Passwords are a crucial component of our digital lives, protecting our personal and sensitive information from prying eyes. However, with the rise of cybercrime, password security has become a major concern for individuals and businesses alike. Passwords are often the first line of defense against unauthorized access to accounts, and therefore, it is crucial to store them securely. One of the methods used for secure password storage is hashing.
Hashing is a process that takes an input, such as a password, and produces a fixed-size output, known as a hash. This hash is a unique representation of the input and is nearly impossible to reverse-engineer to the original password. When a user creates an account and chooses a password, the system will take the password, apply a hash function to it, and store the resulting hash. When the user attempts to log in, the password they enter is hashed and compared to the stored hash. If the hashes match, the user is granted access. This process protects the password from being stored in plaintext, which would make it easy for an attacker to steal.
Here are two examples of hashing random passwords with the SHA256 hash function:
pBtK7v96$*FD = 631a528b82471d354a492452a1ba0792d3e9262d649946c548c875788a465823 gqegJ&4S5j*p = de202901f3cc7042ff7796c96c2749baa2854e311a40d084ad0d5452caad9eeb
However, as with any security measure, there are ways to bypass hashing. One such method is through the use of a dictionary attack. In this type of attack, an attacker uses a list of commonly used passwords or a list of dictionary words and applies the hash function to each one. If the resulting hash matches the stored hash, the attacker has successfully cracked the password. To prevent dictionary attacks, the hashing process can be strengthened by adding a salt.
A salt is a random string of characters that is added to the password before it is hashed. The salt serves as an additional input to the hash function, which makes the resulting hash unique even if the same password is hashed multiple times. In other words, the salt increases the complexity of the hash, making it more difficult to crack.
Let’s take an example to understand how adding a salt to a password improves its security. Suppose we have two users who choose the password “password” for their account. If we were to hash these passwords without a salt, the resulting hash would be the same for both users. An attacker who obtains this hash can easily guess that the password is “password” and gain access to both accounts. However, if we add a random salt to each password, the resulting hashes will be completely different, even though the passwords are the same. This makes it much more difficult for an attacker to crack the password.
To illustrate further, let’s say that User A has the password “password” and a randomly generated salt of “x&^%$#”. The system applies the hash function to “passwordx&^%$#” and stores the resulting hash. Now, let’s say that User B also has the password “password” but a different randomly generated salt of “@#%!^&”. The system applies the hash function to “password@#%!^&” and stores the resulting hash. Even though both users have the same password, the resulting hashes are completely different due to the addition of the salt.
passwordx&^%$# = 66f440e144b64fb9726262bebeec94b2e65e6f7941280194de84fee35f9def5b password@#%!^& = 0b5d3c2f0e6bcdd3ca58c8680a0af62a9cecc2c787a5a9e9cbf75166454660d5
Adding a salt to hashes provides an additional layer of security to password storage. By making each hash unique, even for the same password, dictionary attacks are less likely to be successful. However, it’s important to note that the salt must be long and random enough to be effective. If the salt is too short or too predictable, an attacker can still use a brute-force attack to crack the password. Additionally, it’s important to store the salt along with the hash, so the system can recreate the same hash for the same password when a user logs in.
In conclusion, adding a salt to hashes is a simple yet effective way to improve the security of password storage. It adds an additional layer of complexity to the hash, making it more difficult for attackers
Gladstone is a tech virtuoso, boasting a dynamic 25-year journey through the digital landscape. A maestro of code, he has engineered cutting-edge software, orchestrated high-performing teams, and masterminded robust system architectures. His experience covers large-scale systems, as well as the intricacies of embedded systems and microcontrollers. A proud alumnus of a prestigious British institution, he wields a computer-science-related honours degree.