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USENIX Technical Program - Abstract - Security Symposium 99

Brute Force Attack on UNIX Passwords with SIMD Computer

Gershon Kedem and Yuriko Ishihara, Computer Science Department, Duke University


As computer technology improves, the security of specific ciphers and one-way hash functions periodically must be reevaluated in light of new technological advances. In this paper we evaluate the security of the UNIX password scheme. We show that the UNIX password scheme is vulnerable to brute-force attack. Using PixelFlow, a SIMD parallel machine, we are able to "crack" a large fraction of passwords used in practice [12] in 2-3 days of computation. We explain how a SIMD machine built in today's technology could "crack" any UNIX password in two days. We also describe in this paper a simple modification to the UNIX password scheme that makes it harder to break encrypted passwords using dictionary and brute force attack, thus extending the useful life of the UNIX password scheme. The modified password scheme is compatible with the existing password scheme.
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