When I was younger, I was told that locks are there to keep honest people honest. I look at passwords the same way. Make your passwords as secure as they can be, but know that a thief can target you and take your stuff with enough effort. Just try to make your stuff harder to steal than other people’s stuff. They will move on to more easily stolen loot.

Hackers have advanced to using computers to crack passwords. The black hats are using GPUs and PCIe SDDs to attack large numbers of passwords in a short period of time in a method that is very similar to, and much more lucrative than BitCoin mining. When you have to guess from billions of combinations, computer assistance is required, and they are very good at it. These tools are easily downloaded from the Internet, and each tool has its pros and cons.

Here is a list of the most popular password cracking tools.

1. John the Ripper

Featured in many popular password cracking tools lists, John the Ripper is a free, open-source, command-based application. It’s available for Linux and macOS while Windows and Android users use a version of the software called Hash Suite.

John the Ripper supports a massive list of different cipher and hash types. Some of those are:

  • Unix, macOS, and Windows user passwords
  • Web applications
  • Database servers
  • Network traffic captures
  • Encrypted private keys
  • Disks and filesystems
  • Archives
  • Documents

There’s also a Pro version with extra features and native packages for supported OS. Word lists used in password cracking are on sale, but free options are available as well.

2. Ophcrack

Ophcrack is a free and open-source password cracking tool that specializes in rainbow table attacks. To be more precise, it cracks LM and NTLM hashes where the former addresses Windows XP and earlier OSs and the latter associates with Windows Vista and 7. NTLM is also available, to a certain degree, on Linux and freeBSD. Both of these hash types are insecure – it’s possible to crack a NTLM hash in less than 3 hours with a fast computer, but there are still companies out there that use this hash, simply because they are too cheap to upgrade to newer, more secure software.

ophcrack password cracking tool

As you can see in the screenshot above, it took Ophcrack merely six seconds to crack an 8-symbol password while using a rainbow table that includes letters, numbers, and uppercases. An 8 symbol password using upper, lower, and numerical characters has 62^8 combinations (218.3 trillion possible combinations) doing nothing more than adding in symbols and increasing the number of characters to 10 would make the password 500 million times more difficult to crack. That six seconds becomes 5,700 years.

The password 9136668099 is 10 characters long and only made of numerical characters, and took 4 days to crack. Imagine how much longer that would have taken, had upper, lower, and special characters been added.

This tool comes with free Windows XP/Vista/7 rainbow tables and a brute force attack feature for simple passwords. Ophcrack is available on Windows, macOS, and Linux.

3. Cain and Abel

Downloaded almost 2 million times from its official source, Cain & Abel is another popular tool for password cracking. But contrary to John the Ripper, it uses GUI, making it instantly more user-friendly. That and the fact that it’s available on Windows only makes Cain & Abel a go-to tool for amateurs, also known as script kiddies.

Cain & Abel password cracking tool

This is a multi-purpose tool, capable of many different functions. Cain & Abel can act as a packet analyzer, record VoIP, analyze route protocols, or scan for wireless networks and retrieve their MAC addresses. If you already have the hash, this tool will offer a dictionary or brute force attack option. Cain & Abel can also display passwords that are hiding beneath the asterisks.

4. THC Hydra

The biggest selling point of THC Hydra is the large number of protocols it supports. This is an open-source network login password cracking tool that works with Cisco AAA, FTP, HTTP-Proxy, IMAP, MySQL, Oracle SID, SMTP, SOCKS5, SSH, and Telnet, to name but a few.

The methods available with THC Hydra include brute force and dictionary attacks while also using wordlists generated by other tools. This password cracker is known for its speed. It can even run checks on different protocols simultaneously. THC Hydra is available on Windows, macOS, and Linux.

5. Hashcat

The world’s fastest password cracker, Hashcat is a free open-source tool that’s available on Windows, macOS, and Linux. It offers a number of techniques, from simple brute force attack to hybrid mask with wordlist.

hashcat password cracker

Hashcat can utilize a computer’s CPU and GPU at the same time. This makes cracking multiple hashes simultaneously much faster. But what makes this tool truly universal is the number of supported hash types. Hashcat can decipher MD5, SHA3-512, ChaCha20, PBKDF2, Kerberos 5, 1Password, LastPass, KeePass, and many more. In fact, it supports over 300 hash types.

But before they can crack your passwords, black hats need to have the password hash. Here are some of the most popular tools for getting hash:

  • Mimikatz. Known as a password audit and recovery app, Mimikatz can also be used for malign hash retrieval. In fact, it might as well extract plaintext passwords or PIN codes.
  • Wireshark. Wireshark enables packet sniffing. It is an award-winning packet analyzer used not only by hackers but also by business and governmental institutions.
  • Metasploit. This is a popular penetration testing framework. Designed for security professionals, Metasploit can also be used by hackers to retrieve password hashes.

The best defense against password cracking is using a strong password. Using enough symbols and different types of characters ensures that even the fastest computer won’t crack your account in this century. And since remembering multiple strong passwords is unlikely, the best bet is to use a reliable password manager. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is still a pain in the rear for any hacker, so adding that to your arsenal will go a long way to making things more secure. More on MFA later.


Steve · January 11, 2023 at 7:49 pm

“Imagine how much longer that would have taken, had upper, lower, and special characters been added.”

Is this true? I mean, I know that it’s true that a larger character set is a good thing, but is it really the case that it makes a difference if you actually use the character, versus the hacker having to proceed as if you did? If he knew that you like to litter your passwords with extended characters like ß (alt-225), he’ll probably move on to easier prey, but so long as he’s using full 8-bit character set, what difference does it make for time?

    Divemedic · January 11, 2023 at 7:59 pm

    The software was using a rainbow table that didn’t contain symbols. This means that the software would have worked through the entire table before moving on to another method or table. If the password was a secure one as suggested in my other posts, a rainbow table would likely have not worked, and the software would have to resort to another rainbow table or to a brute force attack.

Steve · January 11, 2023 at 10:19 pm

I haven’t kept up as I should have.

Back in the day, you would enter the password on the client, it would hash that password, send the hash to the server, the server compared your hash to the hash on file, and the server either logged you in or logged it as a failed attempt. The only way to get the server’s hash was to hack the server.

So it’s not done that way anymore?

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