Using a Common Password Doesn’t Welcome a Brute Force Attack

When it comes to WordPress security, a frequently falsehood we see out there is that there are a lot attempts to brute force WordPress admin passwords. As we discussed before looking at the supposed evidence of this provide by security companies actually shows they are not happening.

In pointing out instances where the security industry is peddling this falsehood to get the public to use their products or provide them something of value we have repeatedly receive complaints that we are the ones in the wrong about this. For example, on a post how the developer of the plugin  Anti-Malware Security and Brute-Force Firewall was using the claim to get people to register and provide them donations we received a comment that reads in part:

Your insistence that “brute force” means a full scale attack of tens of thousands of attempts is completely lost in the wind. You are probably the only person in the universe adhering to that definition.


Trying to get an entire industry to adhere to your definition of “brute force” is like urinating into the wind. At one end of the scale, you get wet and look silly. At the other end of the scale, you sound tyrannical.

It is rather strange comment as we are using the standard definition, which we had no hand in creating, so we really don’t know where the idea that we are the only ones using it could come from.

It isn’t hard to see that we are not along in that, if you go to the entry for brute force attack on the WikiPedia you will find that it states:

The attacker systematically checks all possible passwords and passphrases until the correct one is found.

And it also makes clear that dictionary attacks, which are actually happening against WordPress websites (and are best prevented differently then brute force attacks), are different:

When password guessing, this method is very fast when used to check all short passwords, but for longer passwords other methods such as the dictionary attack are used because a brute-force search takes too long.

If someone doesn’t want to believe that either, how about one of the security companies that we previously mentioned as misleading people, iThemes security:

The brute force attack process is often referred to as exhaustive search. An attacker will systematically check unlimited passwords until the correct one is found.

The post where that is mentioned though is good example of the mess that people run into when looking for security information these days. The post is titled “Brute Force Attacks: What They Are & How to Prevent Them”, but much of much of incorrectly conflates real password related threats with brute force attacks, which are not actually happening. Like so much of the bad information we see on security, it looks to just be a means to promote their security product, where providing accurate information isn’t important.

Under the heading of “Ways to Prevent Brute Force Attacks” one of their tips is:

Make a habit of using a different password for every site you use.

While using different passwords at every site will prevent a breach of password information on one website (particularly one not storing passwords in a secure manner) from allowing an attacker access to your account at other websites it has nothing to do with preventing a brute force attack.

Stranger is this portion:

Top 7 Passwords of 2016

  1. 123456
  2. password
  3. 12345678
  4. qwerty
  5. 12345
  6. 123456789
  7. football

If you have one of these passwords, you are welcoming brute force attacks. You should change your password ASAP.

An attacker isn’t going to know ahead time what your password is when doing a brute force attack (otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it), so using a weak password isn’t going to welcome them to do a brute force attack. More importantly using a common password opens you up to a dictionary attack, which involves tries common passwords, being successful. A brute force attack would eventually be successful no matter the whether you used a common password, since as they said earlier in the post, “systematically check unlimited passwords until the correct one is found”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.