This chapter examines password crackers. Because these tools are of such significance in security, I will cover many different types, including those not expressly designed to crack Internet-related passwords.
The term password cracker can be misinterpreted, so I want to define it here. A password cracker is any program that can decrypt passwords or otherwise disable password protection. A password cracker need not decrypt anything. In fact, most of them don't. Real encrypted passwords, as you will shortly learn, cannot be reverse-decrypted.
A more precise way to explain this is as follows: encrypted passwords cannot be decrypted. Most modern, technical encryption processes are now one-way (that is, there is no process to be executed in reverse that will reveal the password in plain text).
Instead, simulation tools are used, utilizing the same algorithm as the original password program. Through a comparative analysis, these tools try to match encrypted versions of the password to the original (this is explained a bit later in this chapter). Many so-called password crackers are nothing but brute-force engines--programs that try word after word, often at high speeds. These rely on the theory that eventually, you will encounter the right word or phrase. This theory has been proven to be sound, primarily due to the factor of human laziness. Humans simply do not take care to create strong passwords. However, this is not always the user's fault:
1Daniel V. Klein, A Survey of, and Improvements to, Password Security. Software Engineering Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania. (PostScript creation date reported: February 22, 1991.)
The problem is a persistent one, despite the fact that password security education demands minimal resources. It is puzzling how such a critical security issue (which can easily be addressed) is often overlooked. The issue goes to the very core of security:
2K. Coady. Understanding Password Security For Users on & offline. New England Telecommuting Newsletter, 1991.
In any event, I want to define even further the range of this chapter. For our purposes, people who provide registration passwords or CD keys are not password crackers, nor are they particularly relevant here. Individuals who copy common registration numbers and provide them over the Internet are pirates. I discuss these individuals (and yes, I point to some sites) at the end of this chapter. Nevertheless, these people (and the files they distribute, which often contain thousands of registration numbers) do not qualify as password crackers.
NOTE: These registration numbers and programs that circumvent password protection are often called cracks. A Usenet newsgroup has actually been devoted to providing such passwords and registration numbers. Not surprisingly, within this newsgroup, many registration numbers are routinely trafficked, and the software to which they apply is also often posted there. That newsgroup is appropriately called alt.cracks.
The only exception to this rule is a program designed to subvert early implementations of the Microsoft CD key validation scheme (although the author of the source code did not intend that the program be used as a piracy tool). Some explanation is in order.
As part of its anti-piracy effort, Microsoft developed a method of consumer authentication that makes use of the CD key. When installing a Microsoft product for the first time, users are confronted by a dialog box that requests the CD key. This is a challenge to you; if you have a valid key, the software continues to install and all is well. If, however, you provide an invalid key, the installation routine exits on error, explaining that the CD key is invalid.
Several individuals examined the key validation scheme and concluded that it was poorly designed. One programmer, Donald Moore, determined that through the following procedure, a fictional key could be tested for authenticity. His formula is sound and basically involves these steps:
The number that you derive from this process is examined in decimal mode. If the number has no fractional part (there are no numeric values to the right of the decimal point), the key is valid. If the number contains a fractional part (there are numbers to the right of the decimal), the key is invalid. Moore then designed a small program that would automate this process.
Cross Reference: Moore's complete explanation and analysis of the CD key validation routine is located at http://www.apexsc.com/vb/lib/lib3.html.
The programmer also posted source code to the Internet, written in garden-variety C. I have compiled this code on several platforms and it works equally well on all. (The platforms I have compiled it on include DOS, NT, Linux, and AIX.) The utility is quite valuable, I have found, for I often lose my CD keys.
Cross Reference: The source code is located at http://www.futureone.com/~damaged/PC/Microsoft_CD_Key/mscdsrc.html.
This type of utility, I feel, qualifies in this chapter as a form of password cracker. I suspect that some of you will use this utility to subvert the CD key validation. However, in order to do so, you must first know a bit of C (and have a compiler available). My feeling is, if you have these tools, your level of expertise is high indeed, and you are probably beyond stealing software from Microsoft. (I hope.)
NOTE: Microsoft's method of protecting upgrade packages is also easily bypassed. Upgrades install as long as you have the first disk of a previous version of the specified software. Therefore, a user who obtains the first disk of Microsoft Visual Basic Professional 3.0, for example, can install the 4.0 upgrade. For this reason, some pirate groups distribute images of that first disk, which are then written to floppies. (In rare instances when the exact image must appear on the floppy, some people use rawrite.exe or dd.exe, two popular utilities that write an image directly to a floppy. This technique differs from copying it to a floppy.) In addition, it is curious to note that certain upgrade versions of VB will successfully install even without the floppy providing that Microsoft Office has been installed first.
I should make it clear that I do not condone piracy (even though I feel that many commercial software products are criminally overpriced). I use Linux and GNU. In that respect, I owe much to Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman. I have no fear of violating the law because most of the software I use is free to be redistributed to anyone. (Also, I have found Linux to be more stable than many other operating systems that cost hundreds of dollars more.)
Linux is an entirely copy-free operating system, and the GNU suite of programs is under the general public license. That is, you are free to redistribute these products to anyone at any time. Doing so does not violate any agreement with the software authors. Many of these utilities are free versions of popular commercial packages, including C and C++ compilers, Web-development tools, or just about anything you can dream of. These programs are free to anyone who can download them. They are, quite frankly, a godsend to anyone studying development.
In any event, the password crackers I will be examining here are exactly that: they crack, destroy, or otherwise subvert passwords. I provide information about registration cracks at the end of the chapter. That established, let's move forward.
To understand how password crackers work, you need only understand how password generators work. Most password generators use some form of cryptography. Cryptography is the practice of writing in some form of code.
