A brute-force attack is a cyberattack method cybercriminals employ to gain unauthorized access to email accounts, enterprise content management (ECM) systems, and the files within these systems, by systematically submitting various combinations of usernames and passwords. This article offers an analytical overview of brute-force attacks, their impact on data security, and the measures organizations can take to prevent them.

Brute-force Attacks

How Brute-force Attacks Work

Understanding how brute-force attacks work and the risks they pose to organizations and their sensitive content is essential for maintaining data security and privacy. With this understanding, organizations can develop effective strategies to prevent unauthorized access to their sensitive information.

Systematic Guessing of Usernames and Passwords

Brute-force attacks involve systematically guessing various combinations of usernames and passwords. Attackers can employ different approaches to achieve this, such as trial and error or using automated tools to generate and test multiple combinations.

Manual Trial and Error

In some cases, attackers may attempt to guess passwords manually. This method can be time-consuming and less effective, but it may be successful when targeting accounts with weak or easily guessable passwords.

Automated Tools for Brute-force Attacks

Attackers often employ automated tools to expedite the brute-force process. These tools generate and test multiple combinations of usernames and passwords to identify the correct combination more efficiently. Various techniques can be utilized by these tools, including:

Dictionary Attacks: Exploiting Common Passwords

Dictionary attacks involve using a list of words from a dictionary or a predefined list of commonly used passwords. Automated tools systematically test these words as potential passwords, attempting to identify the correct ones. Dictionary attacks can be particularly effective when users employ easily guessable or commonly used passwords.

Hybrid Attacks: A Comprehensive Approach

Hybrid attacks combine dictionary attacks with additional techniques, such as appending numbers or special characters to the words from a dictionary or predefined list. This approach can increase the likelihood of identifying the correct password, particularly when users create passwords based on common words with slight modifications.

Exhaustive Key Search and Advanced Algorithms

Besides dictionary and hybrid attacks, cybercriminals may also employ an exhaustive critical search method, which systematically attempts every possible combination of characters until the correct password is found. While this method is time-consuming, it can be successful against passwords with a relatively short length.

Attackers can also use advanced algorithms specifically designed to crack passwords more efficiently. These algorithms can be based on various factors, such as patterns in human-generated passwords, keyboard layouts, and character frequency.

Gaining Unauthorized Access and Putting Sensitive Information at Risk

Once the correct combination of username and password is identified, the attacker gains unauthorized access to the targeted account or system. This unauthorized access puts sensitive information, such as email content and file attachments, at risk, potentially leading to data breaches, financial losses, and reputational damage.

Impacts of Brute-force Attacks on Data Security

Brute-force attacks can severely damage organizations, individuals, and their sensitive files or file attachments. Damage can include financial loss, litigation, compliance violations, customer loss, brand erosion, and more. A closer look at some of these risks follows.

Data Breaches

A brute-force attack can result in data breaches, exposing sensitive information to malicious actors, criminal organizations, or rogue nation-states. This unauthorized access to sensitive information can put the organization at jeopardy of compliance violations, financial losses, reputational damage, and potential legal ramifications, especially if the breach violates regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Loss of Data Privacy and Confidentiality

When attackers gain access to sensitive files or file attachments, the confidentiality and privacy of the compromised data are lost. This can have severe repercussions for individuals and organizations, particularly in industries that deal with sensitive information, such as healthcare, finance, legal, and government.

Brute-force Attacks: Prevention and Mitigation

Implementing robust cybersecurity measures can significantly reduce the risk of brute-force attacks and their impact on data security and privacy.

Employ Strong Password Policies for Enhanced Security

Using strong password policies is one of the most effective ways to prevent brute-force attacks and protect sensitive information. Implementing the following measures can help organizations bolster their password security:

Require Long, Complex Passwords

Organizations should require users to create long, complex passwords containing uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Such passwords are more difficult for attackers to guess and can significantly reduce the likelihood of a successful brute-force attack.

Enforce Unique Passwords

Users should be encouraged to use unique passwords for each account or system, preventing attackers from accessing multiple systems or accounts with a single compromised password. By maintaining unique passwords for different accounts, users can reduce the impact of a single charge being compromised.

Mandate Periodic Password Updates

A password change policy that mandates periodic password updates can further strengthen an organization’s security posture. Regular password changes make it more challenging for attackers to gain access, even if they can obtain a valid password. Users should be reminded to change their passwords every 60 to 90 days per the organization’s policy.

Limit Failed Login Attempts and Implement Account Lockouts

Organizations should limit the number of failed login attempts allowed to deter brute-force attacks before temporarily locking the user account. Implementing account lockouts after multiple unsuccessful attempts can significantly slow or stop attackers from systematically guessing passwords. By combining account lockouts with other security measures, organizations can prevent unauthorized access and protect sensitive information.

