2019 Symposium Posters

Posters > 2019

Not All Equal: Stronger Password Protection via Differentiated Hashing Costs


Primary Investigator:
Jeremiah Blocki

Project Members
Jeremiah Blocki, Wenjie Bai
An attacker who breaks into an authentication server and steals all of the cryptographic password hashes is able to mount an offline-brute force attack against each user’s password. Offline brute-force attacks against passwords are increasingly commonplace and the danger is amplified by the well documented human tendency to select low-entropy password and/or reuse these passwords across multiple accounts. Moderately Hard Password hashing functions are often deployed to help protect passwords against offline attacks by increasing the attacker’s guessing cost. However, there is a limit to how “hard” one can make the password hash function as authentication servers are resource constrained and must avoid introducing substantial authentication delay. Observing that there is a wide gap in the strength of passwords selected by different users we introduce the novel notion of a password hash algorithm with differentiated costs. Our key insight is that a resource-constrained authentication server should not protect all passwords equally. We introduce a Stackelberg game to model the interaction between a defender (authentication server) and an offline attacker. Our model allows the defender to optimize the parameters of a differentiated cost password hash algorithm e.g., specify how much effort is spent to hash weak/moderate/high strength passwords. We use three large scale password frequency datasets (RockYou, Yahoo! and LinkedIn) to empirically evaluate the effectiveness of our differentiated cost password hashing mechanism. We find that the defender who uses our mechanism can reduce the fraction of passwords cracked by a rational offline attacker by up to 44%.