The real reason why many of the hacked Adobe passwords were so dumb

A researcher has found that many Adobe customers whose account data was stolen in a massive hack last month used really weak passwords such as 123456 – but there's a good reason why.

The passwords were posted by Jeremi Gosney of Scricture Group, and reported by The Register.

Here are the 20 most common passwords, followed by the number of Adobe users who used that password:

  • 1. 123456 - 1,911,938
  • 2. 123456789 - 446,162
  • 3. password - 345,834
  • 4. adobe123 - 211,659
  • 5. 12345678 - 201,580
  • 6. qwerty - 130,832
  • 7. 1234567 - 124,253
  • 8. 111111 - 113,884
  • 9. photoshop - 83,411
  • 10. 123123 - 82,694
  • 11. 1234567890 - 76,910
  • 12. 000000 - 76,186
  • 13. abc123 - 70,791
  • 14. 1234 - 61,453
  • 15. adobe1 - 56,744
  • 16. macromedia - 54,651
  • 17. azerty - 48,850
  • 18. iloveyou - 47,142
  • 19. aaaaaa - 44,281
  • 20. 654321 - 43,670

Gosney says that his list can't be verified as he doesn't have Adobe's encryption keys. But he says he's confident in his results as Adobe chose "symmetric key encryption over hashing, selecting ECB mode, and using the same key for every password, combined with a large number of known plaintexts and the generosity of users who flat-out gave us their password in their password hint".

Thankfully, the top 20 passwords only account for roughly three percent of the 130,324,429 Adobe user accounts Gosney was able to obtain. The vast majority of people are using passwords that are at least somewhat unique.

So why would creatives and other customers be so stupid as to use such simple passwords for an account that could be linked to their credit card details and give access to the Creative Cloud software they use evey day? Because for many of us, when we set up our Adobe IDs we really didn't care about our accounts.

Back in the day when Creative Suite came on a series of DVDs (or even CDs if you've been around as long as me) with serial numbers, you set up an Adobe ID for one of a few reasons: to get some freebies Adobe was offering in exchange for your details, to download updates or to post on Adobe's forums. I'm guessing this is why Macromedia popped up on the above list, as it was likely still a separate company (or at least well-known brand) when those passwords were created.

Many people – myself included in the past – us a single, easy-to-remember password for sites that make us register to do something, but for which we see no value in that registration and no danger in its lack of security.

We don't see ourselves as stupid – we use proper passwords for things that matter like banking, email and social media networks – we just didn't see an Adobe ID as big deal. Why would we care about being secure when it's just for downloading updates – forgetting the password is more of a hassle.

The problem comes when a password for something we consider to be trivial gives access to really important things like software and credit card details – and we don't change our passwords (or even think about it as we just log in with passwords saved in our browsers)

Part of me thinks that Adobe should have made customers change their weak passwords when customers used their Adobe IDs to buy software or subscribe to Creative Cloud – but we need to be aware that we should be doing that too.

Adobe needs to learn a lesson from this dangerous lapse in security – but it appears many of us do too.

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