The top 50 woeful passwords exposed by the Adobe security breach

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

AdobeIn early October, Adobe revealed that hackers had breached its network and (as well as stealing source code) had accessed customer databases including the details of approximately 3 million users.

Within a couple of weeks, however, Adobe was forced to acknowledge that a more accurate figure for the number of people who were impacted by the hack was some 38 million active users after a 3.8GB file containing more than 150 million usernames/passwords was dumped on the net.

“So far, our investigation has confirmed that the attackers obtained access to Adobe IDs and (what were at the time valid), encrypted passwords for approximately 38 million active users,” said Adobe spokesperson Heather Edell.

The truth is that, in a screw-up of colossal proportions, Adobe didn’t protect the password data with a one-way cryptographic hashing algorithm.

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Instead, Adobe encrypted its password data with Triple DES (3DES) in ECB mode – an incredibly poor choice because it always produces the same output if you feed it the same input.

In short, if you happened to choose the same password as someone else, Adobe will have been storing the byte-for-byte same encrypted ciphertext version of the password for each user.

Furthermore, the leaked database included users’ plaintext password hints, helping to reveal what the most commonly used passwords were.

For instance, if you saw the following hints from thousands of different users, all associated with the same ciphertext, you would probably be able to guess the actual password that they shared – right?


It’s not going to be aardvark with hints like that, is it?

Jeremi Gosney, of the security firm Stricture Consulting Group, was able to determine the top 100 most commonly used passwords in the Adobe database with ease.

Here are the first 50:

# Count Ciphertext Plaintext
1. 1911938 EQ7fIpT7i/Q= 123456
2. 446162 j9p+HwtWWT86aMjgZFLzYg== 123456789
3. 345834 L8qbAD3jl3jioxG6CatHBw== password
4. 211659 BB4e6X+b2xLioxG6CatHBw== adobe123
5. 201580 j9p+HwtWWT/ioxG6CatHBw== 12345678
6. 130832 5djv7ZCI2ws= qwerty
7. 124253 dQi0asWPYvQ= 1234567
8. 113884 7LqYzKVeq8I= 111111
9. 83411 PMDTbP0LZxu03SwrFUvYGA== photoshop
10. 82694 e6MPXQ5G6a8= 123123
11. 76910 j9p+HwtWWT8/HeZN+3oiCQ== 1234567890
12. 76186 diQ+ie23vAA= 000000
13. 70791 kCcUSCmonEA= abc123
14. 61453 ukxzEcXU6Pw= 1234
15. 56744 5wEAInH22i4= adobe1
16. 54651 WqflwJFYW3+PszVFZo1Ggg== macromedia
17. 48850 hjAYsdUA4+k= azerty
18. 47142 rpkvF+oZzQvioxG6CatHBw== iloveyou
19. 44281 xz6PIeGzr6g= aaaaaa
20. 43670 Ypsmk6AXQTk= 654321
21. 43497 4V+mGczxDEA= 12345
22. 37407 yp2KLbBiQXs= 666666
23. 35325 2dJY5hIJ4FHioxG6CatHBw== sunshine
24. 34963 1McuJ/7v9nE= 123321
25. 33452 yxzNxPIsFno= letmein
26. 32549 dCgB24yq9Bw= monkey
27. 31554 dA8D8OYD55E= asdfgh
28. 28349 L8qbAD3jl3jSPm/keox4fA== password1
29. 28303 zk8NJgAOqc4= shadow
30. 28132 Ttgs5+ZAZM7ioxG6CatHBw== princess
31. 27853 pTkQrKZ/JYM= dragon
32. 27840 2aZl4Ouarwm52NYYI936YQ== adobeadobe
33. 27720 NpVKrCM6pKw= daniel
34. 27699 Dts8klglTQDioxG6CatHBw== computer
35. 27415 4aiR1wv9z2Q= michael
36. 27387 XpDlpOQzTSE= 121212
37. 26502 ldvmctKdeN8= charlie
38. 25341 5nRuxOG9/Ho= master
39. 24499 y7F6CyUyVM/ioxG6CatHBw== superman
40. 24372 R3jcdque71gE+R+mSnMKEA== qwertyuiop
41. 23417 TduxwnCuA1U= 112233
42. 23157 2hD1nmJUmh3ioxG6CatHBw== asdfasdf
43. 22719 MyFBO2YW+Bw= jessica
44. 22672 cSZM/nlchzzioxG6CatHBw== 1q2w3e4r
45. 22204 Vqit1GVLLek= welcome
46. 22180 e+4n2zDarnvioxG6CatHBw== 1qaz2wsx
47. 22143 ZHgi8hFCTvrSPm/keox4fA== 987654321
48. 22103 OrzNCxMfwrw= fdsa
49. 21795 4chDWZgI7v0= 753951
50. 21449 vp6d18mfGL+5n2auThm2+Q== chocolate

