AdobelogoIt seems like we may be closing in on the total size of Adobe’s password security breach, and it’s big. Really big.

According to a report by Paul Ducklin at Sophos’s Naked Security blog, the breach includes more than 150 million usernames and encrypted passwords, alongside plaintext password hints for those accounts that have them set. Adobe is maintaining its claim that only 38 million of those records belong to active users.

Wiebke Lips, a Senior Manager for Corporate Communications at Adobe said in an email that it is likely that hackers also acquired “many invalid Adobe IDs, inactive Adobe IDs, Adobe IDs with invalid encrypted passwords, and test account data,” which may explain the large total number of Adobe IDs and passwords in the database. The company is still investigating how many of those accounts were involved in the breach.

Lips also said that Adobe has reset all of the passwords for affected accounts with valid passwords, whether they are active or not.

The hits don’t stop there, though. According to Sophos, there are a couple key problems with the way Adobe’s password file was set up: the company used an encryption scheme which would allow an attacker who got a hold of the database’s encryption key to decrypt the entire database, revealing all of the passwords at once.

In addition, the database was encrypted in such a way that the same password input would lead to the same encrypted text, so, for example, the password “qwerty” translates to “e5d8efed9088db0b” in Adobe’s database. Moreover, because of how the database is set up, it’s also possible to determine how many characters are in a given password by analyzing the ciphertext.

A visual representation of what Adobe’s password storage means (Credit: Randall Munroe/XKCD)

Compounding that, all of the password hints in the database are stored in plaintext, which means that the entire file amounts to what author Randall Munroe is calling “The greatest crossword puzzle in the history of the world.

Lips confirmed Sophos’s assertions that the database was indeed encrypted with Triple DES and that if an attacker managed to get a hold of the database’s encryption key, it would be possible for them to decrypt the millions of passwords into plaintext all at once.

The good news, as minor as it may be, is that at the time of the attack, Adobe was already using a different scheme for protecting its primary password database. Lips said that for more than a year, the company has been salting passwords and hashing them using SHA-256, an algorithm that does a much better job of disguising password input. The Adobe password system involved in the attack was a backup system that was “designated to be decommissioned,” Lips said in an email.

It’s also worth noting that the database does not include the 2.9 million encrypted credit and debit card numbers that Adobe says were also taken in the attack. Those numbers were stored in a separate database, and according to Lips, they were encrypted with “a third-party appliance, which performs the encryption and manages the encryption keys.”

While Adobe says that it has contacted everyone affected by the attack, LastPass has created a tool that checks your email to see if the email associated with your Adobe ID is among those accounts included in the database. While the company hasn’t noticed any indication of unauthorized activity on any Adobe ID involved in the incident, you definitely want to change the passwords for any accounts that shared the same password with your Adobe ID.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


  • Ben Bauermeister

    How frustrating! When this story first broke over 2 weeks ago Adobe was quoted as saying that they would contact any account holders who they felt had been compromised. Now this. So I hopped onto the Adobe site and tried to log in to my account and found that it has had its password reset. No notification. No apology. No assistance. If you have an Adobe account – don’t wait for them to contact you. Go check to see if your password has been reset by them or run LastPass listed in the article above. You may be one of the lucky 150M to have their password out in the open. LastPass also indicates that my account was compromised – I just wish Adobe would have lived up to their word and told me first.

    • Bryan Beus

      My password was one of the 38 million that was actually stolen, and Adobe sent me snail mail letting me know.

      You may have been hit in the 150 million that Adobe is still reluctant to confirm/deny, but are working with anyway.

      • Ben Bauermeister

        BB: I am happy to hear this, really. It is good to hear that some folks are getting notified. You are the first I have heard of. The use of snail mail is odd – but given the circumstances – maybe that makes sense too.


  • degerrit

    Not surprisingly, I started getting spam mail with malware links to Russian-hosted sites on a disposable mail addess I had used with my Adobe ID. Hopefully that’s the worst this breach causes. Lucky for me I don’t re-use my passwords.

Job Listings on GeekWork