With free password cracking tools, anyone can become a successful password hacker. A password hacker can use an automated password finder to identify their target and then can deploy a powerful password cracking tool to finish the job they started. Learn about all password cracking methods, and how to set up your personalized protection of personal digital data with Avast BreachGuard.

What does it mean to “crack” a password?

A password is “cracked” when a hacker discovers plaintext passwords, or when he decrypts passwords stored in hash on a computer system. Password cracking tools use computing power to help a hacker to crack passwords, using trial and error method and specific password cracking algorithms.

If a hacker finds out your password, they can steal your identity as well as all your other passwords and prevent you from accessing all your accounts. It may also carry out phishing attacks to convince you to reveal your most sensitive data, it may install spyware on your devices, or sell your data to data agents . 

The best way to protect yourself against cybercriminals and cybercrimes such as password theft is by applying a healthy mix of common sense and modern security solutions.

How to protect my passwords from hackers?

The first step to prevent your password from being hacked is to create long, unique passwords for all your accounts. We know it's super convenient to use your dog's birthday in all your passwords, but it makes hackers' job easier.

It's also easy to let your browser save all your passwords for you. But if someone takes control of your computer, either remotely or in person, that person also gets hold of your passwords . This is one of the many points to consider when saving passwords in your browser and why a password manager is the most secure option.

As technology advances, guessing passwords has become easier for hackers. While some of the best password managers offer protection from password cracking tools, learning about common password cracking techniques is a great way to turn the tide.

What is a hash algorithm?

A hash algorithm is a one-way encryption that turns a plain-text password into a string of letters, numbers, and special characters. It is practically impossible to reverse a hash algorithm, but hackers can find the original password with the help of password cracking software.

As hackers learn to crack hash algorithms, newer and stronger hashes are developed. Some popular, albeit now obsolete, password hashing algorithms include MD5 (Message Digest Algorithm 5) and SHA (Secure Hashing Algorithm). Currently, one of the strongest hashing algorithms is bcrypt .

Common password cracking techniques

The first step in cracking passwords is to steal the hashed versions, often by hacking into a system or network that contains the passwords. Hackers can take advantage of a company's software vulnerabilities through exploits and other hacking methods to obtain the passwords stored in it. 

Then it's just a matter of choosing the right techniques and tools to crack the password. Individuals are not normally targets for hackers — their goal is to cast a wide net and “catch” as many passwords as possible.

New password attack methods are developed every day. Fortunately for hackers, the development of our password-related habits has not kept up with this development . Many classic, rule-based programs and algorithms can still predict chosen passwords.

Sometimes a hacker just has to wait for a data breach, leaking millions of passwords and private details. Hackers often share and trade sensitive data they find, so it's worth having privacy software like Avast BreachGuard, which helps prevent companies from selling your personal information, protects you from privacy intruders on social media, and searches if your sensitive data “fell” on the web.

Here are some of the most common techniques used by password hackers:

brute force attack

A brute force attack occurs when hackers use computer programs to crack a password, in an endless cycle of trial and error. A reverse brute force attack attempts to crack a username using the same method. Brute force attacks are simple but effective.

Modern computers can crack an eight-character alphanumeric password or ID in just a few hours. On the web, there are many freely available brute force tools that allow nearly endless attempts to guess a target's login credentials, as is the case with Brutus, the popular and notorious password cracking program.

Using an obscure word isn't going to help – a hacker can search every dictionary in the universe in just a few minutes.

The worst passwords are consecutive letters and numbers, common words and phrases, and publicly available or easily guessable personal information. These simple passwords are incredibly easy to crack using brute force , and they can eventually become the target of a data breach .

Hackers make a compiled list of cracked passwords and usernames to use in attacks on other networks and systems through a technique called credential recycling . The hacker's cycle of violence is never-ending and your private data is in their focus.

Brute-force attacks are especially effective against easy-to-guess passwords

dictionary attacks

A dictionary attack is a type of brute force attack that reduces the scope of the attack with the help of a word list or an electronic dictionary. Dictionary attacks attack passwords that use word combinations, spelling variations, words in other languages, or obscure words that are too complicated for a typical brute force attack.

Because a dictionary attack uses a list of real words, passwords that have random special characters are much more unpredictable and therefore more secure against such attacks . Despite this, many people use simple words as passwords because they are easier to remember.

Using an obscure word isn't going to help – a hacker can search every dictionary in the universe in just a few minutes.

mask attack

A masking attack reduces the workload of a brute force attack by including in the attack a part of the password that the hacker already knows. If, for example, the hacker knows that your password is 10 characters long, he can restrict the attack to only include passwords of that length. 