This definition is wide, and I want to narrow it. The etymological root of the word cryptography can help in this regard. Crypto stems from the Greek word kryptos. Kryptos was used to describe anything that was hidden, obscured, veiled, secret, or mysterious. Graph is derived from graphia, which means writing. Thus, cryptography is the art of secret writing. An excellent and concise description of cryptography is given by Yaman Akdeniz in his paper Cryptography & Encryption:
3Yaman Akdeniz, Cryptography & Encryption August 1996, Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) at http://www.leeds.ac.uk/law/pgs/yaman/cryptog.htm. (Criminal Justice Studies of the Law Faculty of University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT.)
Most passwords are subjected to some form of cryptography. That is, passwords are encrypted. To illustrate this process, let me reduce it to its most fundamental. Imagine that you created your own code, where each letter of the alphabet corresponded to a number (see Figure 10.1).
A primitive example of a code.
In Figure 10.1, there is a table, or legend, to the left. Below each letter is a corresponding number. Thus, A = 7, B = 2, and so forth. This is a code of sorts, similar to the kind seen in secret-decoder kits found by children in their cereal boxes. You probably remember them: They came with decoder rings and sometimes even included a tiny code book for breaking the code manually.
Unfortunately, such a code can be easily broken. For example, if each letter has a fixed numeric counterpart (that is, that counterpart never changes), it means that you will only be using 26 different numbers (presumably 1 through 26, although you could choose numbers arbitrarily). Assume that the message you are seeking to hide contains letters but no numbers. Lexical analysis would reveal your code within a few seconds. There are software programs that perform such analysis at high speed, searching for patterns common to your language.
Another method (slightly more complex) is where each letter becomes another letter, based on a standard, incremental (or decremental) operation. To demonstrate this technique, I will defer to ROT-13 encoding. ROT-13 is a method whereby each letter is replaced by a substitute letter. The substitute letter is derived by moving 13 letters ahead (see Figure 10.2).
The ROT-13 principle of letter substitution.
This, too, is an ineffective method of encoding or encrypting a message (although it reportedly worked in Roman times for Caesar, who used a shift-by-three formula). There are programs that quickly identify this pattern. However, this does not mean that techniques like ROT-13 are useless. I want to illustrate why and, in the process, I can demonstrate the first important point about passwords and encryption generally:
In other words, techniques like the ROT-13 implementation may be quite useful under certain circumstances. Here is an example: Suppose a user wants to post a cracking technique to a Usenet group. He or she has found a hole and wants to publicize it while it is still exploitable. Fine. To prevent bona-fide security specialists from discovering that hole as quickly as crackers, ROT-13 can be used.
Remember how I pointed out that groups like NCSA routinely download Usenet traffic on a wholesale basis? Many groups also use popular search engines to ferret out cracker techniques. These search engines primarily employ regex (regular expression) searches (that is, they search by word or phrase). For example, the searching party (perhaps NCSA, perhaps any interested party) may enter a combination of words such as
When this combination of words is entered correctly, a wealth of information emerges. Correctly might mean many things; each engine works slightly differently. For example, some render incisive results if the words are enclosed in quotation marks. This sometimes forces a search that is case sensitive. Equally, many engines provide for the use of different Boolean expressions. Some even provide fuzzy-logic searches or the capability to mark whether a word appears adjacent, before, or after another word or expression.
When the cracker applies the ROT-13 algorithm to a message, such search engines will miss the post. For example, the message
is clearly beyond the reach of the average search engine. What it really looks like is this:
Most modern mail and newsreaders support ROT-13 encoding and decoding (Free Agent by Forte is one; Netscape Navigator's Mail package is another). Again, this is a very simple form of encoding something, but it demonstrates the concept. Now, let's get a bit more specific.
Many different operating systems are on the Internet. The majority of servers, however, run some form of UNIX. On the UNIX platform, all user login IDs and passwords are stored in a central location. That location, for many years, was in the directory /etc within a file passwd (/etc/passwd). The format of this file contains various fields. Of those, we are concerned with two: the login ID and the password.
The login ID is stored plain text, or in perfectly readable English. (This is used as a key for encryption.) The password is stored in an encrypted form. The encryption process is performed using Crypt(3), a program based on the data encryption standard (DES). IBM developed the earliest version of DES; today, it is used on all UNIX platforms for password encryption. DES is endorsed jointly by the National Bureau of Standards and the National Security Agency. In fact, since 1977, DES has been the generally accepted method for safeguarding sensitive data. Figure 10.3 contains a brief timeline of DES development.
Brief timeline of the development of DES.
DES was developed primarily for the protection of certain nonclassified information that might exist in federal offices. As set forth in Federal Information Processing Standards Publication 74, Guidelines for Implementing and Using the NBS Data Encryption Standard:
Information about the original mechanical development of DES is scarce. Reportedly, at the request of the National Security Agency, IBM caused certain documents to be classified. (They will likely remain so for some years to come.) However, the source code for Crypt(3) (the currently implementation of DES in UNIX) is widely available. This is significant, because in all the years that source has been available for Crypt, no one has yet found a way to easily reverse-encode information encrypted with it.
TIP: Want to try your luck at cracking Crypt? Get the source! It comes with the standard GNU distribution of C libraries, which can be found at ftp://gatekeeper.dec.com/glibc-1.09.1.tar.gz. (Please note that if you are not on U.S. soil or within U.S. jurisdiction, you must download the source for Crypt from a site outside the United States. The site usually given for this is ftp://ftp.uni-c.dk./glibc-1.09-crypt.tar.z.
Certain implementations of Crypt work differently. In general, however, the process is as follows:
Certain versions of Crypt, notably Crypt(3), take additional steps. For example, after going through this process, it encrypts the already encrypted text, again using your password as a key. This a fairly strong method of encryption; it is extremely difficult to break.
