Passwords are the cornerstone of online authentication, playing a pivotal role in keeping our digital lives secure.

However, as the online world has expanded, hackers have uncovered many methods to obtain these digital keys. Despite the constant evolution of password security, cybercriminals are always on the hunt for new ways to crack them.

In this article, we’ll explore how hackers steal passwords and, more importantly, provide valuable insights on how you can protect yourself against these threats.

Taking Advantage of Data Breaches

Data breaches can be a goldmine for hackers, as they provide a trove of valuable information. By exploiting leaked data, criminals can gain unauthorized access to accounts and carry out illegal activities.

Purchasing Stolen Credentials

The dark web is like a hidden online shopping mall for cybercriminals. In this secret digital space, hackers can buy stolen account information, which is often the result of data breaches.

When a company’s security is breached, criminals can get their hands on lots of valuable data, including usernames, passwords, and other sensitive information.

Once these stolen credentials are available for sale on the dark web, hackers can purchase them and use them to break into accounts.

This unauthorized access can lead to identity theft, financial loss, or even further security breaches. Although the dark web’s activities are hidden from view, the impact of these transactions can cause serious harm to the people whose data has been compromised.

Illustration of hackers stealing data from a comupter
Hackers can turn data breaches into a treasure trove of information. Image: Freepik

Credential Stuffing

The danger of stolen credentials doesn’t stop there. Cybercriminals often try a type of cyberattack called credential stuffing to break into other accounts of the same victim as well.

For instance, imagine a social media platform suffers a data breach, and a hacker obtains a user’s login credentials. The hacker then attempts to use these same credentials to access the user’s email or bank accounts, banking on the likelihood that the person has reused the same password across multiple services.

This hacking method is effective because people often reuse the same login details across various platforms.

When a user’s credentials are compromised in one data breach, the hacker can potentially access multiple accounts belonging to the same person, making it a highly efficient and lucrative technique for cybercriminals.

Cracking Methods

These methods are more technically focused. They often involve using specialized tools and computational power to systematically guess or uncover the correct password.

Brute Force Attacks

When passwords are short or lack complexity, they become akin to weak locks that can be easily picked. Brute force attacks represent one such method used by hackers to compromise these weak passwords.

During a brute force attack, hackers attempt every possible combination of characters until they identify the correct password. While this approach is time-consuming, its effectiveness against simple or short passwords cannot be underestimated.

A simple password "12345" written on a notepad
It can be fairly easy to crack simple passwords. Photo: Freepik

Dictionary Attacks

A more sophisticated version of brute force attacks, this method relies on pre-compiled lists of words, phrases, and common patterns.

By exploiting the tendency of users to create passwords based on recognizable terms, hackers can efficiently attempt a series of dictionary-based guesses. It helps reduce the time and effort required to crack the password.

Rainbow Table Attacks

A rainbow table attack is a method used by hackers to crack hashed passwords.

When you create an account on a website, your password is usually “hashed” – converted into a unique string of characters to protect it. Even if someone steals the hashed password, they can’t use it directly to log in.

However, a rainbow table attack can break this protection.

Hackers create a large table containing precomputed hashes for many possible passwords. When they get a hashed password, they look it up in their table, trying to find a matching hash. If they find it, they know the original password.

For example, let’s say your password is “1234”. The website hashes it, and the result is “81dc9bdb52d04dc20036dbd8313ed055”. A hacker with a rainbow table containing the hash “81dc9bdb52d04dc20036dbd8313ed055” can quickly see that it corresponds to the password “1234”, and then use it to access your account.

Social Engineering Scams

Social engineering stands out as a powerful tool wielded by hackers to extract sensitive information, including passwords, from unsuspecting victims.

Unlike brute force or dictionary attacks that focus on exploiting technical vulnerabilities, social engineering preys on human psychology.


One common social engineering tactic is phishing, which usually involves sending seemingly real emails designed to trick recipients into revealing their passwords.

These emails often pretend to be from trustworthy organizations, tempting victims into clicking dangerous links or downloading harmful attachments.

In some cases, the emails may lead users to very well-made websites, asking them to enter their credentials, only to be collected by the attackers.

Illustration of the phishing concept
Many emails may come from hackers instead of authentic sources. Image: Freepik


Another type of social engineering is vishing, or voice phishing, which depends on phone calls to fool people into giving away their passwords.

Attackers pretend to be from popular organizations like banks or government agencies. They then trick victims into sharing their private data by taking advantage of their trust in these organizations.

Like phishing, vishing uses the human habit of following authority figures. It can make even the most secure password protection useless.


