Hashing vs Encryption: What’s The Difference?

Hashing vs. Encryption: What’s The Difference?

The current year has proven cybersecurity to be incredibly important. Two hot-button topics of modern security include those in the title: hashing vs. encryption. Most common audiences know nothing bout them, but what is the difference?

This article will define both their common uses and different algorithms that apply.

What is Encryption?

Encryption is the process of encoding data using a cipher. How the data scrambles depends on the protocol, but the idea is that encryption can be decoded using the same cipher. 

The central premise of encrypted data is to transfer between two sources. The order of steps is usually the following:

  1. Data transforms into ciphertext
  2. Informationn gets sent
  3. Ciphertext returns to its prior form after decryption 

The protocol uses a set of rules (known as an algorithm) to determine how text scrambles. In modern terms, the most popular form of encryption protocol is TLS/SSL. Transport Layer Security and Secure Socket Layer secure and encrypt your connection to most current web pages. You have a secure connection if you see the HTTPS next to any page.

Encryption also comes in two forms:

  • Asymmetric encryption is a one-way form of communication where one side encrypts data for the other side to decrypt. You commonly see this if you try to make online payments by inputting your credit card details.
  • Symmetric encryption is a two-way form of communication where both parties have keys that they can encrypt and decrypt. It is symmetric encryption when browsers and servers communicate (see the TLS/SSL example above). 

Remember that what makes encryption unique is that it works with communication. Encrypted files/data are done so with the understanding that someone will decrypt them. Hashing is different in this way. 

How is Encryption Used?

https encryption image

Encryption protocols ensure that communications between two areas are secure. Here are some examples:

  • Messaging services (like WhatsApp or Telegram) provide end-to-end encryption services to prevent hackers from getting data through MITM (Man In The Middle) attacks.
  • VPN service uses encryption to hide your information from third parties who would use your data for their purposes.
  • File transfer tools use encryption to ensure nobody in the middle of the transaction can gain access to your essential data. 

What is Hashing?

Hashing is another method of transforming data into a new form using a hashing algorithm. Those who hash communicate one way, as the energy necessary to decrypt hashes would be infeasible. 

Overall, hashing algorithms are far better at maintaining your data. In this way, hash values confirm that there is no data alteration. 

Like encryption, hashing will transform your value into a random combination of characters known as a hash value. This enables the website to confirm you are entering your password correctly without checking it against your password. Instead, it follows these steps:

  1. Password is transformed using a hashing algorithm
  2. The hash value is generated for comparison 
  3. Hash values are compared (your inputted password and your saved password)
  4. If hash values match, your data is confirmed, and you can complete your task.

 Newer forms of hash algorithms prevent hash collisions. These collisions happen when keys use the same hash values, likely coming from weak generation capabilities. Many older hashing protocols are phased out for this reason. 

With password hashing, you’ll also likely hear about salting.

What is Salting?

literal salting

Salting is the act of adding a unique value to the end of a password. This value is what creates the unique hash value, adding additional security in the event of a brute force attack (where automated systems repeatedly guess at a password).

Your “salt” is typically some random word or phrase added to the end of each character combination. This combo ensures that hackers will struggle to guess where the salt ends, and the hashed password begins when the random word is at the end.

Cybersecurity experts know that you probably shouldn’t eat hash without salt. So, if you like your breakfast, there’s a way to remember what salt is. 

How is Hashing Used?

You often see hashing s a way to maintain file integrity. here are some examples of this in action:

  • Hash values are used to sort and compare large amounts of data without exposing it (such as through password databases) 
  • Hashing is used in cryptography (cryptocurrency) to prevent the potential of DDOS attacks
  • File and document forgery is prevented thanks in part to hashing. 
  • Most password verification systems compare hash values instead of actual passwords.

Encryption vs Hashing – What is the Difference?

