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Hashing vs Encryption – What’s the Fundamental Difference Between the Two?

Hashing Validates Integrity of Content Whereas Encryption Maintains Confidentiality

In today’s increasing online threats protecting sensitive information like passwords and credit card details is no brainer. Everyone knows how important it’s to protect such information. Everyone who uses the internet would agree that security breaches are major causes of endless financial strife and customer dissatisfaction.

Whereas security is concerned if anyone has paid even a little attention towards cybersecurity, they might have come across the term encryption and hashing. But that’s a truth that many people still don’t know what it’s, and if it’s known, many times it’s confused with each other. However, it’s understandable to come across such misperception, especially for those who’re not into the cybersecurity, because Hashing and Encryption both are considered as two sides of the same coin. They both are used for encoding data in a manner that prevents access by any cyber crooks.

Today we’ll talk about what’s hashing and encryption and how both differ from each other furthermore, if you’ve any questions regarding this topic – Hashing vs Encryption. Here, you’ll find your answers.

What’s Hashing?

Hashing is one of the practices that use an algorithm for mapping data of any random size to a fixed size, which is known as the hash value. In other words, Hashing is the process for converting any given input of variable length into a fixed size consisting of letters and numbers with the help of a mathematical function.

Hashing provides a mapping between any arbitrary length input and gives the output of fixed length. And, it can help by anything from a simple crc32 to full cryptographic hash function like MD5 or SHA1/2/256/512.

hashing algorithm
The essential thing to note is that it’s a one-way mapping. It always has many: 1 mapping, which means there will be collisions because every function produces a small output capable of input.

For example, 1 MB file fed into MD5 will give numerous collisions.

They’re the computing function that is practically impossible to reverse due to their internal working. Most cryptographic hash functions iterate over the input that is set numerous times for producing output. For instance, if we look at every fixed-length data of input (which is usually dependant on the algorithm), the hash function will call the current state. Further, it’ll iterate over the state and change it to the brand new, and it’ll use it as feedback into itself. So, if there are 512 bits of data, MD5 will do it for 64 times.

Furthermore, it’ll combine all the resulting state of these iterations to form the hash value.

Moreover, the hash value has to maintain certain attributes like:

  • Known input should always produce only one known output.
  • If different inputs are given more than once, each one should give different outputs.
  • Modifying any input, even a slight, should change the hash value.
  • Once hashing is done, it shouldn’t be possible to go back from the output to the input.

Different Types of Hash Function

There are different types of hash algorithms that are used for computing data. Though, some of them have been discarded due to vulnerabilities. Below are some of the Hashing algorithm examples:

MD4

MD4 is a hash function algorithm made by Ronald Rivest in 1990. It offers a length of 128 bits and has influenced many posterior designs such as WMD5, WSHA, and WRIPEMD family. However, it wasn’t secured enough, and it was even criticized by the creator also.

SHA Algorithm

SHA (Secure Hash Algorithm) designed by the NSA (National Security Agency) was used for the digital signature algorithm that consists of 160 bits length. It has three different variants SHA-0, SHA-1, and SHA-2. Among these three, SHA-0 and SHA-1 has been deprecated due to vulnerabilities issues. And, SHA-2(256-bit) algorithm got into practice for most of the SSL/TLS cipher suites.

RIPMEND

Designed by Hans Dobbertin, RIPEMEND is a cryptographic hashing algorithm that has 160 bits length. It’s developed in the EU framework project RIPE.

WHIRLPOOL

Designed by Vincent Rijmen and Paul Barreto, WHIRLPOOL is an algorithm with a length of 2256 bits that produces the digest of 512-bit.

TIGER

It is developed by Ross Anderson and Eli Biham in 1996. It’s a relatively new and fast algorithm that’s used by modern computers. It offers an improved 192-bit hashing function that’s capable of hashing more than 132M bits per second.

So far, it hasn’t suffered any vulnerabilities issues. But, there’s another Tiger2 variant too, which slightly differs. It pads the message with a hexadecimal value 0x80 rather than 0x01, which is done in Tiger.

Here’s the Main Purpose Behind Hashing

  • Hashing is useful when you want to compare a huge amount of data. It’s easier for creating hash values for different data, which means it’s easier to compare hashes instead of data itself.
  • Easier to find records once the data is hashed.
  • Similar to digital signature, a hashing algorithm is also used in cryptographic applications.
  • For avoiding data duplication in databases, Hashing can prove helpful by generating random strings.
  • Usually used in computer graphics, like geometric hashing, is useful for finding closet pairs and proximity issues in planes.

What’s Encryption?

Encryption is the practice of turning data or information into an unreadable format that can later be converted to readable format only by the person who has the corresponding key. Encryption is a two-way function that helps you achieve Encryption of certain information to be decrypted and converted into a readable format later on.

It provides a 1: 1 mapping between arbitrary length input and output, which are always reversible. The important thing to note over here is that it’s reversible with the help of some methods, and it’s always 1: 1 for any given key.

encryption description example
Put simply, it helps to protect your sensitive information from unauthorized access by cybercriminals or anyone else who doesn’t have the right to access it. It’s an effective way to achieve data security, where the receiver needs to have a security key for decrypting and reading that encrypted information. Also, encrypted data is called ciphertext, whereas data that’s not encrypted is called plain text.

