A Comprehensive Guide To Hashing
So, let's say you have three different objects: a shiny red apple, a fluffy teddy bear and a bar of dark chocolate. You decide to put each of these objects into the magical book and it turns them into unique keys. The shiny red apple gets a key – Key A, the fluffy teddy bear – Key B and the dark chocolate - Key C.
These keys are like fingerprints for objects. No matter how many times you put the same object into the magical book, it will always produce the same key. So, if you put the shiny red apple into the book again, it will still give you Key A.
What's this magical book called? Hashing!
It can take any input (like a data point or a file) and turn it into a fixed-length string of characters (the key), no matter how big or small the input is. The key is unique to the input and even a small change in the input will produce a completely different key.
Hashing is not just used to secure data and encrypt files but also has applications in day-to-day business processes. Excited to read (pun intended!) about this magical book?
Read on to learn more about Hashing!
Let us tell you a story to help you understand Hashing in a better way.
Once upon a time, in a small village, a post office was run by a postal worker named Alice. People from the village would send letters to one another. Alice didn't want to waste time rummaging through piles of letters to find the right recipient, so she devised a clever system.
She gave each villager a unique mailbox with a number on it. When someone sent a letter, Alice would look at the address, calculate a unique number and place the letter in the corresponding mailbox. This special number was like a secret code only she knew how to generate.
Now, whenever someone wanted to collect their mail, they would simply tell Alice their address. She would use the corresponding secret code to quickly find the correct mailbox without searching the post office’s directory.
This method is similar to Hashing – a process of transforming any given key or a string (here, mailing address) into another value (a secret code). Computers use this process to organize data for quick retrieval, just like Alice did for her village's mail.
So, let's get into the what, why and how of Hashing!
What Is Hashing?
Let's start with the basics: hashing is a process of transforming given data into another value, which is usually represented by a shorter, fixed-length key or a value. This key or value makes it easier to use than the original string. Unlike standard encryptions, Hashing is always used for one-way encryption and hash values are quite difficult to decode. Now you know what helps secure your online passwords!
Hashing is like a magic table to organize data. Imagine you have a big box with lots of keys unlocking various locks. Yet, you can't keep everything in order, so you use a hash function to sort them out. The function takes each key and turns it into a value that is associated with every lock’s secret code. So, when you need to find a lock, you just use the hash function’s value for a key and it guides you to the correct lock!
Businesses also use hash functions to index and organize their files. It lets them detect and erase duplicate files and save time while dealing with thousands of files within a system. This secures their data servers and cloud storage systems from vulnerabilities.
Along with data management, Hashing is also used for digital signatures. It helps encrypt and decrypt digital signatures to authenticate the senders and receivers.
Now that we know what hashing is, let’s go back in time to know how it started in the first place because privacy and security have always been the talk of the town. Imagine how it would have been back in those days – encryption, privacy, security with no technologies. #GoodOldDays
History Of Hashing
The concept of Hashing can be traced back to early cryptography. In ancient times, various methods were used to transform plaintext into seemingly random sequences, making it difficult for unauthorized individuals to decipher messages. These methods laid the foundation for hashing techniques.
The formalization of hash functions in computer science began in the mid-20th century. Mathematicians and computer scientists started developing algorithms to take data and produce fixed-size values (hashes) representing that data.
In the 1970s, Ralph Merkle and Ivan Damgård independently developed the Merkle-Damgård construction, a method for building collision-resistant hash functions. This construction became a fundamental building block for many current cryptographic hash functions.
Over the years, various cryptographic hash functions have been developed and widely adopted. Some well-known examples include MD5 (Method Digest Method 5), SHA-1 (Secure Hash Algorithm) and SHA-256.
Later, in 2007, NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) announced that it would organize the SHA-3 competition. After years of research, in 2015, NIST introduced SHA-3, the newest member of the SHA family.
While many older hash functions served well for their time, advances in computing power and cryptanalysis have exposed vulnerabilities. For example, MD5 and SHA-1 are no longer considered secure for cryptographic purposes due to the discovery of collision vulnerabilities.