In brief, DES takes submitted data and encodes it using a one-way operation sometimes referred to as a hash. This operation is special from a mathematical point of view for one reason: While it is relatively simple to encode data this way, decoding it is computationally complex and resource intensive. It is estimated, for example, that the same password can be encoded in 4,096 different ways. The average user, without any knowledge of the system, could probably spend his or her entire life attempting to crack DES and never be successful. To get that in proper perspective, examine an estimate from the National Institute of Standards and Technology:
4NIST, December 30, 1993. "Data Encryption Standard (DES)," Federal Information Processing Standards Publication 46-2. http://csrc.nist.gov/fips/fips46-2.txt.
One would think that DES is entirely infallible. It isn't. Although the information cannot be reverse-encoded, passwords encrypted via DES can be revealed through a comparative process. The process works as follows:
This in itself is amazing; nevertheless, password-cracking programs made for this purpose are even more amazing than they initially appear. For example, such cracking programs often subject each word to a list of rules. A rule could be anything, any manner in which a word might appear. Typical rules might include
Alternate upper- and lowercase lettering. Spell the word forward and then backward, and then fuse the two results (for example: cannac). Add the number 1 to the beginning and/or end of each word.
Naturally, the more rules one applies to the words, the longer the cracking process takes. However, more rules also guarantee a higher likelihood of success. This is so for a number of reasons:
The UNIX file system is case sensitive (WORKSTATION is interpreted differently than Workstation or workstation). That alone makes a UNIX password infinitely more complex to crack than a password generated on a DOS/Windows machine. Alternating letters and numbers in passwords is a common practice by those aware of security issues. When cracking passwords from such a source, many rules should be applied.
The emergence of such programs has greatly altered the security of the Internet. The reasons can be easily understood by anyone. One reason is because such tools are effective:
5David Feldmeier and Philip R. Karn. UNIX Password Security--Ten Years Later. (Bellcore).
Another reason is that the passwords on many systems remain available. In other words, for many years, the task of the cracker was nearly over if he or she could obtain that /etc/passwd file. When in possession of the encrypted passwords, a suitably powerful machine, and a cracking program, the cracker was ready to crack (provided, of course, that he or she had good wordlists).
Wordlists are generally constructed with one word per line, in plain text, and using no carriage returns. They average at about 1MB each (although one could feasibly create a wordlist some 20MB in size). As you may have guessed, many wordlists are available on the Internet; these come in a wide variety of languages (thus, an American cracker can crack an Italian machine and vice versa).
Cross Reference: There are a few popular depositories for wordlists. These collections contain every imaginable type of wordlist. Some are simply dictionaries and others contain hyphenated words, upper and lower case, and so on. One exceptionally good source is at http://sdg.ncsa.uiuc.edu/~mag/Misc/Wordlists.html. However, perhaps the most definitive collection is available at the COAST project at Purdue. Its page is located at http://www.cs.purdue.edu/coast/.
Before I get even more specific, I want to graphically illustrate the password-cracking process (see Figure 10.4).
The graphical representation in Figure 10.4 will serve you well. I want to explain a bit about each portion of the process. First, I should briefly cover the hardware issues.
As noted in Figure 10.4, a 66MHz machine or higher is typical. Indeed, it is a basic requirement. Without delving deep into an argument for this or that processor (or this or that platform), I should at least state this: In actual practice, cracking a large password file is a CPU- and memory-intensive task. It can often take days. Whether you are a hobbyist, cracker, or system administrator, you would be well advised to take note of this point. Before actually cracking a large password file, you might want to inventory your equipment and resources.
I have found that to perform a successful (and comfortable) crack of a large password file, one should have 66MHz of processing power and 32MB of RAM (or better). It can be done with less, even a 25MHz processor and 8MB of RAM. However, if you use a machine so configured, you cannot expect to use it for any other tasks. (At least, this is true of any IBM AT compatible. I have seen this done on a Sun SPARCstation 1 and the user was still able to run other processes, even in OpenWindows.)
The process of cracking, graphically illustrated.
Equally, there are techniques for overcoming this problem. One is the parlor trick of distributed cracking. Distributed cracking is where the cracker runs the cracking program in parallel, on separate processors. There are a few ways to do this. One is to break the password file into pieces and crack those pieces on separate machines. In this way, the job is distributed among a series of workstations, thus cutting resource drain and the time it takes to crack the entire file.
The problem with distributed cracking is that it makes a lot of noise. Remember the Randal Schwartz case? Mr. Schwartz probably would never have been discovered if he were not distributing the CPU load. Another system administrator noticed the heavy processor power being eaten. (He also noted that one process had been running for more than a day.) Thus, distributed cracking really isn't viable for crackers unless they are the administrator of a site or they have a network at home (which is not so unusual these days; I have a network at home that consists of Windows 95, Windows NT, Linux, Sun, and Novell boxes).
In any event, as Figure 10.4 shows, the wordlist is sent through the encryption process, generally one word at a time. Rules are applied to the word and, after each such application, the word is again compared to the target password (which is also encrypted). If no match occurs, the next word is sent through the process.
Some password crackers perform this task differently. Some take the entire list of words, apply a rule, and from this derive their next list. This list is then encrypted and matched against the target password. The difference is not academic. The second technique is probably much faster.
In the final stage, if a match occurs, the password is then deemed cracked. The plain-text word is then piped to a file (recorded in a plain-text file for later examination).
It is of some significance that the majority of password cracking utilities are not user friendly. In fact, when executed, some of them forward nothing more than a cryptic message, such as
Most also do not have extensive documentation with them. There are a few reasons for this phenomenon:
The remainder of this chapter is devoted to individual password crackers. Some are made for cracking UNIX passwd files, and some are not. Some of the tools here are not even password crackers; instead, they are auxiliary utilities that can be used in conjunction with (or for the improvement of) existing password crackers.