Masking attacks can filter by specific words, a certain range of numbers, special characters that the user prefers, or any other password characteristics that the hacker knows. If any of your data is leaked, it will make you more vulnerable to a complete breach .

social engineering

Social engineering is a technique with which criminals manipulate people to divulge compromising information. In the context of hacking, social engineering a password is when hackers trick someone into disclosing their password details, for example, by posing as tech support .

It is often easier to gain someone ‘s trust than it is to gain access to the computer, especially if that person is not very experienced with technology.

Cybercriminals can obtain your passwords through tech support scams or other illicit schemes.

Social engineering takes many forms, especially in the times of social media. Have you ever seen one of those tests on social media that asks you to enter the name of your first pet and the street to create a superhero name? This could be a hacker's attempt to guess the answers to your password security questions using social engineering.


“Spidering” is when hackers track a company's social media accounts, marketing campaigns, or other corporate material to create a list of words that will be used in a brute-force or dictionary attack. “Spidering” can turn into social engineering when hackers infiltrate companies to obtain physical manuals and keyword-packed training manuals .

By studying a company's product, a hacker can learn corporate lingo, jargon, slogans, and the like to create a list of words that will be used to crack passwords. Standard company passwords are often related to brand identity and often remain unchanged.

Employees can choose passwords related to their work as they are easier to remember. “Spidering” is especially effective for larger companies, as there is a lot of material to use. Some passwords can easily fall into the hands of hackers.

shoulder surfing

“Shoulder surfing” is a social engineering technique in which the person looks over your shoulder as you enter login details. “Shoulder surfing” is a common way to discover ATM PINs, and for this reason, most people are aware of their surroundings when withdrawing cash.

But hackers can also use the “shoulder surfing” technique to figure out your email password, or they can watch what you're typing at an Internet cafe .

People who use “shoulder surfing” try to steal your passwords by spying.

Offline password cracking

Offline password cracking is when hackers transfer hashed passwords offline to crack them more securely and efficiently. Online attacks are vulnerable to discovery, can trigger a block after many attempts, and are hampered by network speed. By cracking offline passwords, a hacker is invisible , he can make infinite login attempts, the only limitation is the power of the computer he is using.

Hashed passwords can be extracted directly from a database using proven techniques such as SQL injection . If a hacker gets the admin privileges then all passwords on the admin system will be hacked . Learning how to protect files and folders with a password can save administrators from a disastrous password breach.

guess a password

If all else fails, cybercriminals can team up and collaborate by guessing passwords. The collective consciousness of hackers is far superior to the memory of any human being. 

In today's global network, it only takes a few clicks and a little know-how to get details about any internet user. And with modern technology and hacking tools at your disposal, it's only a matter of time when a dedicated hacker will be able to crack an insecure password .

Password cracking tools

Along with a number of techniques and computer programs, hackers can use powerful password tools to obtain the raw data of users and use it to crack passwords. Any information that helps identification is valuable to a hacker. 

A clever cybercriminal can put this puzzle together and crack the password. Hacker communities share hashed passwords, user profiles, credit card numbers, and other lucrative material on the dark web . A dark web scan can show whether your information is available there.

If your credentials are leaked in a data breach, they could end up on the dark web.

network analyzers

A network analyzer can inspect and analyze traffic on a network, including network packets with valuable user data. Malware can install a analyzer to spy on data sent over a network, or someone with physical access to a network switch can connect it to a network analyzer. 

Network analyzers are a modern and dangerous password hacking tool as they do not rely on exploits or security holes in a network . After a network analyzer performs packet sniffing, a packet capture tool can steal the payload with passwords inside.

packet capture

A packet capture tool can act as a sniffer for data packets transmitted over a network. One part of a packet contains the source and destination, while the other part contains the actual data it is carrying, such as passwords. 

By “listening” to packets and recording the information they contain, hackers can create profiles of potential victims and, over time, accumulate a lot of data for cracking passwords. This information will be sold to the highest bidder, traded, or released for free, in massive data breaches.

Considering the amount of information collected by tech companies and others, hackers can get your personal data pretty much anywhere. Your best bet is the opposite technology that can fight attacks and keep your data out of the hacker's hands, like a secure browser with anti-tracking technology.

Protect your most sensitive data with Avast BreachGuard

If a website you visit is hacked, all your care with passwords and other private data becomes useless. Big tech companies, Big Tech, data brokers and others collect your personal information while hackers wait, looking for any chance to attack. 

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