To safeguard its data, any organization must prevent malware attacks. A crucial way of doing this is for businesses to implement hashing algorithms in their cyber systems to ensure security. We look closely at what is hashing in cybersecurity, its purpose, and other associated details.
What is Hashing in Cybersecurity?
In computer science and cryptography, a hash function is a deterministic procedure that takes an input (or “message”) and returns a string of characters of a fixed size—which is usually a “digest”—that is unique to the input.
A hash function is used in many cybersecurity algorithms and protocols, such as password storage and digital signature. Hashing is also used in a data structure, such as a hash table (a data structure that stores data), for a quick search and insertion.
The Purpose of Hashing
Learning the answer to the question about what is hashing in cybersecurity can help a professional use hashing algorithms for data encryption and data security. Cybersecurity professionals convert a large block of input data using the hashing algorithm into a smaller fixed-length string as the final output.
Businesses always want to secure their data servers and cloud storage systems from vulnerabilities to malicious software. Hashing helps cybersecurity professionals ensure that the data stored on servers and cloud storage systems remains unreadable by hackers.
What is Hashing Used for?
Hashing is a one-way function that turns a file or string of text into a unique digest of the message. The hash value is calculated by a hashing algorithm using the binary data of a particular file. Now let’s look at the different uses that hashing has in cybersecurity.
Hashes provide security to an organization’s cyber system so that hackers cannot steal it; for example, email passwords stored on servers.
Hashing is a way to encrypt and decrypt digital signatures, verifying the message’s sender and receiver.
The authenticity of data can be verified with the use of hashing algorithms. When a document is entirely written, the cybersecurity specialist will use a hash to secure it.
Businesses use hashes to index data, recognize files, and erase duplicate files. An organization can save significant time utilizing hashes when working with a cyber system with thousands of files.
A Hashing Example
Suppose you are a cybersecurity professional and wish to digitally sign a piece of software before making it accessible for download on your website. To do so, you will generate a hash of the script or a software application you are signing and then generate another hash after adding your digital signature. Then, the whole thing is encoded in a way that makes it possible to download it.
When a consumer downloads the software, the customer’s browser will first decrypt the file and then check the file for its two distinct hash values. The browser will then execute the same hash function using the same method and then hash the file in addition to the signature one more time to ensure efficient security. If both the signature and the file return the same hash value, then the browser is aware that both are genuine and have not been tampered with. The browser will display a warning if the situation is otherwise and warn about potential security threats.
Types of Hashing in Cybersecurity
As a cybersecurity professional, you can select from a wide variety of different types of hashing. Some of the most widely used for decryption are described below:
The Message Digest hashing algorithm’s fifth iteration is MD5, which creates a 128-bit hash function.
SHA-1, the first iteration of the Secure Hash Algorithm, generates a hash function output that is 160 bits long. This SHA is one of the primary hashing algorithms used by professionals in the field of computer science.
SHA-2 is not just one hashing algorithm. Instead, it is a group of four algorithms: SHA-224, SHA-256, SHA-384, and SHA-512. The name of each hashing algorithm is the same as the bit output it generates.
The CRC32 hashing algorithm uses a Cyclic Redundancy Check (CRC) as its primary method for identifying unauthorized changes to data that has been saved. When data is encoded using CRC32, the output hash value will always be of a consistent length. Hashing is performed with the CRC32 method on Zip file formats and File Transfer Protocol (FTP) servers.
Benefits of Hashing in Cybersecurity
Hashes are helpful for cybersecurity professionals to discover a threat on a computer system. It also helps them to investigate the entire cyber network to determine whether or not a particular file is present. The following pointers will further help you understand why hashing is essential in cybersecurity.
- Hashing is a technique used in database management systems to search for the location of data without making use of an index structure
- It makes it easy to determine whether or not two files in a computer system are the same
- The retrieval and processing of data can be done very quickly with hash tables
- Hash gives a consistent amount of time on average for performing operations such as searching, inserting, and deleting data
Limitations of Hashing in Cybersecurity
Let’s also look at some drawbacks of using hashing in cybersecurity.
- Hash algorithms cannot process null values (where the value is missing)
- The implementation of hash tables can be difficult
- When there are a large number of collisions (two data pieces in a hash table sharing the same hash value), hash becomes inefficient
Common Hashing Algorithms
The Microsoft LAN Manager hashing algorithm, more commonly referred to as LANMAN, is primarily responsible for storing passwords.
The NT LAN Manager hashing algorithm is another name for the NTLM, which goes by both names. NTLM is quickly replacing LANMAN as the standard authentication method because of its ability to generate password hashes.
It is a hashing algorithm that uses much computing processing power and takes a long time to make a hash compared to other algorithms.
The Ethereum network developed and deployed a proof-of-work mining algorithm known as Ethash to ensure the integrity of the blockchain.
Hashing vs. Encryption
Significant differences between hashing and encryption are visible in their respective functionalities.
Encryption is a two-way process using an encryption key to scramble information. In contrast, a decryption key is used to unscramble the information after it has been encrypted by a user. On the other hand, hashing is a one-way function that turns a file or string of text into a unique digest of the message.
Data is mapped to an output of fixed size using hash functions, referred to as hashing. It is employed to confirm the integrity of files containing data. In the case of encryption, the message is encrypted so that only those users with the proper authorization can read it.
Verification of data and ensuring its integrity is the primary goal of hashing. On the other hand, encryption’s primary function is to ensure the confidentiality of data transmission by providing efficient protection facilities.
Gain a Deeper Insight Into Cybersecurity
Hashing in cybersecurity is a convenient option to prevent security threats to your system. To get the knowledge to do so, along with learning more about other aspects of cybersecurity, enroll in the online cybersecurity courses offered by Emeritus. It will not only help you gain expertise in hashing algorithms but also help you build a career in this specialization.
By Riku Ghosh
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