Hash Algorithms

Hash functions, also called message digests and one-way encryption, are algorithms that, in some sense, use no key. Instead, a fixed-length hash value is computed based upon the plaintext that makes it impossible for either the contents or length of the plaintext to be recovered.

Hash algorithms are typically used to provide a digital fingerprint of a file’s contents, often used to ensure that the file has not been altered by an intruder or virus. It is also commonly employed by many operating systems to encrypt passwords and then, provide a measure of the integrity of a file.

Hash algorithms that are in common use include:

Message Digest (MD) algorithms

A series of byte-oriented algorithms that produce a 128-bit hash value from an arbitrary-length message.

MD2 : Designed for systems with limited memory, such as smart cards.
MD4 : Developed by Rivest, similar to MD2 but designed specifically for fast processing in software.
MD5 : Also developed by Rivest in 1991 after potential weaknesses were reported in MD4; this scheme is similar to MD4 but is slower because more manipulation is made to the original data.It accepts variable length message from the user and converts it into a fixed 128-bit message digest value.

One interesting and important aspect of the MD5 hash function is that it is a one-way algorithm. This means you can produce the 128-bit fingerprint if the data chunk is available to you. You cannot, however, generate the entire data if only the fingerprint of the data is known.

Secure Hash Algorithm (SHA)

Algorithm for NIST’s Secure Hash Standard (SHS). SHA-1 produces a 160-bit hash value and was originally published as FIPS 180-1 and RFC 3174. FIPS 180-2 describes five algorithms in the SHS: SHA-1 plus SHA-224, SHA-256, SHA-384, and SHA-512 which can produce hash values that are 224, 256, 384, or 512 bits in length, respectively. SHA-224, -256, -384, and -52 are also described in RFC 4634.


A series of message digests that initially came from the RIPE (RACE Integrity Primitives Evaluation) project. RIPEMD-160 was designed by Hans Dobbertin, Antoon Bosselaers, and Bart Preneel, and optimised for 32-bit processors to replace the then-current 128-bit hash functions. Other versions include RIPEMD-256, RIPEMD-320, and RIPEMD-128.

HAVAL (Hash of Variable Length)

Designed by Y. Zheng, J. Pieprzyk and J. Seberry, a hash algorithm with many levels of security. HAVAL can create hash values that are 128, 160, 192, 224, or 256 bits in length.


A relatively new hash function, designed by V. Rijmen and P.S.L.M. Barreto. Whirlpool operates on messages less than 2256 bits in length, and produces a message digest of 512 bits. The design of this hash function is very different than that of MD5 and SHA-1, making it immune to the same attacks as on those hashes.


Designed by Ross Anderson and Eli Biham, Tiger is designed to be secure, run efficiently on 64-bit processors, and easily replace MD4, MD5, SHA and SHA-1 in other applications. Tiger/192 produces a 192-bit output and is compatible with 64-bit architectures; Tiger/128 and Tiger/160 produce the first 128 and 160 bits, respectively, to provide compatibility with the other hash functions.

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