What Is 'Brute Force' Dictionary Hacking?

Hackers are savvy users who manipulate computer systems and force them to them to do the unintended. If they do this with wicket intent, we call these people black hat hackers.

Hacker tools and specific techniques are constantly changing, but black hat hackers do have some predictable approaches when they break into computer networks. 

Hackers use three common methods to acquire people's computer passwords:

  1. Brute Force ('Dictionary') Repetition
  2. Social Engineering (commonly: phishing)
  3. Administrator Back Doors

 

About.com describes these hacker approaches below.

1
Brute Force (aka 'Dictionary') Hacker Attacks

Brute force = repetition attack using dictionary tools
Brute force = repetition attack using dictionary tools. Peopleimages / Getty

The term "brute force" means to overpower the defense through repetition. In the case of password hacking, brute forcing involves dictionary software that recombines English dictionary words with thousands of varying combinations. (Yes, much like a Hollywood safecracker movie scene, but slower and less glamorous). Brute force dictionaries always start with simple letters "a", "aa", "aaa", and then eventually move to full words like "dog", "doggie", "doggy". These brute force dictionaries can make 50 to 1000 attempts per minute. Given several hours or days, these dictionary tools will overcome any password. The secret is to make it take days to crack your password.

2
Social Engineering Hacker Attacks

Social engineering hack: con games to manipulate you
Social engineering hack: con games to manipulate you. helenecanada / Getty

Social engineering is the modern con game: the hacker manipulates you to divulge your password by using some kind of convincing personal contact. This personal contact might involve direct face-to-face communications, like a pretty girl with a clipboard doing interviews in a shopping mall. Social engineering attacks might also occur over the phone, where a hacker will masquerade as a bank representative calling to confirm your phone number and bank account numbers. The third and most common social engineering attack is called phishing or whaling. Phishing and whaling attacks are deception pages masquerading as legitimate authorities on your computer screen. Phishing/whaling emails will often redirect the victim to a convincing phishing website, where the victim types in their password, believing the website to be their actual bank or online account.

3
Administrator Back Doors

Back Door Hack: administrator openings
Back Door Hack: administrator openings. EyeEm / Getty

This kind of attack is akin to stealing the building master keys from the building janitor: the perpetrator accesses the system as if they were an entrusted employee. In the case of computer administrators: special all-access accounts allow the user into areas where only trusted network administrator should go. These administrator areas include password recovery options. If the hacker can enter your system with the administrator's account, the hacker can retrieve passwords of most anyone on that system.

4
More About Hacking

The Greatest Hacks in History
The Greatest Hacks in History. Purser / Getty

Computer hacking is exaggerated by the media, and very few public narratives give hackers the fair shake that they deserve. While most movies and TV shows of hackers are absurd, you might consider watching Mr. Robot if you want to see what hacktivists do.

Every savvy web user should know about the unsavory people on the Web. Understanding who hackers are will help you navigate online intelligently and confidently.

Related: besides hackers, ​there are other nasty people on the World Wide Web.

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