Malware such as keyloggers is a dangerous weapon used by hackers to steal passwords and access systems.

Keyloggers are like digital pickpockets that record keystrokes to steal password data. These malicious programs are often undetected and can siphon off sensitive information, which is then transmitted back to hackers.

Hackers have plenty of options for delivering such malware into a person’s phone and stealing their passwords. These tactics take advantage of users’ trust and lack of awareness to compromise their personal information and online security.

Illustration of a hacker infecting a device with malware
Malware can extract passwords from your devices. Image: Freepik

A common method to infect devices with malware is through phishing emails. These emails trick users into downloading harmful attachments or clicking on malicious links. Once opened, the malware embeds itself deep within the device’s system.

Malicious apps, such as fake games or deceptive tools, are also a popular choice. Unsuspecting users download these apps, which then secretly gather passwords and other sensitive information from the device.

Hackers can also exploit Wi-Fi and Bluetooth security flaws to deliver malware to phones connected to them. One example is the BlueBorne attack, which allows attackers to install monitoring software through the air without requiring user interaction.


These methods often involve following user activity to grab their credentials when the hacker has the chance.

Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks are a form of cyber espionage where an attacker intercepts the communication between two parties without their knowledge. The attacker essentially positions themselves between the sender and the recipient, monitoring and sometimes even manipulating the exchanged information.

For instance, the hacker might intercept the requests conversation between a user and their bank.

The attacker can then alter the content of the messages or even request sensitive information, such as login credentials, from the unsuspecting user, all while impersonating the bank.

MITM attacks are most effective when the targeted individuals or organizations have weak security measures in place, such as unencrypted communications or unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Under these circumstances, attackers find it easier to exploit vulnerabilities and gain unauthorized access to sensitive data.

Illustration of the communication over the internet between two people
Hackers can silently intercept and steal your sensitive data. Image: Freepik

Shoulder Surfing

This is a low-tech but effective method used by attackers to steal sensitive information.

They simply look over someone’s shoulder while they enter their credentials or other private data. This technique relies on the attacker’s ability to closely observe the victim without arousing suspicion.

In a typical scenario, a person might be using an ATM to withdraw money or a public computer to log into their email. The attacker stands nearby, pretending to mind their own business, while secretly watching the victim input their PIN or password.

Shoulder surfing is most effective in crowded or public places, where people are less likely to notice someone observing their actions.

Commuter trains, coffee shops, and busy streets are prime locations for this type of attack. The attacker can blend in with the crowd and easily escape unnoticed after obtaining the desired information.

How to Protect Yourself

Illustration of tools a person uses to protect their computer
There are many things you can do to prevent well-known hacking methods. Image: Freepik

In the battle of cybersecurity, strong defenses are crucial. To protect against password-cracking attacks, scams, and malware, several solutions can help you build a secure personal digital fortress.

  • Use password managers like Locker: These tools generate strong, unique passwords and store them safely. This way, you can outsmart brute force or dictionary attacks.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA): MFA adds extra security, requiring more than just a password to access your data. It makes it much harder for cybercriminals to breach your accounts.
  • Stay alert for scams and frauds: Cybercriminals use deception to trick their targets. For instance, be cautious about emails if they contain urgent requests, file attachments, or point you to a login form. By recognizing red flags, you can avoid falling into their traps and keep your passwords safe.
  • Keep an eye on data breaches: Being informed about security incidents can help you take action when needed. Changing passwords or enabling extra security measures can limit the fallout from those breaches.
  • Install antimalware programs: These programs act as a shield, protecting your system from keyloggers and other harmful software. By stopping malware before it infiltrates, you can safeguard your passwords from theft.

Use Locker to Protect Your Passwords

As we navigate the intricate landscape of cybersecurity, it is crucial to recognize the various methods employed by hackers to compromise password security. A comprehensive understanding of these techniques is the first step toward building a robust defense against the ever-evolving threats in the digital world.

The password manager Locker on different devices
Locker can make your passwords safer from hackers.

As a cutting-edge password manager, Locker provides users with an essential line of defense against hackers. By generating complex and unique passwords for each account, Locker thwarts common password-cracking techniques.

We also go the extra mile in password protection by supporting one-time passwords (OTPs). This way, it’s virtually impossible for hackers to break into your accounts, even when they manage to get your passwords. On top of that, Locker’s auto-fill feature eliminates the need for manual entry, reducing the risk posed by keyloggers.

Don’t leave your digital security to chance. Download Locker today to enhance your password protection and give yourself the peace of mind to navigate the online world safely and confidently.