Crack is probably the most celebrated tool for cracking encrypted UNIX passwords. It is now the industry standard for checking networks for characteristically weak passwords. It was written by Alec D. E. Muffet, a UNIX software engineer in Wales. In the docs provided with the distribution, Mr. Muffett concisely articulates the program's purpose:
Crack is for use on UNIX platforms only. It comes as a tarred, g'zipped file and is available at so many sites, I will refrain from listing them here (use the search string crack-4.1.tar.gz or crack-4.1.tar.Z). After downloaded to the local disk, it is unzipped and untarred into a suitable directory (I prefer putting it into the /root/ directory tree). After you finish that process, your directory (Crack-4.1) will look similar to the one shown in Figure 10.5.
The Crack directory structure.
To get up and running, you need only set the root directory for Crack (this is the directory beneath which all the Crack resources can be found). This value is assigned to a variable (Crack_Home) in the configuration files. This is merely an environment variable that, when set, tells the Crack program where the remaining resources reside. To set this variable, edit the file Crack, which is a /bin/sh script that starts up the Crack engine. After editing this file, you can begin. This file, which consists of plain-text commands, code, and variables, can be edited in any text editor or word processor. However, it must be saved to plain text.
NOTE: You may or may not need to quickly acquire a wordlist. As it happens, many distributions of Crack are accompanied by sample wordlist (or dictionary) files. Your mileage may vary in this respect. I would suggest getting your copy of Crack from established (as opposed to underground) sites. This will make it more likely that you will get a sample wordlist (although to do any serious password cracking, you will need to acquire bigger and more suitable wordlists).
You initiate a Crack session by calling the program and providing the name of a password file and any command-line arguments, including specifications for using multiple workstations and such. If you refer to the Xterm snapshot in Figure 10.5, you will see a file there named my_password_file. This is a sample passwd file that I cracked to generate an example. To crack that file, I issued the following command:
Crack started the process and wrote the progress of the operation to files with an out prefix. In this case, the file was called outSamsHack300. Following is an excerpt from that file; examine it closely.
pwc: Jan 30 19:26:49 Crack v4.1f: The Password Cracker, (c) Alec D.E. Muffett, 1992 pwc: Jan 30 19:26:49 Loading Data, host=SamsHack pid=300 pwc: Jan 30 19:26:49 Loaded 2 password entries with 2 different (salts: 100% pwc: Jan 30 19:26:49 Loaded 240 rules from `Scripts/dicts.rules'. pwc: Jan 30 19:26:49 Loaded 74 rules from `Scripts/gecos.rules'. pwc: Jan 30 19:26:49 Starting pass 1 - password information pwc: Jan 30 19:26:49 FeedBack: 0 users done, 2 users left to crack. pwc: Jan 30 19:26:49 Starting pass 2 - dictionary words pwc: Jan 30 19:26:49 Applying rule `!?Al' to file `Dicts/bigdict' pwc: Jan 30 19:26:50 Rejected 12492 words on loading, 89160 words (left to sort pwc: Jan 30 19:26:51 Sort discarded 947 words; FINAL DICTIONARY (SIZE: 88213 pwc: Jan 30 19:27:41 Guessed ROOT PASSWORD root (/bin/bash (in my_password_file) [laura] EYFu7c842Bcus pwc: Jan 30 19:27:41 Closing feedback file.
As you can see, Crack guessed the correct password for root. This process took just under a minute. Line 1 reveals the time at which the process was initiated (Jan 30 19:26:49); line 12 reveals that the password--Laura--was cracked at 19:27:41. This was done using a 133MHz processor and 32MB of RAM.
Because the password file I used was so small, neither time nor resources was an issue. In practice, however, if you are cracking a file with hundreds of entries, Crack will eat resources voraciously. This is especially so if you are using multiple wordlists that are in compressed form. (Crack will actually identify these as compressed files and will uncompress them.)
As mentioned earlier, Crack can distribute the work to different workstations on a UNIX network. Even more extraordinary than this, the machines can be of different architectures. Thus, you might have an IBM-compatible running Linux, a RS/6000 running AIX, and a Macintosh running A/UX.
Crack is extremely lightweight and is probably the most reliable password cracker available.
TIP: To perform a networked cracking session, you must build a network.conf file. This is used by the program to identify which hosts to network, their architecture, and other key variables. One can also specify command-line options that are invoked as Crack is unleashed on each machine. In other words, each machine may be running Crack and using different command-line options. This can be conveniently managed from one machine.
Cross Reference: Macintosh users can also enjoy the speed and efficiency of Crack by using the most recent port of it, called MacKrack v2.01b1. It is available at http://www.borg.com/~docrain/mac-hack.html.
CrackerJack is a renowned UNIX password cracker designed expressly for the DOS platform. Contrary to popular notions, CrackerJack is not a straight port of Crack (not even close). Nevertheless, CrackerJack is an extremely fast and easy-to-use cracking utility. For several years, CrackerJack has been the choice for DOS users; although many other cracker utilities have cropped up, CrackerJack remains quite popular (it's a cult thing). Later versions were reportedly compiled using GNU C and C++. CrackerJack's author reports that through this recompiling process, the program gained noticeable speed.
TIP: CrackerJack also now works on the OS/2 platform.
The are some noticeable drawbacks to CrackerJack, including
Despite these snags, CrackerJack is reliable and, for moderate tasks, requires only limited resources. It takes sparse processor power, doesn't require a windowed environment, and can run from a floppy.
Cross Reference: CrackerJack is widely available, although not as widely as one would expect. Here are a few reliable sites:
PaceCrack95 is designed to work on the Windows 95 platform in console mode, in a shell window. Its author reports that PaceCrack95 was prompted by deficiencies in other DOS-based crackers. He writes:
To the author's credit, he created a program that does just that. It is fast, compact, and efficient. Unfortunately, however, PaceCrack95 is a new development not yet widely available (I believe it was distributed in July 1996).
