Hashings and hash values are essential in cybersecurity and cryptography, allowing computer science professionals and IT experts to determine if two files are identical or reveal if a file is a threat. Understanding what hash functions are and the importance of hash codes in the information technology landscape can guarantee your trusted tech advisor is doing all they can to ensure your technology and business run smoothly.
What Are Hashings?
A hash code is a one-way cryptographic function. What might appear as a randomly generated string of letters and numbers is actually a key piece of identifying information. This unique, fixed-length string of plaintext characters, referred to as a hash value, hash function, or message digest, is produced and assigned to a specific piece of data.
Each file produces a unique hash function when run through a secure hashing algorithm. And every piece of information should produce a different hash value, which gives your trusted tech advisor at STEADfast IT key information.
How Is a Hash Code Created?
A hashing algorithm takes the binary data of a given file and runs a complex calculation to produce the one-way function hash value. Many hashing algorithms are available for you to choose from as a business owner. Below is a look at some of the most popular decryption hashing algorithms.
The MD5 is the fifth iteration of the Message Digest hashing algorithm. MD5 creates a 128-bit hash function output. While once the gold standard of hashing algorithms, weaknesses in the Message Digest program resulted in more collisions, which is explained further in this article. Because of collisions, many IT professionals have moved away from MD5, opting instead for the SHA-1 or SHA-2 hashing algorithm.
The second version of the Secure Hash Algorithm, SHA-1, creates a 160-bit hash function output. This Secure Hash Algorithm is one of the main hashing algorithms used by computer science professionals and has gained widespread use over the years since replacing MD5.
Rather than a single hashing algorithm, SHA-2 is a suite of algorithms, including SHA-224, SHA-256, SHA-384, and SHA-512. The name of each hashing algorithm corresponds to its bit output. While more secure than SHA-1, SHA-2 has yet to gain widespread use outside of cryptographic circles.
Known as LANMAN, the Microsoft LAN Manager hashing algorithm primarily stores passwords. Created using DES methods, the Legacy Windows system is highly vulnerable to brute force attacks, making it less secure to store sensitive data than other hash function programs.
The NTLM is also known as the NT LAN Manager hashing algorithm. NTLM works by creating password hashes during authentication and is quickly replacing LANMAN. The next version of this algorithm is NTLMv2, which employs the HMAC-MD5 method.
How Do Hash Functions Work?
Cryptographic experts cannot reverse engineer hash functions, unlike other data encryption and input data pulled from a file. This protection means even when a hash value is pulled from a hashing algorithm, you cannot reconstruct the contents of a file. Instead, a hash value allows computer science experts to determine if two files are identical even without knowing anything about the sensitive data included in the file.
One of the fundamental values of a cryptographic hash is that the fixed-length bit output is unique. A collision occurs when two separate files produce the exact string of characters, telling your computer and IT professional that the files are identical, even though they are not. While there is only a small change of collision, it can happen.
Older, more outdated hashing algorithms, like MD5, are more likely to falsely report a collision than the newer encryption algorithms such as SHA-1 and SHA-2.
What Is the Use of Hashings?
Your hashing algorithm of choice has created a hash value, so now what? Information technology professionals can use a hash function in several ways.
In the past, cybersecurity professionals used to rely on a message digest to tell them if a file was malicious, even without examining the sensitive data stored in the file. Experts could compare the hash value with a curated list of hash functions known to have malware associations. While using a message digest worked well in the early days of cyber security, hackers, otherwise known as bad actors or threat actors, quickly revealed the flaws in this plan and created workarounds. Some of the reasons why this method no longer works are:
- The number of malware files in circulation has increased dramatically. DataProt estimates that 560,000 new pieces of malware are detected every day. Keeping this list up to date would be virtually impossible, even with a team of computer science experts following advanced encryption standards.
- Malware authors can edit their malware to produce a different hash function. The process can even be automated, making it incredibly easy for hackers to circumvent this security measure and access your company’s sensitive data.
- This anti-malware solution requires users to be one step ahead of an attacker, as they must have a well-organized database.
Are Hash Values Still Valuable?
Even with their shortcomings, hash values are still precious. Identifying a file helps ensure that a website, file, or download is safe and genuine. A small padlock denotes SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificates before a URL, and code signing in digital signatures offers web authentication and allows users to store their passwords securely.
Security researchers, malware hunters, and computer science engineers rely on hash values to do their jobs. They reference hash functions in their technical reports, making it easy to reference and share malware samples.
Your trusted technology advisor will run the file through a hashing algorithm when a malware threat is identifiable. Once the hash value is identified, they can easily search through your entire network to see if that specific file exists. This can help prevent any additional cyber attacks.
Protection You Can Count On
The dedicated professionals at STEADfast IT are here for you. With our proactive approach to cybersecurity, cloud services, telephony solutions, technology management, and bandwidth and connectivity, we understand the importance of investing in multiple points of protection to prevent malware attacks and ensure your company’s sensitive data remains safe.
Implementing a hashing algorithm into your cybersecurity portfolio is just one of our engineering team’s many ways to move your business forward with technology you can trust. Hash functions can provide an added level of security through digital signatures and web authorization. Our team uses advanced encryption standards to manage your sensitive data to prevent malware attacks and ensure your data integrity stays intact.
If you’d like to learn more about how hash value, hash code, hash function, and message digest can help your business, our team can help you choose the right services to fit your unique needs. Contact us to set up a free, no-pressure consultation with one of our remote IT specialists.