Systems for preventing and mitigating cyberattacks are constantly adapting to attackers’ innovations and ways of bypassing or undermining protections. This is one reason that password spraying emerged as a threat, in response to one of the most effective defenses against brute force attacks. So, what is password spraying, and how can you prevent it?
Five Methods to Prevent Password Spraying Attacks
Password spraying is a system of educated guessing. Cybercriminals try to access user accounts by attempting a series of credentials they have reason to believe will work.
There are five primary methods to prevent these attacks from harming your organization:
- Identifying password spraying and its indicators
- Implementing identity and access controls
- Fostering staff cybersecurity awareness
- Monitoring for and responding to threats
- Minimizing damage when attacks do happen
These attacks are hard to detect and devastating if successful, hence the first order of business:
1. Identify Password Spraying Threats and Attacks
To begin with, you need to understand what password spraying attacks are, how they work, and what signs indicate that you might be at risk for an attack—or actively experiencing one.
Password spraying attacks involve an attacker trying to guess the access credentials for an account by attempting a specific password against multiple usernames. The password chosen may be a word or phrase commonly chosen (i.e., “Password123”) by users with poor security awareness. Or, attackers may identify a default password generated by your system and try it against actual usernames or an algorithmically generated series of potential usernames.
In any case, identifying these attacks requires monitoring and limiting login attempts by all credentials used, along with other factors (i.e., IP Address).
Spotlight: Password Spraying vs Brute Force Attacks
Password spraying is closely related to brute force attacks. Brute force attacks involve hackers attempting a series of passwords against a single username or tightly controlled group of them.
Some authorities consider password spraying to be a form of brute force attack.
However, brute force attacks are flagged relatively easily by systems that lock accounts out after consecutive failed login attempts. In this way, password spraying is a way to achieve a similar method of guessing to bypass that common (and effective) defense.
2. Implement Identity and Access Control
The primary defense against password spraying attacks is effective Identity Access Management (IAM). IAM limits access to sensitive information to only authorized individuals, authenticating and monitoring that access through controls on user accounts.
Pillars of effective IAM include:
- Minimum password length and complexity requirements
- Required changing of default passwords on first login
- Required password resets at regular intervals
- Multi-factor authentication (MFA)
Working with a Managed Security Services Provider (MSSP) can help you strategize and deploy robust IAM efficiently to prevent password spraying and other, related attacks.
3. Foster Employee Awareness and Vigilance
Alongside IAM, organizations also need to ensure that all employees and other parties with access to sensitive information know what they need to do to protect it. That requires robust cybersecurity awareness training. Staff, clientele, and other stakeholders who use login credentials to access your systems need to be educated on best practices for keeping it safe.
Security training and assessments should be built into the onboarding process, then followed up on throughout an employee’s time with the company. Provide materials on how and why to generate a strong password or use your MFA system, and assess their practical knowledge with real-time exercises.
4. Monitor for and Respond to Threats Quickly
To stop password spraying attacks from happening, you need to actively monitor for them continuously, detect them as soon as possible, and set incident response protocols into action immediately. That requires system-wide visibility and scanning, with updates at regular intervals.
As noted above, one of the most important elements to monitor is login activity. If possible, configure your systems to flag and act on repeated attempts at logging in with the same username or password, limiting attempts with either variable to the lowest amount possible.
A Managed Detection and Response (MDR) program can help you scan continuously for indicators of a threat or a realized attack and respond to them as soon as they appear.
5. Minimize Damage from Password Spraying Attacks
Finally, you need to mitigate and minimize the damage from any password spraying attacks that do happen. Taking an incident management approach to attacks involves the following:
- Identifying the attack (or threat indicator)
- Logging the incident for analysis
- Investigating and making a diagnosis
- Deploying and escalating remediation actions
- Confirming resolution and closure of the attack
- Ensuring customer satisfaction and business continuity
This holistic approach minimizes the spread, likelihood of success, and potential impact of any individual attack that does happen, while also making all future attacks less likely.
Protect Your Organization from Password Spraying
Password spraying poses a threat to any organization, but especially those without robust IAM protections in place. If your organization has experienced a password spray attack recently, or you feel you may be at risk of one, you should consider working with a security program advisor.
RSI Security will help your organization rethink and optimize its IAM and overall vulnerability management. To learn how we will help you prevent password spraying, get in touch today!