Cross Reference: There is a shortage of reliable sites from which to retrieve PaceCrack95, but it can be found at http://tms.netrom.com/~cassidy/crack.htm.
Qcrack was originally designed for use on the Linux platform. It has recently been ported to the MS-DOS/Windows platform (reportedly sometime in July 1996). Qcrack is therefore among the newest wave of password crackers that have cropped up in the last year or so. This has increased the number of choices in the void. This utility is extremely fast, but there are some major drawbacks. One relates to storage. As the author, the Crypt Keeper, explains:
NOTE: Note that Qcrack is a bit slower than some other utilities of this nature, but is probably worth it. Parallelizing is possible, but not in the true sense. Basically, one can use different machines and use different dictionaries (as Qcrack's author suggests). However, this is not the same form of parallelizing that can be implemented with Muffett's Crack. (Not to split hairs, but using Qcrack in this fashion will greatly speed up the process of the crack.)
Just one more interesting tidbit: The author of Qcrack, in a stroke of vision, suggested that someone create a CD-ROM of nothing but wordlist dictionaries (granted, this would probably be of less use to those with slow CD-ROMs; repeated access across drives could slow the system a bit).
Cross Reference: Qcrack can be found in the following places:
John the Ripper is a relatively new UNIX password cracker that runs on the DOS/Windows 95 platform. The binary distribution suggests that the coding was finished in December 1996. Early distributions of this program were buggy. Those of you working with less than 4MB of RAM might want to avoid this utility. Its author suggests that the program can run with less than 4MB, but a lot of disk access will be going on.
Cross Reference: John the Ripper runs on Linux as well. The Linux version is currently in beta and is being distributed as an ELF binary. It can be found by searching for the string john-linux.tar.zip.
Undoubtedly, these early efforts were flawed because the author attempted to include so many functions. Although John the Ripper may not yet be perfect, it is sizing up as quite a program. It runs in DOS (or in Windows 95 via a shell window) and has extensive options. Rather than list those here, I have provided a screenshot of the opening screen that appears if you start John without any arguments (see Figure 10.6).
The John the Ripper opening screen.
In this respect, John incorporates many of the amenities and necessities of other, more established programs. I fully expect that within six months of this writing, John the Ripper will be among the most popular cracking utilities.
Cross Reference: The DOS version of John the Ripper, which is relatively large in terms of password crackers, can be found at http://tms.netrom.com/~cassidy/crack.htm.
Pcrack is a Perl script for use on the UNIX platform (this does not mean that Pcrack couldn't be implemented on the NT platform; it simply means that some heavy-duty porting would be in order). This utility has its advantages because it is quite compact and, when loaded onto the interpreter, fast. Nonetheless, one must obviously have not only some form of UNIX, but also access to Perl. As I have already pointed out, such utilities are best employed by someone with root access to a UNIX box. Many system administrators have undertaken the practice of restricting Perl access these days.
Cross Reference: Pcrack is not widely available, but http://tms.netrom.com/~cassidy/crack.htm appears to be a reliable source.
Hades is yet another cracking utility that reveals UNIX /etc/passwd passwords. Or is it? Hades is very fast, faster than Muffett's Crack and far faster than CrackerJack (at least in tests I have performed).
The distribution comes with some source code and manual pages, as well as an advisory, which I quote here:
With the exception of Muffett's Crack, Hades is the most well-documented password cracker available. The authors have taken exceptional care to provide you with every possible amenity. The Hades distribution consists of a series of small utilities that, when employed together, formulate a powerful cracking suite. For each such utility, a man (manual) page exists. The individual utilities included with the distribution perform the following functions:
Cross Reference: Hades is so widely available that I will refrain from giving a list of sites here. Users who wish to try out this well-crafted utility should search for one or both of the following search terms:
Star Cracker was designed to work under the DOS4GW environment. Okay...this particular utility is a bit of a curiosity. The author was extremely thorough, and although the features he or she added are of great value and interest, one wonders when the author takes out time to have fun. In any event, here are some of the more curious features:
To UNIX users, this second amenity doesn't mean much. UNIX users have always had the ability to time jobs. However, on the DOS platform, this capability has been varied and scarce (although there are utilities, such as tm, that can schedule jobs).
Moreover, this cracking utility has a menu of options: functions that make the cracking process a lot easier. You've really got to see this one to believe it. A nicely done job.
Cross Reference: Star Cracker is available at http://citus.speednet.com.au/~ramms/.
Killer Cracker is another fairly famous cracking engine. It is distributed almost always as source code. The package compiles without event on a number of different operating systems, although I would argue that it works best under UNIX.
NOTE: Unless you obtain a binary release, you will need a C compiler.
Killer Cracker has so many command-line options, it is difficult to know which ones to mention here. Nonetheless, here are a few highlights of this highly portable and efficient cracking tool:
In all, this program is quite complete. Perhaps that is why it remains so popular. It has been ported to the Macintosh operating system, it works on a DOS system, and it was designed under UNIX. It is portable and easily compiled.
Cross Reference: Killer Cracker can be obtained at these locations:
- http://hack.box.sk/stuff/linux1/kc9.zip (DOS 16 bit)
- http://hack.box.sk/stuff/linux1/kc9_32.zip (DOS 32 bit)
- http://www.ilf.net/Toast/files/unix/kc9_11.tgz (UNIX)
- http://www.netaxs.com/~hager/mac/hack/KillerCrackerv8.sit.bin (Mac)
Another grass-roots work, Hellfire Cracker is a utility for cracking UNIX password files using the DOS platform. It was developed using the GNU compiler. This utility is quite fast, although not by virtue of the encryption engine. Its major drawback is that user-friendly functions are practically nonexistent. Nevertheless, it makes up for this in speed and efficiency.
One amenity of Hellfire is that it is now distributed almost exclusively in binary form, which obviates the need for a C compiler.
