Vulnerabilities / Threats
6/22/2011
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'John The Ripper' Gets A Face-Lift

Popular open-source password-cracking tool now faster, and backed with Rapid7 sponsorship

One of the industry's first open-source password-cracking tools just got a big boost in power and performance with sponsorship from Rapid7, which also plans to more tightly integrate the so-called John the Ripper tool with Metasploit.

Alexander Peslyak, founder and CTO of Openwall, which created John the Ripper, says the password security-auditing tool is now nearly 20 percent faster at cracking Data Encryption Standard (DES)-based password hashes -- a major improvement to the hacking tool.

That means a major decrease in the time and effort to validate whether passwords are following company policy for strength, for instance. Openwall also is offering via open source the method by which it sped up this process, using more optimal "S-box expressions," which are basically substitution tables used in calculations. The organization came up with a faster and more efficient way to perform these calculations.

"Recently, Roman Rusakov on our team came up with an idea on how to make use of modern computers' much greater amounts of memory and higher processing power to approach the optimization problem differently and achieve better results in a reasonable time," Openwall's Peslyak says. "So this is what we did."

Thomas Roth, an independent researcher who uses John the Ripper, says the new version of the tool is good news. "The speed-ups in the 's-box' implementations sound very promising, and a speed-up of 17 percent is a great achievement," Roth says. "Still the best way to crack DES is a cluster of FPGAs [field programmable grid arrays], [as in] projects like Deep Crack. But it's very, very great that they decided to open source [this] in John the Ripper."

Security researcher Joshua Perrymon uses John the Ripper for penetration testing and compliance-audit purposes. "The speed improvement will definitely help out when doing engagements that require password-cracking -- especially since a lot of tools integrate with John the Ripper, like THC-Hydra, Aircrack-NG, Cain and Abel, etc. It’s good to see that Rapid7 is giving back to the community by supporting John the Ripper, which means we should see further integration with Metasploit now," says Joshua Perrymon, CEO of PacketFocus. "The speed increase should also help while doing internal hacking assessments: Most times you want to crack any obtained passwords as fast as possible to maintain and establish access into the network without making too much noise or leaving a network footprint. Once the account credentials have been cracked, you’re in, and traffic then looks normal from an IDS/logging perspective."

HD Moore, CSO for Rapid7 and creator of Metasploit, says John the Ripper has been a staple in security for more than 10 years, and that it will be integrated into upcoming versions of Rapid7's commercial Metasploit products.

Password security has been the Achilles' heel of many organizations, especially in some high-profile breaches that have exposed users still deploying easy-to-guess, weak passwords, or reusing passwords across multiple applications. Moore says there's a strong demand for password-auditing tools by enterprises. "They don't just want to do brute-force, but also [check] compliance with password rules," he says. "DES matters today: It's still the back-end algorithm ... which drives Windows password-hashing. DES is faster now with this research."

John the Ripper, which supports Unix, Windows, DOS, BeOS, and OpenVMS, is available here for download.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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