Shadow Attacks Based on Password Reuses: A Quantitative Empirical Analysis Academic Article uri icon


  • 2004-2012 IEEE. With the proliferation of websites, the security level of password-protected accounts is no longer purely determined by individual ones. Users may register multiple accounts on the same site or across multiple sites, and these passwords from the same users are likely to be the same or similar. As a result, an adversary can compromise the account of a user on a web forum, then guess the accounts of the same user in sensitive accounts, e.g. , online banking services, whose accounts could have the same or even stronger passwords. We name this attack as the shadow attack on passwords. To understand the situation, we examined the state-of-the-art Intra-Site Password Reuses (ISPR) and Cross-Site Password Reuses (CSPR) based on the leaked passwords from the biggest Internet user group (i.e., 668 million members in China). With a collection of about 70 million real-world web passwords across four large websites in China, we obtained around 4.6 million distinct users who have multiple accounts on the same site or across different sites. We found that for the users with multiple accounts in a single website, 59.72 percent reused their passwords and for the users with multiple accounts on multiple websites, 33.16 8.91 percent reused their passwords across websites. For the users that have multiple accounts but different passwords, the set of passwords of the same user exhibits patterns that can help password guessing: a leaked weak password reveals partial information of a strong one, which degrades the strength of the strong one. Given the aforementioned findings, we conducted an experiment and achieved a 39.38 percent improvement of guessing success rate with John the Ripper guessing tool. To the best of our knowledge, we are the first to provide a large-scale, empirical, and quantitative measurement of web password reuses, especially ISPR, and shed light on the severity of such threat in the real world.

published proceedings

  • IEEE Transactions on Dependable and Secure Computing

altmetric score

  • 0.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Han, W., Li, Z., Ni, M., Gu, G., & Xu, W.

citation count

  • 28

complete list of authors

  • Han, Weili||Li, Zhigong||Ni, Minyue||Gu, Guofei||Xu, Wenyuan

publication date

  • January 2016