Cross Reference: This utility can be found on many sites, but I have encountered problems finding reliable ones. This one, however is reliable: http://www.ilf.net/~toast/files/.
XIT is yet another UNIX /etc/passwd file cracker, but it is a good one. Distinguishing characteristics include
The Claymore utility has been around for several years. However, it is not as widely available as one would expect. It also comes in different compressed formats, although the greater number are zipped.
Cross Reference: One reliable place to find XIT is http://www.ilf.net/~toast/files/xit20.zip.
The Claymore utility is slightly different from its counterparts. It runs on any Windows platform, including 95 and NT.
NOTE: Claymore does not work in DOS or even a DOS shell window.
Figure 10.7 shows Claymore's opening window.
The Claymore opening screen.
There is not a lot to this utility, but some amenities are worth mentioning. First, Claymore can be used as a brute force cracker for many systems. It can be used to crack UNIX /etc/passwd files, but it can also be used to crack other types of programs (including those requiring a login/password pair to get in).
One rather comical aspect of this brute force cracker is its overzealousness. According to the author:
This is what I would classify as a true, brute-force cracking utility! One interesting aspect is this: You can specify that the program send control and other nonprintable characters during the crack. The structure of the syntax to do so suggests that Claymore was written in Microsoft Visual Basic. Moreover, one almost immediately draws the conclusion that the VB function SendKeys plays a big part of this application. In any event, it works extremely well.
Cross Reference: Claymore is available at many locations on the Internet, but http://www.ilf.net/~toast/files/claym10.zip is almost guaranteed to be available.
Guess is a compact, simple application designed to attack UNIX /etc/passwd files. It is presented with style but not much pomp. The interface is designed for DOS, but will successfully run through a DOS windowed shell. Of main interest is the source, which is included with the binary distribution. Guess was created sometime in 1991, it seems. For some reason, it has not yet gained the notoriety of its counterparts; this is strange, for it works well.
Cross Reference: Guess is available widely, so I will refrain from listing locations here. It is easy enough to find; use the search string guess.zip.
I have included the PC UNIX Password Cracker utility (which runs on the DOS platform) primarily for historical reasons. First, it was released sometime in 1990. As such, it includes support not only for 386 and 286 machines, but for 8086 machines. (That's right. Got an old XT lying around the house? Put it to good use and crack some passwords!) I won't dwell on this utility, but I will say this: The program is extremely well designed and has innumerable command-line options. Naturally, you will probably want something a bit more up to date (perhaps other work of the good Doctor's) but if you really do have an old XT, this is for you.
Cross Reference: PC UNIX Cracker can be found at http://www.ilf.net/~toast/files/pwcrackers/pcupc201.zip.
Merlin is not a password cracker. Rather, it is a tool for managing password crackers as well as scanners, audit tools, and other security-related utilities. In short, it is a fairly sophisticated tool for holistic management of the security process. Figure 10.8 shows Merlin's opening screen.
Merlin is for UNIX platforms only. It has reportedly been tested (with positive results) on a number of flavors, including but not limited to IRIX, Linux, SunOS, Solaris, and HP-UX.
One of the main attractions of Merlin is this: Although it has been specifically designed to support only five common security tools, it is highly extensible (it is written in Perl almost exclusively). Thus, one could conceivably incorporate any number of tools into the scheme of the program.
Merlin is a wonderful tool for integrating a handful of command-line tools into a single, easily managed package. It addresses the fact that the majority of UNIX-based security programs are based in the command-line interface (CLI). The five applications supported are
Merlin's opening screen.
Note that Merlin does not supply any of these utilities in the distribution. Rather, you must acquire these programs and then configure Merlin to work with them (similar to the way one configures external viewers and helpers in Netscape's Navigator). The concept may seem lame, but the tool provides an easy, centralized point from which to perform some fairly common (and grueling) security tasks. In other words, Merlin is more than a bogus front-end. In my opinion, it is a good contribution to the security trade.
TIP: Those who are new to the UNIX platform may have to do a little hacking to get Merlin working. For example, Merlin relies on you to have correctly configured your browser to properly handle *.pl files (it goes without saying that Perl is one requisite). Also, Merlin apparently runs an internal HTTP server and looks for connections from the local host. This means you must have your system properly configured for loopback.
Merlin (and programs like it) are an important and increasing trend (a trend kicked off by Farmer and Venema). Because such programs are designed primarily in an HTML/Perl base, they are highly portable to various platforms in the UNIX community. They also tend to take slim network resources and, after the code has been loaded into the interpreter, they move pretty fast. Finally, these tools are easier to use, making security less of an insurmountable task. The data is right there and easily manipulated. This can only help strengthen security and provide newbies with an education.
Now you'll venture into more exotic areas. Here you will find a wide variety of password crackers for almost any type of system or application.
ZipCrack does just what you would think it would: It is designed to brute-force passwords that have been applied to files with a *.zip extension (in other words, it cracks the password on files generated with PKZIP).
No docs are included in the distribution (at least, not the few files that I have examined), but I am not sure there is any need. The program is straightforward. You simply provide the target file, and the program does the rest.
The program was written in Turbo Pascal, and the source code is included with the distribution. ZipCrack will work on any IBM-compatible that is a 286 or higher. The file description reports that ZipCrack will crack all those passwords generated by PKZIP 2.0. The author also warns that although short passwords can be obtained within a reasonable length of time, long passwords can take "centuries." Nevertheless, I sincerely doubt that many individuals provide passwords longer than five characters. ZipCrack is a useful utility for the average toolbox; it's one of those utilities that you think you will never need and later, at 3:00 in the morning, you swear bitterly because you don't have it.
Cross Reference: ZipCrack is widely available; use the search string zipcrk10.zip.
Fast Zip 2.0 is, essentially, identical to ZipCrack. It cracks zipped passwords.
