Blessed are the Geeks, for they shall internet the earth

Internet Security
Joseph Ritchey

Security with HashA hash function H is a transformation that takes a variable-size input m and returns a fixed-size string, which is called the hash value h (that is, h = H(m)). Hash functions with just this property have a variety of general computational uses, but when employed in cryptography the hash functions are usually chosen to have some additional properties.


The basic requirements for a cryptographic hash function are:

  • the input can be of any length,
  • the output has a fixed length,
  • H(x) is relatively easy to compute for any given x ,
  • H(x) is one-way,
  • H(x) is collision-free.

(If you are already bored at this point, you may want to visit and then return.)

Hash anything in the database that you wouldn't want a malicious person to get their hands on, but you will only be able to compare two hashed string to each other, you will not be able to reverse the hash to get the string back. Well, can't a hashed phrase be cracked with a brute force attack? Yes and there are even hash dictionaries out there. (By the way if you have a text dictionary of common words making your own hash dictionary is not that difficult.) So what the hell is the point of hashing the damn thing in the first place? That is where salt comes in. I know now you're thinking, he needs to stay away from the brownies. But no it true the technique is called salt and salt is basically the process of tagging on extra information before you hash your information. Like this is snippet from the php world:


$my_text = "My clear text";

echo sha1($my_text ."salt") ."\n";


But in a real world situation I wouldn't use "salt", what you would want to do is create a long paraphrase of about 64 characters. Then add your paraphrase somewhere to your text to be hashed. Strings can be played with in all sorts of ways tagging extra text at the end or the beginning of the string is just for simplicity. As with any other paraphrase, you must keep it secret.

For the critics out there yes is a supposed faster than brute force attack against SHA-1. SHA-1 produces a 160-bit hash. That is, every message hashes down to a 160-bit number. Given that there are an infinite number of messages that hash to each possible value, there are an infinite number of possible collisions. But because the number of possible hashes is so large, the odds of finding one by chance is negligibly small (one in 280, to be exact). If you hashed 280 random messages, you'd find one pair that hashed to the same value. That's the "brute force" way of finding collisions, and it depends solely on the length of the hash value. "Breaking" the hash function means being able to find collisions faster than that. According to a paper written Xiaoyun Wang, Hongbo Yu and Yiqun Lisa Yin of the Shandong University, China, they were able to find collisions in SHA-1 in 269 calculations. But keep in mind that 269 is something like 590295810358705651712. So you are still looking at a SETI size amount of calculations to crack it. Maybe the new Mac dual cores will finally be fast enough.

SHA is not the only HASH out there either there are lots of other hashish available. The best kinds of Hash originate from the Northern provinces between Hindu Kush and, .... sorry that the wrong kind of hash. Examples of well-known hash functions are MD2 and MD5 and SHA. I do not recommend using an MD2 or an MD5 hash though. MDx hashes have many well known weaknesses and have been crack many times over. Don't believe me, just download a copy of the tool Cain & Able and see how easily you can bust one of your MD5 hashes. There are successors to SHA-1: SHA-224, SHA-256, SHA-384, and SHA-512. As of this writing PHP, ASP and PERL did not yet have a native implementation of the higher SHA functions. There are third party libraries SHA scripts and libraries available.

A final word on hashes is like anything else with computers always stay up to date on what is going on with the type of hash function that you are using. New cracks and exploits pop up everyday, and so do new and strong hash and encryption methods.

So where does Hash Tables fit in all this? From wikipedia : a hash table, or a hash map, is a data structure that associates keys with values. The primary operation it supports efficiently is a lookup: given a key (e.g. a person's name), find the corresponding value (e.g. that person's telephone number). It works by transforming the key using a hash function into a hash, a number that the hash table uses to locate the desired value. And yes you can write a hash table for your web app's if you want to put the time into it. But your hash table will only be as strong as your hash function. An yes you could even write your own hash function, but that is beyond to scope of this article.

Some interesting reading about hashing:


Hacking The IT Cube: The Information Technology Survival Guide -- Douglas Chick

E-mail your comments to
All rights reserved

Disclaimer: The Opinions shared on are contributed by its readers and does not necessarily express the opinion of the creators of this publication.