Moreover, other encryption systems are called as public-key Encryption, symmetric Encryption, and hybrid Encryption.

1. Symmetric Encryption

In the symmetric encryption algorithm, the same secret key is used for encrypting and decrypting the message. And the secret key can be a word, number, or even random letters. Also, to successfully execute this algorithm, both the sender and receiver should share the same key. It’s one of the oldest encryption techniques.

2. Asymmetric Encryption

Asymmetric Encryption, also known as public-key cryptography, consists of two keys. One publicly available public key and another is a private key, which is only with the receiver. Here, the public key is used for encrypting the data, whereas the private key is used for decrypting it. And, Asymmetric Encryption is slower compared to the Symmetric Encryption and requires more processing power while encrypting any given data.

3. Hybrid Encryption

As the name implies, it’s a blend of both the encryption algorithm symmetric and asymmetric encryption. Its advantage is that it strengthens the data protection by two encryption methods while eliminating any weakness.

Here’s the Main Purpose Behind Encryption

The main reason for Encryption is to protect data from any unauthorized access. Encryption helps to enhance security while sending a message via a given network on the Internet. Encryption helps achieve elements of security like:

  • Confidentiality – Message that’s encrypted can’t be read or altered by anyone except the intended party.
  • Limited Access – Users don’t have full access to see and handle the data, making data auditing easier. Even if the message gets leaked, it’ll be easier to figure out who’s responsible for it, and it’s even helpful during security breaches.
  • Authentication – It’s easier to trace from where the message has come.
Apart from this, some of the popular encryption algorithms are AES and PGP. Here, AES is an example of a symmetric encryption algorithm, whereas PGP is an example of an asymmetric encryption algorithm.

Hashing vs Encryption – Here’s the Difference

Hashing is useful for validating the content’s integrity by detecting all the alterations and then changes to a hash value as an output. And, Encryption is useful for encoding data for the purpose of maintaining confidentiality and security of the data. It needs a private key for decrypting the encrypted data.

hashing vs encryption
Let’s have a side by side comparison of both to know the difference between the two.

Hashing vs Encryption – Side by Side Comparison

Hashing Encryption
Type Hashing is a one-way function, and it digests a unique message and generates an input file from it or else a string of text. Hashing doesn’t use keys. Encryption is a two-way function. It changes the data into an unreadable format, which is called ciphertext. And later, using an encryption key, also called the private key, it gets decrypted.
Function Hashing is similar to checksum, where it uses a hash function on data for mapping it to a fixed size output. It’s helpful to verify the integrity of the file. Also, it’s helpful to compare an entered value with a stored value without reading the content of the file. The message is encrypted in a way that only an authorized person can have access to it. It’s useful to prevent unauthorized users from reading or altering a file by making it into an unreadable format.
Result Value The result is a hashed string of a fixed length. The result is an encrypted string of a variable length.
Reason The main reason for hashing is the verification of data. For example, to protect its integrity. The main reason is to transfer data securely during the session. For example, you are protecting data confidentiality.
Algorithm Types SHA-1, SHA-2, Tiger, MD5 are some of the prime examples of Hashing algorithms. RSA, AES, and DES algorithms are examples of Encryption.
Output It can’t be reversed back to the original message. Hashing algorithms are designed in a way that it cannot be retrieved back to its original string from the hash value. The original encrypted message can always be reversed back to its original form using the associated decryption key.
Use Case Hashing is a good option to go with if you’re looking to send a file to someone, but you afraid of chances of being intercept and altered by someone. In this scenario, you can publicly use Hashing and post the hash value publicly to make sure that the recipient stays assured that they’re getting the right file by checking the hash value matches with the publicly available hash value. Encryption is good to go with if you’re looking to send someone a message. You encrypt that message with a key, so it becomes unreadable and can only be decrypted back to its original form by an authorized person who has the same or different key to decrypt it.
Example in Theory (Mathematical Level) Modulo Division:
22 % 7 = 1
It’s not reversible because no operation can help quotient and divide to reconstitute the divisor or vice versa.
Addition:
4 + 3 = 7
It’s reversible. For instance, the result can be subtracted with other addends, like:
7 – 3 = 4
One more example,
Multiplication:
5 * 3 = 15
Can be reversed back by using the result divided by one of the factors like:
15 / 5 = 3

Summary

To sum it up, hashing and encryption are for data encoding purposes, so data can’t be misused by any unauthorized entity such as any cybercriminals. At the same time, it is being transferred and making it available only to the privileged persons. But that’s also a truth that both are different from each other.

In other words, hashing is for validating the integrity of the content by detecting modifications, whereas encryption helps to encode data for maintaining security and data confidentiality.

Here, in this piece of article, we’ve detailed out about this topic. For instance, what hashing or encryption means, what algorithms are used for encrypting data, the types of hashing methods, which to use when, the purpose behind it, and side by side comparison.

Important Resources to Read

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