Cross Reference: To find Fast Zip 2.0, use the search string fzc101.zip.
An obscure but nonetheless interesting utility, Decrypt breaks WordPerfect passwords. It is written in BASIC and works well. The program is not perfect, but it is successful a good deal of the time. The author reports that Decrypt checks for passwords with keys from 1 through 23. The program was released in 1993 and is widely available.
Cross Reference: To find Decrypt, use the search string decrypt.zip.
There is not a lot of documentation with the Glide utility. This program is used exclusively to crack PWL files, which are password files generated in Microsoft Windows for Workgroups and later versions of Windows. The lack of documentation, I think, is forgivable. The C source is included with the distribution. For anyone who hacks or cracks Microsoft Windows boxes, this utility is a must.
Cross Reference: Glide is available at these locations:
The AMI Decode utility is designed expressly to grab the CMOS password from any machine using an American Megatrends BIOS. Before you go searching for this utility, you might try the factory-default CMOS password. It is, oddly enough, AMI. In any event, the program works, and that is what counts.
Cross Reference: To find AMI Decode, use the search string amidecod.zip.
NetCrack is an interesting utility for use on the Novell NetWare platform. It applies a brute-force attack against the bindery. It's slow, but still quite reliable.
Cross Reference: To find NetCrack, use the search string netcrack.zip.
Before readers who use PGP get worked up, a bit of background is in order. Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) is probably the strongest and most reliable encryption utility available to the public sector. Its author, Phil Zimmermann, sums it up as follows:
PGP can apply a series of encryption techniques. One of these, which is discussed in Chapter 13, "Techniques to Hide One's Identity," is IDEA. To give you an idea of how difficult IDEA is to crack, here is an excerpt from the PGP Attack FAQ, authored by Route (an authority on encryption and a member of "The Guild," a hacker group):
In essence, a message encrypted using a 1024-bit key generated with a healthy and long passphrase is, for all purposes, unbreakable. So, why did Mr. Miller author this interesting tool? Because passphrases can be poorly chosen and, if a PGP-encrypted message is to be cracked, the passphrase is a good place to start. Miller reports:
Is this utility of any use? It is quite promising. Miller includes the source with the distribution as well as a file of possible passphrases (I have found at least one of those passphrases to be one I have used). The program is written in C and runs in the DOS, UNIX, and OS/2 environments.
Cross Reference: PGPCrack is available at several, reliable locations, including
- http://www.voicenet.com/~markm/pgpcrack.html (DOS version)
- http://www.voicenet.com/~markm/pgpcrack-os2.zip (OS/2 version)
- http://www.voicenet.com/~markm/pgpcrack.v99b.tar.gz (UNIX version)
The ICS Toolkit utility is an all-purpose utility for studying Cryptanalysis. It runs well in Microsoft Windows 3.11 but is more difficult to use in Windows 95 or Windows NT. It uses an older version of VBRUN300.DLL and therefore, users with later versions would be wise to move the newer copy to a temporary directory. (The ICS application will not install unless it can place its version of VBRUN300.DLL into the c:\windows\system directory.) This utility will help you learn how ciphers are created and how to break them. It is really quite comprehensive, although it takes some ingenuity to set up. It was programmed for older versions of Microsoft Windows. The interface is more utilitarian than attractive.
The EXCrack utility recovers passwords applied in the Microsoft Excel environment. Mr. Kuslich is very clear that this software is not free but licensable (and copyrighted); therefore, I have neglected to provide screenshots or quoted information. It's safe to say the utility works well.
Cross Reference: To find EXCrack, use the search string excrak.zip.
CP.EXE recovers or cracks passwords for CompuServe that are generated in CISNAV and WINCIM. It reportedly works on DOSCIM passwords as well. It a fast and reliable way to test whether your password is vulnerable to attack.
Cross Reference: This utility has been widely distributed and can be found by issuing the search string cis_pw.zip.
The Password NT utility recovers, or cracks, administrator password files on the Microsoft Windows NT 3.51 platform. In this respect, it is the NT equivalent of any program that cracks the root account in UNIX. Note that some hacking is required to use this utility; if the original drive on which the target password is located is NTFS (and therefore access-control options are enabled), you will need to move the password to a drive that is not access-control protected. To do this, you must move the password to a drive also running 3.51 workstation or server. Therefore, this isn't really an instant solution. Nevertheless, after everything is properly set, it will take no time at all.
Cross Reference: A nicely done utility, Password NT is always available at the company's home page (http://www.omna.com/yes/AndyBaron/recovery.htm).
There are well over 100 other utilities of a similar character. I will refrain from listing them here. I think that the previous list is sufficient to get you started studying password security. At least you can use these utilities to test the relative strength of your passwords.
At this stage, I would like to address some concepts in password security, as well as give you sources for further education.
I hope that you will go to the Net and retrieve each of the papers I am about to cite. If you are serious about learning security, you will follow this pattern throughout this book. By following these references in the order they are presented, you will gain an instant education in password security. However, if your time is sparse, the following paragraphs will at least provide you with some insight into password security.
UNIX password security, when implemented correctly, is fairly reliable. The problem is that people pick weak passwords. Unfortunately, because UNIX is a multi-user system, every user with a weak password represents a risk to the remaining users. This is a problem that must be addressed:
6Walter Belgers, UNIX Password Security. December 6, 1993.
TIP: The above-mentioned paper, UNIX Password Security, gives an excellent overview of exactly how DES works into the UNIX password scheme. This includes a schematic that shows the actual process of encryption using DES. For users new to security, this is an excellent starting point.
Cross Reference: Locate UNIX Password Security by entering the search string password.ps.
What are weak passwords? Characteristically, they are anything that might occur in a dictionary. Moreover, proper names are poor choices for passwords. However, there is no need to theorize on what passwords are easily cracked. Safe to say, if the password appears in a password cracking wordlist available on the Internet, the password is no good. So, instead of wondering, get yourself a few lists.