Today, hashing continues to evolve with the development of new algorithms and techniques to address the growing challenges in information security and data integrity, making it a crucial component of modern computing and cryptography.
Ready to address the elephant in the room, then? Let’s see how Hashing works!
How Does Hashing Work?
Hashing works in three simple steps. Let us make it easy for you with an example:
Imagine you have a secret message you want to protect. This message can be anything – a sentence, a list of numbers, a picture or even a computer program.
Example: Let's say your message is simple, like "Hello, World!"
Now, the message goes through a special blender called a hashing function. This blender takes your message and magically transforms it into a fixed-length string of characters. It's a bit like turning your message into a secret code.
Example: After your message "Hello, World!" goes through the hashing function, it becomes something like "2cf24c1".
The result of this magic blending is the hash value. This value should ideally be unique for each input, meaning every key will have its own secret code.
Example: The hash value "2cf24c1" is unique to your "Hello, World!" message. If you change your message even a little, the hash value will be completely different.
Pretty easy, right? However, there are different types of Hashing algorithms introduced over the years, catering to different functional requirements. Let’s talk about the types of Hashing algorithms!
Types Of Hashing Algorithms
There are various types of hash algorithms, however, the most common types of Hashing used are MD5, SHA-2 and CRC32. Let’s explore this in detail:
MD5 or Message Digest Algorithm 5, is like the wise elder of the group. It takes any input and magically transforms it into a 128-bit fingerprint, like a unique ID for your data. However, it's showing its age and isn't as secure as it once was.
Next, we have SHA-2, developed by the National Security Agency (NSA). SHA-2 is more advanced than SHA-1 and comes in different flavors, with hash values ranging from 224 to 512 bits. It's widely trusted for securing digital communication and data.
Lastly, we meet CRC32. It's like the old-fashioned detective who helps spot changes in data. Whenever you use CRC32 to hash the same data, it always produces the same hash output. It's often used to check if a file got altered accidentally.
If you’re asking why you need to know about these algorithms – you don’t! Yet, you must know about the benefits of Hashing – read on!
Benefits Of Hashing
There are a handful of benefits of Hashing. However, here are our top picks:
How many times have you changed your password to ensure it is secured? Now, think how it would be for businesses! Therefore, businesses have been using hash functions to protect the usernames and passwords of clients stored on the servers. Extra security, you know!
Managing and maintaining the integrity of files can be daunting, especially when online attacks and downloaded files can contain malware. With the help of Hash functions, the user can verify whether the file downloaded from the website is corrupted.
Today, we are making more online transactions in a day than in an entire year ten years ago. Hashing helps protect your data transferred during online transactions using hashing algorithms.
So that is how we have been making our transactions secure all these years. Yet, what’s more fascinating is the future of Hashing. Let’s peep into the future!
Future Trends Of Hashing
As we look toward the approaching horizon, it is evident that the landscape of hashing in computer science research will only change rapidly. As new technologies and ideas emerge, things become possible that we thought impossible. Here’s what to expect in the realm of Hashing soon:
One of the emerging trends will be Quantum Computing – an exponential processing power that can crack even the strongest hash function. While Quantum Computing is taking baby steps, the researchers will help it to find more robust hash functions.
While many of us would think Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are limited to robots and self-driving cars, AI/ML technologies are making waves across industries, making things smarter day by day. Imagine a hash function that learns and adapts over time, reducing the chances of decryptions and making it more secure than ever! Didn't think AI could do that, did you?
Did you know that cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin relies on hashing for security? As more industries adopt blockchain and crypto, the importance of Hashing algorithms will grow.
This shows that Hashing has exponential usage and importance across the business landscape. We have the input right and the hash function is set. Let’s look at the final outcome!
The Final Outcome
In conclusion, it is safe to say that Hashing will always be a big part of data security technologies. While new Hashing algorithms are improving and making data more secure than ever, it will be interesting to witness how emerging technologies such as blockchain, AI/ML and others benefit Hashing. We hope this blog helped you understand how Hashing works, how it came about, its benefits, future trends and more. Now, we hope, you too can use Hashing at your workplace as Alice did!
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