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what is password spraying? And how to protect from password spraying?

What is Password Spraying? How to Detect and Prevent

Simply put, a spray attack involves using a single password to access multiple accounts within an application. Instead of relying on what we would see as a traditional brute force attack (where a malicious actor tries many passwords on one account), password spraying assumes businesses might be sharing their authentication information – typically a commonly used key.

A study by Verizon has shown that in the last few years, more than 80% of all confirmed cybersecurity breaches were related to weak, stolen, or reused passwords. This is not entirely surprising if we consider that, at the time of writing this article, almost 25 million accounts still use “123456” as their passkey.

Password spraying is a major threat, with compromised credentials being a leading cause of data breaches. So, what can your organisation do to detect and prevent these attacks? Let’s take a look.

How Does Password Spraying Attacks Work?

A password-spraying attack attempts to gain unauthorised access to multiple user accounts by systematically trying a small number of commonly used passwords across many accounts. For example, they might take that popular “123456” pass and try to use it on hundreds of accounts in a single attack.

Here’s how a password spray attack is typically conducted:

  1. Target selection: First, attackers identify their target organisation or system. This could be a specific company, government agency, or any other entity with valuable data or resources. Attackers may consider the ease of infiltration and the likelihood of success when selecting targets. Organisations with lax security measures, outdated software, or inadequate employee training may be perceived as low-hanging fruit and prioritised accordingly.
  2. Password list creation and usernames: They then compile a list of commonly used passwords, often obtained from previous data breaches or from publicly available password lists. Attackers may also attempt to gather a list of valid usernames associated with the target organisation through methods like social engineering, phishing attacks, or by exploiting vulnerabilities in web applications.
  3. Spraying attempt: Attackers then systematically attempt to log in to multiple user accounts using a small number of passwords from their list. They may use automated tools or scripts to carry out this process efficiently. To avoid triggering account lockouts or detection mechanisms, attackers will often use techniques such as spreading out login attempts over a longer period of time, rotating IP addresses, or using compromised credentials obtained from previous breaches.

If this process is successful, attackers will gain access to one or more user accounts, which they can then use to further their malicious activities – such as stealing sensitive information, launching additional attacks, or damaging the target organisation.

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Difference Between Brute Force Attacks and Password Spraying Attacks

A password spraying attack is conducted by attempting to gain unauthorised access to multiple user accounts by systematically trying a small number of commonly used passwords across many accounts.

Unlike traditional brute-force attacks, where attackers try a lot of different passwords on the same account, password spraying involves using a few passwords against many accounts. Still, many experts classify password spraying as a type of brute-force attack. The reasons have to do with its systematic approach and repetitive nature. For example, both password spraying and traditional brute force attacks involve repetitive login attempts, often at a rapid pace, to bypass authentication mechanisms and gain unauthorised access to user accounts.

A notable consequence of falling victim to successful password-spraying attempts is the erosion of customer trust. Should your business experience a breach from any form of brute force attack, customers may lose confidence in the security of their data and information stored with you.

Password Spraying Detection

The best way to detect a password spraying attack is to take a proactive stance involving constant monitoring and analysis of login attempts and authentication patterns.

A common approach is using an anomaly detection system that can keep an eye on all login activity and look for things like multiple failed login attempts from different IP addresses or locations within a short period of time. Failed login attempts are also important, as they can help organisations identify patterns indicative of password-spraying attacks (for example, in instances where a small number of passwords are tried against many user accounts in quick succession).

Lastly, keeping track of account lockout events and investigating instances where multiple accounts are locked out within a short time frame is vital to detect password-spraying attacks. While account lockouts can occur for legitimate reasons, such as mistyped passwords, a sudden surge in lockout events may signal a strike is in progress.

Password Spraying Prevention

Preventing password spraying attacks requires a multi-layered approach that combines technical controls, user education, and proactive monitoring.

🏆Uniqkey can help you simplify password management while also reducing password-based cyber risk. For instance, we can aid you in preventing password-spraying attacks by implementing 2FA (Two-Factor Authentication), encouraging strong password practices, establishing account lockout policies, and simplifying your security operations with centralised access management control.

Here are some of the things Uniqkey can do for your business:

  • Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Add an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide additional verification, such as a one-time code sent to their mobile device, in addition to their password.
  • Strong password policies: Enforce strong password policies that require users to create complex passwords that are difficult to guess.
  • Account lockout policies: Implement policies that automatically lock user accounts following a specified number of unsuccessful login attempts.
  • Monitoring and anomaly detection: Implement monitoring and anomaly detection systems that can detect unusual patterns of login activity, such as multiple failed login attempts from different locations or IP addresses in real-time.

By implementing these measures and leveraging Uniqkey’s solutions, your organisation can significantly reduce the risk of password spraying attacks and enhance the overall security of your authentication processes. Try Uniqkey for free today.


Uniqkey is the perfect password management solution for teams and businesses. Built with high usability in mind, Uniqkey makes it easy for employees to adopt secure password habits, raising company-wide security in a simple and effective way.