Cross Reference: Start your search for wordlists at http://sdg.ncsa.uiuc.edu/~mag/Misc/Wordlists.html.
By regularly checking the strength of the passwords on your network, you can ensure that crackers cannot penetrate it (at least not through exploiting bad password choices). Such a regimen can greatly improve your system security. In fact, many ISPs and other sites are now employing tools that check a user's password when it is first created. This basically implements the philosophy that
7Matthew Bishop, UC Davis, California, and Daniel Klein, LoneWolf Systems Inc. "Improving System Security via Proactive Password Checking." (Appeared in Computers and Security [14, pp. 233-249], 1995.)
TIP: This paper is probably one of the best case studies and treatments of easily-guessable passwords. It treats the subject in depth, illustrating real-life examples of various passwords that one would think are secure but actually are not.
Cross Reference: Locate Improving System Security via Proactive Password Checking by entering the search string bk95.ps.
NOTE: As you go along, you will see many of these files have a *.ps extension. This signifies a PostScript file. PostScript is a language and method of preparing documents. It was created by Adobe, the makers of Acrobat and Photoshop.
To read a PostScript file, you need a viewer. One very good one is Ghostscript, which is shareware and can be found at http://www.cs.wisc.edu/~ghost/.
Another good package (and a little more lightweight) is a utility called Rops. Rops is available for Windows and is located here:
- http://www5.zdnet.com/ (the ZDNet software library)
- http://oak.oakland.edu (the Oak software repository)
Other papers of importance include the following:
"Observing Reusable Password Choices"
Purdue Technical Report CSD-TR 92-049
Eugene H. Spafford
Department of Computer Sciences, Purdue University
Date: July 3, 1992
Search String: Observe.ps
"Password Security: A Case History"
Robert Morris and Ken Thompson
Search String: pwstudy.ps
"Opus: Preventing Weak Password Choices"
Purdue Technical Report CSD-TR 92-028
Eugene H. Spafford
Department of Computer Sciences, Purdue University
Date: June 1991
Search String: opus.PS.gz
"Federal Information Processing Standards Publication 181"
Announcing the Standard for Automated Password Generator
Date: October 5, 1993
"Augmented Encrypted Key Exchange: A Password-Based Protocol Secure Against Dictionary Attacks and Password File Compromise"
Steven M. Bellovin and Michael Merrit
AT&T Bell Laboratories
Search String: aeke.ps
"A High-Speed Software Implementation of DES"
David C. Feldmeier
Computer Communication Research Group
Date: June 1989
Search String: des.ps
"Using Content Addressable Search Engines to Encrypt and Break DES"
Peter C. Wayner
Computer Science Department
Search String: desbreak.ps
"Encrypted Key Exchange: Password-Based Protocols Secure Against Dictionary Attacks"
Steven M. Bellovin and Michael Merrit
AT&T Bell Laboratories
Search String: neke.ps
"Computer Break-ins: A Case Study"
Leendert Van Doorn
Vrije Universiteit, The Netherlands
Date: Thursday, January 21, 1993
Search String: holland_case.ps
"Security Breaches: Five Recent Incidents at Columbia University"
Fuat Baran, Howard
Kaye, and Margarita Suarez
Center for Computing Activities
Date: June 27, 1990
Search String: columbia_incidents.ps
Following is a list of other resources. Some are not available on the Internet. However, there are articles that can be obtained through various online services (perhaps Uncover) or at your local library through interlibrary loan or through microfiche. You may have to search more aggressively for some of these, perhaps using the Library of Congress (locis.loc.gov) or perhaps an even more effective tool, like WorldCat (www.oclc.org).
"Undetectable Online Password Guessing Attacks"
Yun Ding and Patrick Horster,
OSR, 29(4), pp. 77-86
Date: October 1995
"Optimal Authentication Protocols Resistant to Password Guessing Attacks"
Stanford Research Institute
Computer Science Laboratory
Men Park, CA
Search String: optimal-pass.dvi or optimal-pass.ps
"A Password Authentication Scheme Based on Discrete Logarithms"
Tzong Chen Wu and Chin Chen Chang
International Journal of Computational Mathematics; Vol. 41, Number 1-2, pp. 31-37
"Differential Cryptanalysis of DES-like Cryptosystems"
Eli Biham and Adi Shamir
Journal of Cryptology, 4(1), pp. 3-72
"A Proposed Mode for Triple-DES Encryption"
Don Coppersmith, Don B. Johnson, and Stephen M. Matyas
IBM Journal of Research and Development, 40(2), pp. 253-262
"An Experiment on DES Statistical Cryptanalysis"
Conference on Computer and Communications Security, pp. 139-147
"Department of Defense Password Management Guideline"
If you want to gain a more historical perspective regarding password security, start with the Department of Defense Password Management Guideline. This document was produced by the Department of Defense Computer Security Center at Fort Meade, Maryland.
Cross Reference: You can find the Department of Defense Password Management Guideline at http://www.alw.nih.gov/Security/FIRST/papers/password/dodpwman.txt.
You have reached the end of this chapter, and I have only a few things left to say in closing. One point I want to make is this: password crackers are growing in number. Because these tools often take significant processing power, it is not unusual for crackers to crack a large and powerful site just so they can use the processor power available there. For example, if you can crack a network with, say, 800 workstations, you can use at least some of those machines to perform high-speed cracking. By distributing the workload to several of these machines, you can ensure a much quicker result.
Many people argue that there is no legitimate reason persuasive enough to warrant the creation of such tools. That view is untenable. Password crackers provide a valuable service to system administrators by alerting them of weak passwords on the network. The problem is not that password crackers exist; the problem is that they aren't used frequently enough by the good guys. I hope that this book heightens awareness of that fact.