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Password cracking refers to various measures used to discover computer passwords. This is usually accomplished by recovering passwords from data stored in, or transported from, a computer system. Password cracking is done by either repeatedly guessing the password, usually through a computer algorithm in which the computer tries numerous combinations until the password is successfully discovered.
Password cracking can be done for several reasons, but the most malicious reason is in order to gain unauthorized access to a computer without the computer owner’s awareness. This results in cybercrime such as stealing passwords for the purpose of accessing banking information.
Other, nonmalicious, reasons for password cracking occur when someone has misplaced or forgotten a password. Another example of nonmalicious password cracking may take place if a system administrator is conducting tests on password strength as a form of security so that hackers cannot easily access protected systems.
The best way that users can protect their passwords from cracking is to ensure they choose strong passwords. Typically, passwords must contain a combination of mixed-case random letters, digits and symbols. Strong passwords should never be actual words. In addition, strong passwords are at least eight characters long.
In many password-protected applications, users are notified of the strength of the password they've chosen upon entering it. The user can then modify and strengthen the password based on the indications of its strength.
Other, more stringent, techniques for password security include key stretching algorithms like PBKDF2. Algorithms create hashes of passwords that are designed to protect passwords from being readily cracked. Security tokens constantly shift passwords so that even if a password is cracked, it can be used for a very limited amount of time. The shift to sophisticated technology within computing methods gave rise to software that can crack passwords. Password-cracking computers working in conjunction with each other are usually the most effective form of password cracking, but this method can be very time consuming.