Dictionary and Brute-Force Attacks

In the original Kerberos 4 protocol, the KDC issues an encrypted TGT to any client that requests it. Recall from Chapter 3 that this TGT is encrypted with the user’s secret key (derived from her password). The security of the entire system is dependent on not being able to decrypt this message, since if an attacker is able to retrieve the key used to encrypt the message, he now has the user’s password and can impersonate that user at will. Therefore, if an attacker wishes to obtain a user’s password, he can ask the KDC for a valid TGT for the victim’s username. While there are no ways to break the encryption methods used in Kerberos tickets directly, the attacker can then continue to brute-force the decryption of the TGT by launching an offline dictionary attack .

During a dictionary attack, an attacker feeds a list of commonly used passwords, or a dictionary, to a cracking program. For each entry in the dictionary, a program attempts to decrypt the message using the password. If a hit is made, the program reports back to the attacker the user’s password.

Since the transformation from the user’s password to the encryption key is known (the string-to-key transformation covered in Chapter 3), it is trivial for an attacker to build a program that can translate common passwords into Kerberos encryption keys. Then, the attacker collects a large number of valid TGTs from the KDC and continues the work of cracking the TGTs off-line; that is, for each decryption ...

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