Despite the two performing incredibly similar activities, there are significant differences between them. Below is a list of differences between hashing and encryption:

  • Encryption is mainly used for two-way communication, while hashing is a one-way confirmation. 
  • You encrypt something to decrypt it later, but hashing typically is permanently behind an algorithm and value.
  • It takes an insane amount of computing power to “de-hash” a random sting, while decrypting something just requires access to the cipher.
  • Encryption is a variable-length creation, while hashing has a fixed length ( so you can easily confirm two hash values to be the same)

Examples of Encryption Algorithms

Below are some examples of the most popular types of encryption algorithms:

  • AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) – A symmetric encryption type that uses the same key to encrypt and decrypt your data. AES-256 is one of the most popular encryption styles for modern applications (like VPNs)
  • RSA ( Rivest-Shamir-Adlemen) – An asymmetric encryption type using “public keys.” The key necessary to decrypt it is known as the private key. It is most prevalent when sending sensitive data over unsecured networks. 
  • PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) – An older encryption system made in 1991. It is most popularly used in email systems. OpenPGP is an open-source form of email encryption that still is in use today. 
  • DES (Data Encryption Standard) – An encryption style that takes plaintext input to break it down into smaller chunks. Its use for standard text means you will need the complete data transfer and cipher to decrypt everything. 
  • Blowfish – A fast alternative initially made in 1993 to replace DES’s aging algorithm. As a 64-block cipher, it has been replaced by more robust algorithms (like AES-256, a 256 block algorithm) because it goes through a more complex encryption process. 
  • RC4/RC5 (Rivest Cipher 4 and 5) – An algorithm with a variable block size from 32 to 128 bits. Because of its age, it has since been cracked, and the encryption keys are available.
  • Diffie-Hellman – DH is a key exchange made to help computers who have no history communicating to connect via a secure key. The secure key is created on both sides simultaneously while both parties cannot find out what that key is.
  • Elliptic-Curve Algorithms – Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) involves the creation of public keys through a symmetric encryption system. Numerous protocols have been adapted to create new algorithms using the mathematics from elliptic curves.

Examples of Hashing Algorithms

Hashing algorithms also include a wide range of options:

  • MD/MD2/MD4/MD5 (Message Digest) – A cryptographic hash to create a 128-bit string from another string. Despite insecurities noted by security experts (and its developer), it is still a popular method of creating a hash of a message. 
  • RIPEMD-160 (RIPE Message Digest) – RIPEMD is an older form of creating cryptographic hash functions made in 1992 with variants released four years later. Despite age and more complex versions, they are still used in cryptocurrency and SSL applications.
  • Whirlpool-0/T – A hash function made by a co-creator of AES. It is adopted by the International Organization for Standardization as a security standard. It is made in an eight-by-eight matrix, making it a total of 512 bits.
  • SHA-0/1/2/3 (Secure hash Aahgorithm) – A hash algorithm that has gone through numerous upgrades, likely resulting from successful attacks on SHA-1 and two. Because of these major upgrades, SHA-3 is one of the world’s most well-known and accepted hashing standards.
  • SHA-256 – A hashing algorithm that tells you that this version will output 256 bits of data. It is one of the most secure standards for having, often used in VPNs to confirm hash values so servers and clients can connect correctly.  
  • X11 –  A crypto mining-based hash function meant to offer greater security. Security is paramount in crypto mining operations to ensure no third parties can steal the newly minted coins. 

Conclusion – Encryption vs Hashing

Hashing requires an insane amount of computing power to crack. So you might wonder why VPNs use the word “encryption” over “hashing.” The reality about this comes back to how each algorithm is used.

Encryption is meant for decryption because it is a method of temporary security. For example, the other party cannot read your message if you encrypt it (unless you have a shared encryption/decryption platform). Because of how encryption is built, it is better suited for communication-based platforms.

This is how the battle of encryption vs hashing plays out.

Meanwhile, having is better if you e trying to maintain the security of your data. For example, you don’t want your password to be compromised. However, you would like to easily be able to get into a system you commonly use. By comparing hash values instead of passwords, you can do this quick comparison and system access without needing to expose credentials with each login. 

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