Password spraying 101: An overview + password spraying protection tips


Password spraying is when cybercriminals guess the passwords of their potential victims, often on a large scale. Learn how to protect your credentials.

Password spraying is a type of brute force attack where cybercriminals take common passwords and “spray” them  across several accounts to try hacking potential victims. You might think of password attacks as random attempts  at hacking credentials, but it has grown into an elaborate process of trial and error.  

There are tricks to help protect yourself from password spraying. Turn this ultimate guide on for the ins and outs of password spraying, including: 


How password spraying attacks work

Password spraying attack process

A password spraying attack can be summed up in three steps:    

  1. Cybercriminals find or purchase a list of usernames online: Hackers will either search for or purchase  credentials on the dark web to use for password spraying. Some may even find company email  address patterns to hack the usernames of a given company. 
  2. They try different credential combinations until successful: At this point, the act of password spraying  begins by trying different combinations of usernames and passwords, often through an automated system. Cybercriminals will repeat this process with different combinations to avoid account lockouts. 
  3. They gain access to user accounts: Once the hackers uncover a user's simple password, they’ll have access  to that user's personal information, which can lead to identity theft or an account takeover.  

Password spraying is a lengthier brute force attack. When hackers make multiple log-in attempts in a short  amount of time, this flags the site of an intruder. However, password spraying works around this roadblock and helps prevent hackers from getting locked out by moving on to a different username after one failed login  attempt.

Password spraying vs. credential stuffing

Credential stuffing is like password spraying in that they both use usernames found online. However, credential stuffing instead uses automated tools to try large numbers of stolen credentials.   

Password spraying doesn’t use any tools and instead focuses on finding verified usernames and common  passwords online. Instead of using an automated tool to try different passwords, hackers instead use verified usernames and try logging in with common passwords with patterns like “1234.”

Signs of password spraying

Sign of password spraying


If you think you or your household has been affected by password spraying, check out some warning signs below. 

  • An increase in account lockouts 
  • Increased failed login attempts
  • Unknown or invalid user login attempts 

The above signs may indicate some sort of brute force attack, especially when it comes to password spraying. Keep reading to find out how you can recover from this kind of cyberattack.

How to recover from password spraying attacks

If you’ve noticed some strange activity occurring that’s attributed to password spraying, there are several measures you can take to protect the security of both your credentials and your organization’s. 

Change passwords immediately

The first order of business should be to change your simple passwords that may be putting you at risk of more complex passwords. Creating a strong, hack-proof password doesn’t have to be overly complicated, either. 

Consult your organization’s cybersecurity department

If the attack occurs at work, it’s a good idea to consult your organization’s cybersecurity or IT department about  the potential issue. This can help them identify other breaches and see if there is an ongoing, organized attack. 

Identify failed login attempts or locked accounts

Check with your household members to see if they have also noticed failed log in attempts or locked accounts, because they are signs of password spraying. By identifying the warning signs of password spraying, your household can better protect itself from security breaches

Investigate the cause and culprits of the attack

Finally, turn your recovery into prevention. Investigate the cause and culprits of the attack and address the weak points of your passwords that they were able to target. You may even consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or multifactor authentication to help prevent future attacks. 

How to avoid future password spraying attacks

Password spraying protection tips

Help prevent password spraying attacks with the following measures and keep your data safe from password breaches.

Use complex passwords

Simple and common passwords are at high risk of being compromised. When creating a password, make sure it utilizes numbers, capitalizations, special characters, and other parameters to make a complex, strong password.

Change passwords periodically

Passwords should be updated periodically—whether it’s once every couple of months or a few times a year. When changing your password, it’s a good idea to create a new one instead of one too similar to your previous password. This way, you’re less likely to have your credentials hacked in the event of a password attack. 

Use multifactor authentication

When your login page asks for your phone number or a backup email to authenticate that you are who you say you are, this is called multifactor authentication, also known as two-factor authentication. Enabling this across your devices can help prevent credentials from being hacked.  

Invest in cybersecurity measures

Be sure to invest in cybersecurity measures like antivirus software, VPNs, and password managers to protect your  personal data.  

Password spraying is one of many brute force attacks that cybercriminals use to access personal and confidential  information. By changing complex passwords periodically and utilizing multifactor authentication, you can  minimize your chances of becoming a victim of password spraying. Strong passwords will ultimately keep you and your data safe as you explore the digital world.

Cyber threats have evolved, and so have we.

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Clare Stouffer
  • Clare Stouffer
  • Gen employee
Clare Stouffer, a Gen employee, is a writer and editor for the company’s blogs. She covers various topics in cybersecurity.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Our offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about Cyber Safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses. The Norton and LifeLock brands are part of Gen Digital Inc. 


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