Cracking dictionary passwords


Note : This page may contain outdated information and/or broken links; some of the formatting may be mangled due to the many different code-bases this site has been through in over 20 years; my opinions may have changed etc. etc.

I was talking with a friend a few days ago, and the subject of password security came up. Now, we all know that we’re supposed to pick a secure password, use at least 8 characters and never to pick a word from the dictionary. But then I was asked how long it would take to brute-force a password using a dictionary attack, and I had to admit I had no idea. I knew it would only be a matter of minutes, but wanted to give it a try.

So, For anyone who is interested, I knocked up a quick BASH script to compare a MD5 hashed password against the contents of /usr/share/dict/words, which on a Red Hat 5.3 system contains 479,623 words. The script is as follows :

while read WORD; do
        WORD_HASH=$(echo $WORD | md5sum | awk '{print $1}')
        if [ "$WORD_HASH" == "$TARGET_HASH" ]; then
                echo "Found match!"
                echo "Password is : $WORD"
done < /usr/share/dict/words

Now, this was just a quick hack to satisfy my curiosity, and only something I threw together after a few seconds. Of particular relevance is the fact that it’s a shell script, and uses a lot of forking to generate the MD5 hashes of the dictionary. If I wrote it in C, I’m sure it would be faster by an order of magnitude.

But anyway, on to the test - I created a MD5 phrase for it to crack, and timed it :

# time ./ 3a783fb2aa3a2318499f0a60d7ef6078
Found match!
Password is : hedgehog
real    8m43.432s
user    1m48.410s
sys     8m27.030s

Not bad - just under 9 minutes. Obviously, that’d take longer if I used a word starting with "x" or "z"!  I then realised it would be a lot faster if I generated a "compiled" version of the dictionary file with the MD5 hashes preprepared :

while read WORD; do echo "$WORD:$(echo $WORD | md5sum | awk '{print $1}')"; done < /usr/share/dict/words  > md5.txt

Obviously, I could then generate compiled dictionary files for each hashing algorithm I wanted to crack (assuming that they are non-Salted algorithms).  This took around 30 minutes, but now I don’t have to generate the hashes again, all I need to do is check against the second column of the file for a match. It is also irrelevant whether the word lies near the start or end of the file, it now takes about the same time to find a match :

# time grep ac23b37db0039dda62896bb21f312755 md5.txt | cut -d':' -f1
real    0m0.019s
user    0m0.008s
sys     0m0.011s
# time grep 981fe627ab4906b677ce9d3e6eff499f md5.txt | cut -d':' -f1
real    0m0.019s
user    0m0.006s
sys     0m0.014s

So there you have it. It was an interesting way to spend a few minutes, and I now have an answer whenever someone asks "how long would it take to crack a password based on a dictionary word": Assuming you have the compiled hash files, around 0.019 seconds.