Utilize Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)

MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide at least two forms of identification during the login process. MFA typically involves something the user knows (such as a password), something the user has (such as a physical token or smartphone), and something the user is (such as a fingerprint or facial recognition). By implementing MFA, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of brute-force attacks and unauthorized access.

Monitor and Block Suspicious Activity

Monitoring login attempts and flagging suspicious activity can help detect and prevent brute-force attacks. Organizations can thwart attackers before they gain unauthorized access by implementing security measures that block IP addresses or user accounts after several failed login attempts.

Encrypt Sensitive Data and File Attachments

Encrypting sensitive data and file attachments adds a layer of protection, ensuring that even if an attacker gains unauthorized access, they cannot read or use the compromised data easily. By using advanced encryption technology, robust encryption algorithms, and regularly updating encryption keys, organizations can maintain data security and privacy.

Educate Users on Security Best Practices

Implementing cybersecurity measures is vital, but educating users on security best practices can significantly enhance an organization’s security posture.

Promote Strong, Unique Passwords for Each Account

Creating awareness about the importance of using strong, unique passwords for each account and system is crucial. Users should be encouraged to create complex passwords that combine uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Additionally, users should avoid reusing passwords across multiple accounts to minimize the risk of a successful brute-force attack.

Recognize and Avoiding Phishing Emails

Teaching users how to recognize and avoid phishing emails is essential in preventing unauthorized access to their accounts. Phishing emails often contain links or file attachments designed to steal login credentials or install malware on the recipient’s device. Organizations can reduce the likelihood of successful phishing attacks by educating users on the warning signs of phishing emails, such as suspicious sender addresses, poor grammar, and requests for personal information.

Securely Store and Manage Passwords

Providing guidelines on securely storing and managing passwords can further protect users from brute-force attacks. Encourage the use of password managers that securely store and generate complex passwords for users. Additionally, users should avoid storing passwords in unsecured notes or documents, which unauthorized individuals can easily access.

Regularly Update Software and Applications

Emphasizing the importance of regularly updating software and applications is vital, as outdated systems can be more vulnerable to attacks. Users should be reminded to install updates and patches promptly to protect their devices and applications against known vulnerabilities. Organizations can minimize the risk of brute-force attacks and other cybersecurity threats by maintaining up-to-date systems.

Implement Advanced Security Solutions

Organizations can leverage several advanced security solutions to protect their systems from brute-force attacks and other cybersecurity threats. The following list provides just a few solutions organizations should consider.

Deploy Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems (IDPS)

Intrusion detection and prevention systems can help organizations identify and block brute-force attacks in real time. These systems monitor network traffic, analyze patterns, and detect unusual or malicious activity. By implementing an IDPS, organizations can significantly enhance their overall cybersecurity posture.

Integrate Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Advanced security solutions incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can effectively identify and thwart brute-force attacks. These technologies can analyze vast amounts of data, identify patterns, and detect anomalies that may indicate an ongoing attack. By leveraging AI and machine learning, organizations can stay one step ahead of cybercriminals and safeguard their systems and data.

Conduct Regular Security Assessments

Regular security assessments can help organizations identify and address vulnerabilities in their systems before they can be exploited. Organizations can proactively prevent brute-force attacks and maintain a strong security posture by conducting penetration testing, vulnerability scanning, and other security assessments.

Staying Ahead of Brute-force Attacks

Brute-force attacks pose a significant threat to data security and privacy. Organizations can effectively prevent unauthorized access to their email accounts, content management systems, and sensitive file attachments by understanding the risks associated with these attacks and implementing robust cybersecurity measures. By employing strong password policies, utilizing multi-factor authentication, monitoring and blocking suspicious activity, encrypting sensitive data, educating users on security best practices, and leveraging advanced security solutions, organizations can stay ahead of brute-force attacks and maintain a secure environment.

Kiteworks Helps Organizations Mitigate the Risk of Brute-force Attacks

The Kiteworks Private Content Network helps organizations identify and shut down brute-force attacks and their perpetrators, mitigating the risk of a data breach, compliance violation, litigation, or other scandalous event.

For example, Kiteworks offers file integrity monitoring with OSSEC’s open-source Host-based Intrusion Detection System (HIDS). If any file modification is detected, a warning displays with the exact time and when the file modification was detected. The syslog captures and presents the activity, before and after the modification of the file, and the activities report displays the alert with the details of the activity.

Kiteworks also offers the Fail2ban intrusion prevention framework that protects servers from brute-force attacks. This allows organizations to ban specific IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. Kiteworks administrators can enable banning of specific IP addresses and address ranges. They can set the number of failed attempts before banning, the time IP addresses are blocked for after the failed login attempts, and can maintain a list of banned and whitelisted IP addresses (and the settings) after Fail2ban is restarted. Kiteworks by default will block an IP address after five failed SSH or SFTP login attempts for 10 minutes and blocked IP addresses are then listed in a banned IP list.

To learn more about Kiteworks’ brute-force attack prevention capabilities, schedule a customized demo today.


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