What is a Hashing Algorithm & How Does It Work?
A Comprehensive Guide to Hashing Algorithms
Confused about what is hashing algorithm, how do hashing algorithms work, characteristics of secure hash algorithm? Unravel all your questions here with this easy-to-follow guide on hashing algorithms!
Data security has become a top-priority concern with the advancement in digital business operations. And to maintain data integrity, companies prefer to use Hashing Algorithms in their business intelligence systems.
But before any firm apprises the hashing requirement, it’s essential to understand “What is hashing used for?”. It will help you to understand the fundamentals, leading to curating a secure-solid system. In addition, you will have the insight to update your applications with the appropriate hashing algorithm.
A Comprehensive Insight: What is Hashing Algorithm?
To efficiently understand the hashing algorithm, it’s essential to understand the hashing process. First, let’s have a look at it.
Hashing is a data conversion process primarily used to maintain data integrity and confidentiality. It transforms and compresses the original data and provides an unreadable text as output. And for converting the text, the system utilizes hashing algorithm.
Hashing algorithms are mathematical logic-based programs that convert the data into a secure format. For instance, if you input “I LOVE HASHING” and utilize a hashing algorithm, it will get converted to “C2A051CE23FA7DF64E19FF2AF577A5CB0F0771159EB3637C71ED4CDFC08557DA”.
The output ultimately depends upon the hashing algorithm getting utilized by you. The above value is of the SHA 256 hashing algorithm. Moreover, the hash algorithm provides unique output for every input, and the hashed content gets referred to as the hash value.
You can find several hashing algorithms, each utilizing a different mathematical calculation. However, once you hash any content, it requires immense processing power to reverse it. Sometimes, it can take even years, or it becomes nearly impossible to get the original data format back. Additionally, hashing is a fundamental cryptography pillar, helping companies secure data at rest and in transmission.
Therefore, hashing is a security mechanism helping to protect data integrity by converting it into an unreadable format.
How Do Hashing Algorithm Work?
Each hashing algorithm follows a different set of logic for data transformation. But, their work follows the same group of operations as follows.
Step 1: The end-user inputs the data they need to hash.
Step 2: The hashing algorithm analyzes the content and breaks it into small data blocks for better compression. The block size depends upon the bit size of the hashing algorithm.
Step 3: After breaking overall data into smaller parts, it performs mathematical calculations on each block.
Step 4: As a final output, you get the hashed value of the input. You must ensure the input is correct, as a minor modification, like a capital or smaller letter, can alter the final hash value.
Step 5: Now, you can save and share hash values according to your requirements.
Furthermore, the padding mechanism gets used if the input data is in uneven bit size. In padding, overall data gets divided into equal data blocks. The algorithm hashes the first block, then takes its output and the next block’s data as input. The process continues, and you get the hash value of the overall file.
As depicted in the above image, the algorithm first converts the data of block 1 into a hash value. Then Block 1’s hash value + data of block 2 is taken as the following input. That’s how padding works while hashing.
Characteristics of Cutting-Edge Hashing Algorithms
Hashing Algorithm is a solid security approach whose fundamentals rely on the following characteristics.
- Not Reversible
- Output Consistency (Determinism)
- Unique Output
- Avalanche Effect
- Faster Operations
Let’s learn in detail:
1. Not Reversible
A robust hashing algorithm is one whose output is complex to reverse. And, if anyone tries to do so, it should consume a mammoth amount of computational resources. The primary aim of integrating irreversibility characteristics in hashing algorithm is to prevent cyber-attacker from viewing original content.
The hash value helps the users securely transfer any confidential data across networks. And if any attacker breaches it in-between, it would become impossible to read the message.
2. Output Consistency (Determinism)
A reliable hashing algorithm always provides the output of the same length. No matter how large your file is, it will always output a hash value of the same size. Every data structure and network protocol has a fixed length to store data. Hashing algorithms must provide value that can seamlessly fit in the desired field.
3. Unique Output
Providing a unique value for every input is one of the most prominent characteristics of any hashing algorithm. For instance, the output for the words “I LOVE HASHING” and “I love hashing” must be different.
If a hash algorithm provides the same output for different content pieces, it’s not worth the usage. For example, if you get the same hash value for the words “INTERNET” and “internet.” Then, you should immediately stop using that particular algorithm. It can be a primary vulnerability, leading to a severe data breach.
4. Avalanche Effect
The avalanche effect is a complete change in the hash value, even if a letter is modified. Every reliable hashing algorithm considers it a fundamental pillar ensuring solid data security.
For instance, the algorithm providing different outputs for the words “SSL” and “sSL” aligns with the avalanche effect.
5. Faster Operations
A high-end and robust hashing algorithm performs complex calculations in microseconds to provide instant responses to users. It helps organizations secure data from brute SQL injections and brute force attacks.
In addition, due to the smaller size of hash values, the user instantly retrieves data from the extensive structure. Therefore, hashing algorithms must quickly convert data and support data-associated operations.
The Hashing Algorithm Applications
As the data has become a crucial asset, every firm configures hashing to solidify data security. Hashing is used for numerous purposes, such as:
- To Digitally Sign Executable Files
- To Perform Fast Data Lookup
- To Secure and Verify Password
- To Check File Integrity
- To Validate Data
1. To Digitally Sign Executable Files
Signing executable files with Code Signing Certificate is a mandatory practice for software publishers. It helps them tamper-proof the source code and prevent unauthorized modification. And one of the primary mechanisms getting used by Code Signing Certificate is hashing.
