Windows passwords broken in seconds

Wednesday, 23 July 2003, 11:35 AM EST

Swiss researchers released a paper on Tuesday outlining a way to speed the cracking of alphanumeric Windows passwords, reducing the time to break such codes to an average of 13.6 seconds from 1 minute 41 seconds.

The method involves using large lookup tables to match encoded passwords to the original text entered by a user, thus speeding the calculations required to break the codes. Called a time-memory trade-off, the situation means that an attacker with an abundance of computer memory can reduce the time it takes to break a secret code.

The results highlight a fact about which many security researchers have worried: Microsoft's manner for encoding passwords has certain weaknesses that make such techniques particularly effective, Philippe Oechslin, a senior research assistant and lecturer at the Cryptography and Security Laboratory of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), wrote in an email to CNET News.com.

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