Each one of us works remotely with multiple files getting shared. And multiple login attempts are from diverse sources for the various tools we use. A username and password are often stored in a table in a database in many organizations. While these activities are often unavoidable, they are necessary for businesses to function properly. As soon as someone tries to log in, the system checks the username and compares the password entered by the user with that already present in the database to determine if it matched.
The most basic form of password storage involves cleartext, where “readable data is stored on the open Internet”. Security at this level isn’t much of a concern since it’s basically like writing down the credentials on a digital piece of paper that can easily be hacked. Therefore, you may be wondering whether this is even possible.
Among cryptography’s most fundamental components is the hashing algorithm, which refers to “dividing data into smaller, mixed up pieces that make it difficult for an end-user to return to the original text/state”. A hash function is a computer algorithm that takes a set of inputs and produces a fixed-length result or hash value. This is not the same as encryption, which converts plain text into encrypted text and thereafter restores the plain text to the original form. With a hashing algorithm, the plain text gets converted into a hashed text with the aid of a cryptographic hash function, making it more difficult for hackers to read. Nevertheless, the original text cannot be accessed.
Therefore, if we want to ensure password security, hashing will ensure that both passwords and usernames are hashed and stored in pairs in the database table. Once the password gets entered, the hashed entry from the database table is compared with the password typed, and if they match, then the user is allowed to continue. The hashtag can serve as a password storage system, integrity check, digital signature, and message authentication code, as well as a fingerprint identifier, file transfer, and checksum.
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An ideal hash function includes a few key features given below :
- A hash function behaves like a one-way function: Once a text has been hashed, it cannot be restored to its original form. Therefore, if you want to ensure that you don’t receive the initial inputs that lead to the result, an ideal hash function will ensure that you do not get them. For example, 9 divided by 3 gives you the result 3, but so does 6 divided by 2. From just the result ‘3’, nothing would be able to indicate the initial two numbers.
- A hash function makes excellent use of the avalanche effect: a particular input leads to a specific output, but even a very slight change in the input (even if it’s not very noticeable) can produce a very drastic change in the output.
- Generally, hash functions should be fast to compute: If the hash function gets built properly, one should be able to get results very quickly for any given input data subjected to hashing.
- A hash function output should never contain a collision: two input parameters should never have the same output (see the length of the output for clarification on what we mean).
- Hash functions are deterministic: Regardless of when or how many times one checks the output of an input parameter, it will always produce the same result. A time-stamped verification is especially useful when multiple individuals have to be verified at different times.
A hashing algorithm at work – what does it do?
As we discussed at the outset of the article, passwords and credentials are essential to have. Let’s now talk about file transfers. A person (let’s call him X) wants to send a file to another person (let’s call her Y). It would be cumbersome and pointless to go in person to verify the contents of an email without a hashing algorithm in place.
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And in today’s fast-paced, insecure world, that would be both cumbersome and redundant. The same process will take days to complete if the message is long, the files are heavy, or if the attachments are multiple types, formats, and numbers in number.
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The hashing algorithm, on the other hand, can generate a checksum (a data block derived from another block that can be used to detect errors during transmissions) for the specific file. Y can apply the same hashing algorithm to the file received after receiving the checksum. Thus, ensuring that the correct file is sent by the right sender, to the correct recipient.
Types of Hashing Algorithms :
- Message Digests (MD5): One of the most commonly used, yet one of the least secure methods. Routinely used for converting passwords into specific patterns, you can easily retrieve the original password value simply by Googling the hash value.
- SHA (Secure Hash Algorithm) family of algorithms: SHA0, introduced in 1993, was compromised numerous times. SHA-1 is a slightly improved version. It gets used for SSL security and has also been compromised numerous times.
- Whirlpool: This 512-bit hash function gets derived from RSA Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).
- RACE Integrity Primitives Evaluation Message Digest: This family of algorithms was developed sometime in the mid-1990s.
- Cyclic redundancy code (CRC32): This is a cyclic redundancy code with spreading properties. Its high speed allows it to get used for smooth file transfer and verification.
Conclusion: SHA-2 appears to be a good option out there, but it is always best to stay up-to-date with the latest hashing algorithm technology. Newer versions of hashing algorithms are getting introduced in the market with an added layer of security.
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Business continuity is a case in which credential verification and the transfer of files and messages are ongoing activities across the globe, and hashing algorithms are ideal. Furthermore, The only cloud-based pay-as-you-go app protection solution that does not require creating a single line of code is Appsealing. By using RASP Security Features, you can secure mobile applications in run-time from hackers and illegal modification, thus providing them with security.
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