complex passphrase over 12 characters can prevent success. Also leverage account lockouts after 10 failed attempts.

Dictionary Attacks

Similar to brute force, but constrained to real dictionary words and mutations like l33tspeak. Toppings like "@Lucky13" are appended to base words for greater success.

Choosing unique, random password phrases avoids detection. Also security questions should have fictional answers to beat guessing.

Rainbow Table Attacks

Rainbow tables contain millions of precomputed password hashes to simply lookup and reveal. Huge datasets spanning many GBs trade storage for speed.

Salting password hashes before storage in databases prevents easy reversal using rainbow tables. Unique per user salts are ideal.

Exploiting Software Vulnerabilities

Bugs like Heartbleed and Shellshock have allowed remote extraction of system passwords in the past until patches were applied.

Keep software updated and apply security patches expeditiously. For critical infrastructure, consider specialized web application firewalls.

Phishing Sites

Fake website login pages are used to capture entered credentials. Users can be redirected via email links or after clicking online ads.

Always double check the domain before entering your password. Look for the green padlock icon in the browser bar as well.

Password Guessing

Leveraging clues from social media, hackers can make highly educated guesses for password choices, like using common dates, names, words, etc.

Avoid these patterns in your passwords. Also limit sharing personal details publicly online that could fuel educated guessing.

As you can see, there are a wide variety of approaches in a hacker‘s playbook when it comes to obtaining passwords. Let‘s look at some of the powerful tools that enable cracking at scale.

Potent Password Cracking Tools Used By Ethical Hackers

Hackers leverage specialized tools optimized for speed to accelerate password cracking. Here are some popular examples:


This flexible tool supports over 300 different hash types and leverages GPU/CPU power for billions of guesses per second. Popular with pen testers for brute forcing and dictionary attacks.

John The Ripper

A fast, free password cracking tool for Windows, MacOS and Linux. Commonly used for dictionary attacks due to highly optimized code and lightweight resource footprint.

THC Hydra

Specializes in quickly brute forcing remote login portals like SSH, FTP, SNMP, etc via the network. Can attempt thousands of logins per minute in parallel.

Cain & Abel

Older Windows tool for network sniffing passwords and cracking encrypted password databases through rainbow table lookups and other means.


Free Windows/MacOS based tool that utilizes pre-generated rainbow tables to retrieve password hashes like LM and NTLM very quickly.


Command line tool for parallel brute forcing of many network authentication protocols like SMB, VNC, HTTP, etc. Includes password dictionary support.


Uses massive pre-computed rainbow tables to speed up password hash reversals. Tables spanning hundreds of GBs are available online for download.

Passware Kit

Tool for recovering passwords from Windows, Office documents, PDFs, and other applications by searching for entropy and common patterns.

Protecting Your Passwords in 2023 and Beyond

Now that you know how the hacking tools work, let‘s talk about password best practices:

  • Use passphrases over 12 characters. More words means more entropy and strength.
  • Go completely random – avoid names, dates, places, patterns, dictionary words.
  • Unique passwords everywhere prevents credential stuffing when breaches happen.
  • Password manager apps generate, store and fill strong passwords for you.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) for critical accounts.
  • Change passwords periodically and after breaches involving your accounts.
  • Avoid password reuse between unimportant and highly sensitive accounts.
  • Use FIDO/WebAuthn passwordless logins where available for high security.
  • Monitor breaches via to know when passwords are exposed.

Many providers now offer true passwordless functionality via biometrics, security keys or authenticator app sign ins. Where available, these methods block most remote password cracking vectors and boost security.

As hacking tools grow ever more sophisticated, adopting these tips will keep your accounts protected in 2023 and beyond. Feel free to reach out if you have any other password security questions! Stay safe out there.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.