A common attack to obtain access to a system is to brute-force usernames and passwords. The most promising prevention for this kind of attack is to avoid passwords altogether and switch the authentication method to one of the other available authentication techniques that are more resistant to such attacks (e.g., public key or smartcard authentication). The features and setup instructions vary depending upon the particular techniques. One popular service, where public key authentication is used, is SSH (the ssh-keygen man page includes setup instructions).
A brute-force attack aims to circumvent security protection measures by trying a large number of possibilities. For example, a password might be circumvented by trying each possible combination of characters and numbers until access is granted. This attack can be especially successful in cases where users have weak passwords. Choosing long passwords that also contain additional characters and numbers increases the complexity needed to perform a brute-force attack successfully.
A dictionary attack is very similar. As the name indicates, this attack uses a dictionary in order to circumvent the password protection. This type of attack will be successful in cases where passwords have been chosen that are included in dictionaries. A popular example is to use a dictionary containing first names to see if any users have used only a first name as password.
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