When software developers use the digital certificate, they convert the source code into a hash digest. Further, the digest gets encrypted, signed, timestamped, and released for end-users.
2. To Perform Fast Data Lookup
When software uses hashing, it pairs a key value with every hash digest. As hashing compresses the overall file content, storing and retrieving data becomes accessible. In addition, the system utilizes less processing power for performing lookup operations.
When a user enters any query, the application uses the key value to find the associated hash digest. And as the final result, stakeholders receive data within seconds and in a secure environment.
3. To Secure and Verify Password
Using hashing algorithms for storing passwords has become a top security approach. When any software uses hashing, it stores only hash values instead of the plaintext format. When the user enters the password, it gets converted to a hash value and cross-verified with the value in database.
In addition, to secure storing, it also helps in preventing data leaks. In the worst-case scenario, if an attacker accesses the database, it would become impossible to read and reverse the passwords to the original format.
4. To Check File Integrity
Nowadays, when you download any file from the internet, your system verifies its legitimacy before running it. And the verification gets completed by comparing the hash values.
Executable files getting downloaded from online repositories contain their hash digest. When you try to open that particular file, the operating system creates its hash and compares it with the pre-available hash digest. As a result, if both values are completely similar, then only the system runs it. Otherwise, it blocks the file or displays a warning message.
5. To Validate Data
Most companies use hashing to validate usernames and passwords, allowing only authorized users to access resources. For instance, when you first create your account, the system hashes the login credentials and stores them in hash value format.
And when you log in again, the software creates the hash value of the input and cross-verify it with the stored value. If both values match successfully, the system provides access to your account.
What are the Best Hashing Algorithm List?
Here’re the best hashing algorithm list:
- MD5 Hash Algorithm
- SHA Hash Algorithm
- CRC32 Hash Algorithm
- Argon2 Hash Algorithm
- BCrypt Hash Algorithm
Hashing Algorithm Example To Ensure Data Integrity
Let’s learn one-by-one hashing algorithm example:
1. MD5 Hashing Algorithm
Message Digest 5 hashing algorithm is from the 90s, transforming the text into a 128-bit hash digest. It divides the overall message into four sub-blocks and performs mathematical calculations in four rounds upon them. The algorithm takes the output from the previous calculation as input for the next round. Hence, hashing algorithm MD5 conducts 16 calculations on a single message block.
And at the end, it provides the final 128-bit hash value. However, currently, it’s getting used to storing low-priority data due to some open loopholes. If you have such a requirement and need to configure hashing quickly in your application, you can use hashing algorithm MD5.
2. SHA Hashing Algorithm
SHA Hashing Algorithm (Secure Hashing Algorithm) is a new-age hashing algorithm types used in SSL/TLS certificates and for advanced security. It has different variations, SHA-1, SHA-2, and SHA-3. And among all three, SHA-3 is the most powerful, as it fulfills the latest industry requirements.
Furthermore, you should always consider SHA-3 hashing algorithm, as it’s faster and more secure than SHA-1 hashing algorithm and SHA-2 hashing algorithm. In addition, it ensures zero collisions with unique output for every input data. It comes in different variations based on bit size, including SHA3-224, SHA3 (hashing algorithm SHA256), SHA3-384, and SHA3-512.
3. CRC32 Hash Algorithm
Cycle Redundancy Check is primarily get used for network-associated operations. When an administrator checks connectivity between systems or networks, the first step is to ping the destination address. While sending and receiving the data, the CRC hashing algorithm comes into play. Using it primarily aims to increase speed rather than protect the data.
For application components requiring checking connectivity with the server, you can implement CRC32.
4. Argon2 Hash Algorithm
If you are looking for a hashing algorithm to protect passwords, then Argon2 is an authentic choice. It’s also the winner of a global event known as the Password Hashing Competition. Moreover, it comes in three versions as follows:
- Argon2d (It protects passwords against GPU attacks)
- Argon2i (It provides resistance for side-channel cyber-attacks)
- Argon2id (It’s the combination of Argon2i and Argon2d, offering best features of both versions)
5. BCrypt Hash Algorithm
BCrypt hashing algorithm takes BlowFish cryptomatic algorithm as its fundamental pillar. It uses a Key factor and hashing to strengthen protection against brute-force and rainbow attacks. With the change in key, the final hash value also gets modified. To secure passwords, usernames, and similar sensitive details, BCrypt is a reliable option. However, you should always cross-verify your requirements and hashing algorithm’s functionalities before implementing any of the mentioned.
Hashing Algorithm is a mathematical function that converts the plain text content into an unreadable format. From signing executable files to securing sensitive information from cyber assailants, you can use hashing in your application and business systems.
In addition, the hashing algorithm is only efficient if it’s collision-free, irreversible, depicts the avalanche effect, and provides the output of the same bit size. And if you want to implement any hashing algorithm, you should constantly assess its functionalities with your needs. It will help you to prevent rainbow tables attacks and brute-force attacks. Consequently, hashing algorithms are the core of new-age systems to protect confidential data.