As you can see, the most popular password, chosen by almost two million Adobe users, is 123456. Other password choices are equally poor: password, 123456789, qwerty, etc…

As Gosney told ZDNet, it only took a few hours to determine the top 100 passwords:

The password hints were the most telling. An overwhelming number of people took the concept of a password hint too literally, and flat-out provided the password itself as the hint. By analysing thousands of password hints per ciphertext, and matching that information with what we know about the ciphertext thanks to ECB mode, we are able to determine a number of passwords with a reasonable degree of certainty. It took about three hours to determine what the top 100 passwords were with this method.

Gosney went on to tell me that the release of the Adobe password database could make a significant impact on future password cracking:

If we can recover the encryption key and decrypt the passwords, it will be huge for password crackers. RockYou was the first real glimpse we got at how users select passwords on a massive scale. This leak is nearly 5x the size of RockYou, and will give us amazing statistics for probabilistic password cracking.

The only good news in this sorry mess is that Adobe says that it now protects passwords following best practices, and it has now reset the exposed passwords. But that’s not going to be much help if you’ve used the same password elsewhere on the internet.

In short, you should never use the same password on multiple websites. And you need to stop choosing obvious, easy-to-crack passwords.

If you do make the mistake of reusing passwords, you are running the risk of having your password compromised in one place (perhaps via a phishing attack, spyware keyloggers or a data breach) and then hackers using it to unlock your other online accounts.

1PasswordIf you find passwords a burden – simply use password management software like Bitwarden, 1Password, and KeePass. They can generate complex, hard-to-crack passwords for you and do all the heavy work of remembering them on your behalf.

Meanwhile, if you run a company or website which needs to store users’ passwords, you should be taking much better care than Adobe did in ensuring that they are tricky to crack, using a one-way cryptographic hashing algorithm.

After all, if a hacker does manage to break into your computer systems you want to feel confident that they’re going to find it as hard as possible to crack the passwords your customers have entrusted you with.

And maybe it’s time to implement tougher requirements on your customers in the first place, ensuring that they use passwords that are more complex and harder to guess in future.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

6 comments on “The top 50 woeful passwords exposed by the Adobe security breach”

  1. Paul Ducklin

    It's even worse than that. Because the passwords are encrypted with a 64-bit block cipher such that each block stands alone, you get the same ciphertext if you share *part* of your password with someone else.

    For example, passwords that _start_ "password" all come out like this:

    2fca9b003de39778 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    And since e2a311ba09ab4707 in any encrypted block means "eight zeros", when you see that string, you know that the password is exactly as long as fits in the previous blocks, i.e. you have the password length.

    Close to 1/3 of the passwords come out as:

    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx e2a311ba09ab4707

    That tells you they are *exactly* 8 characters long, which helps you a lot when combined even with an ambiguous or incomplete hint.

    All explained in glorious technicolour (including a calmingly soft shade of blue) here:

    (Disclaimer: I wrote that piece.)

  2. In the last part, where you ask companies to take better
    care when storing passwords, I think it would have been wise to
    mention that the best option is not to store passwords at all, but
    use other sites for that. You do just that for this comment by
    using Google for authentication, and it seems to work fine

  3. Aidan Herbert

    Using Google for authentication to all your accounts,
    introduces a single point of failure. If an attacker gets your
    password (key-logging, MITM, MITB..etc) all of your accounts become
    vulnerable. There are several user-transparent & economical
    multi-factor authentication solutions available in the market, on
    line service providers should consider alternatives to password
    based authentication

    1. Sean · in reply to Aidan Herbert

      What about if you use Google 2 factor authentication Aidan?

  4. Luscinia

    12345?! That's amazing, I have the same
    combination on my luggage!

  5. online is dumb

    You have to have passwords because how else can you pretend an account is actually used by someone who has money to shop online? This comment has to have a name and email otherwise I may just be an alien robot from the future. The whole world is online trying to get easy money as the country crumbles around us. To hell with nature, clean water, and clean air. I just wish everyone was brainwashed and dumb and played on their phones all day.

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