Below are the top features of the leading commercial key management solutions:

  • Leading commercial key management solutions have dedicated hardware/software appliances for key storage that can be on the Cloud or on-premises. This key storage is only accessible by the customer, and allows the customer to inject the key into any CSP.
  • Commercial key management solutions are up to FIPS 140-2 Level 4 compliant and support symmetric and asymmetric keys. They also support AES – 128, 192, or 256 bit keys, RSA keys with  SHA-1, SHA-256, SHA-384, SHA-512, SSL3, Blake2b (256, 384, 512), or Blake2s-256 between 1024 and 8192 bits, DES keys of 56bits, 3DES keys of 168bits, and HMAC keys between 128 and 512 bits.
  • Commercial key management solutions are capable of key management, storage, and auditing, encryption, and tokenization.

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Encryption Consulting is a customer focused cybersecurity firm that provides a multitude of services in all aspects of encryption for our clients.

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President at Encryption Consulting LLC focusing on providing consulting to customers in the Applied Cryptography space.

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In a secure network environment, machine identity management refers to the systems and processes for managing credential authentication required for machines to access resources and other machines. Every machine in a modern enterprise digital environment, from computers and mobile devices to servers and network infrastructure, has a machine identity.

An ever-increasing number of machine interactions inherent in digitalized processes pose a significant risk to business survival without adequate authentication management. With the help of cryptographic keys and digital certificates, these systems can determine whether the interaction is trustworthy or not.

This machine identification is a digital credential or “fingerprint” used to establish trust, authenticate other machines, and encrypt communication. Regardless of the number of identities involved or the complexity of the enterprise network, it’s essential that the whole machine identity lifecycles are effectively managed, ensuring that access is only allowed to legitimate users or machines.

Machine identities must be validated to implement a Zero Trust security model based on the concept of “Trust No, Always Verify.” Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) certificates and cryptographic key pairs can be used to strengthen verification and secure connections between entities outside of a firewalled network architecture.

What is Machine Identity?

Generally, the user identity is represented by username and password. When a user login into an application. They enter username and password, the application checks the username and password in the database, and if the credential matches, the user is authenticated and can access the application.

Similarly, machines need to be authenticated for secure communication with other machines. A machine identification is much more than a digital ID number or a simple identifier like a serial number or part number. It is a collection of authenticated credentials that confirm that a system or user can access online services or a network. A machine cannot enter a username and password. Instead, they use a set of credentials that are better suited to highly automated and linked settings. Machines have digital certificates and keys to establish their identity.

To secure network communications, every internet protocol (HTTPS, SSH, FTP, and so on) checks and authenticates machine identities.

Working of Machine Identity

To understand the working of machine identity, Let’s see the common machine-to-machine communication between server and client.

When a client tries to establish a connection with a web server, the server provides its digital certificate on receiving the connection request. After that, the client verifies the digital certificate (SSL/TLS certificates) and verifies the server’s identity. When dealing with sensitive applications, the server may also request that the client authenticate its identity by sharing its certificate. After authentication, both exchanges keys for encryption and hashing, and a secured session gets established.

Machine Identity Enforcers

As the machines cannot enter a username and password, they use credentials better suited to highly automated and linked settings. Instead, digital certificates and keys are used to establish machine identities. On the other hand, certificates and key types vary depending on the machine, communication protocol, and usage.

Following are some commonly used certificates and keys that make up machine identity:

  • SSH keys and Certificates

    Users, usually system administrators, use SSH keys to secure privileged access to critical systems. Because SSH keys are used to authorize access to important IT systems, the SSH protocol is more secure than TLS/SSL. While it is not common practice to use SSH certificates for authentication, it is recommended as it eliminates the manual, insecure process of key approval and distribution.

  • Code Signing Certificates

    Code-Signing Certificates ensure that scripts, executables, and software builds are genuine and preventing them from tampering. It builds trust in users.

  • Cryptographic Keys

    Cryptographic keys, particularly Symmetric keys, are used to protect data at rest, data in transit, and encrypting credit card and other PII (Personal Identifiable Information) data. However, Symmetric keys are less secure but faster and more efficient than public-key cryptography.

  • X.509 Certificates

    X.509 Certificates are the most extensively used machine identification certificates and the backbone of the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). Server-client authentication over the HTTPS protocol (based on the TLS/SSL protocol) as well as digitally signing offline applications use these certificates for authentication.

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Importance of Machine Identity Management

Machine identity management is a broad term that incorporates various technologies that are currently primarily isolated, like SSH key management, X.509 Certificate Management, etc.

  • To protect Machine Identity

    Suppose someone gets your identity in any way. They can access your personal information like your credit card details, social media accounts, etc. They can make a large transaction from your account and impersonate their identity. A similar thing can happen if someone stole machine identities, and they can do all those things on a large scale as the machine can have records of thousands of individuals.
    The attacker gains access to the deep network when the identity of a crucial network device, such as a web server or a load balancer, is compromised. Then they can gain administrator privileges and inject malicious code into critical devices, causing them to malfunction or even shut down systems. This can result in severe damage to both customers and users of the organization.

  • Keep up with the explosive growth of machines

    The number of machines in the world is outpacing the number of people who use them. The sheer number of machine identities that must be secured, including mobile, cloud, and IoT devices, makes keeping machine identities secure significantly more difficult.

  • The proliferation of secure cloud-based machines

    The rapid evolution of cloud services requires a rapid assessment of machine trustworthiness, including cloud workloads, virtual machines, containers, and microservices. Because of the fluid nature of their interactions, their identities may be compromised.

  • Protect the identity of connected devices

    There are a number of devices whose identities are connected to the Internet, like robots, medical devices, sensors, etc. Many of these devices use encrypted channels controlled by machine identities to transmit and store important data.

What Factors Led to Machine Identity Theft?

Following are some reasons that cause machine identity compromise:

  • CA Compromise

    Certificate Authorities (CAs) are compromised when attackers steal their private key, used to sign certificates issued to companies. Attackers can use these stolen private keys to sign certificates for malicious applications and fool browsers into believing they are trustworthy. These certificates, known as rogue certificates, are widely used by attackers to spread phishing and man-in-the-middle attacks. And this rouge intermediate root CA can misuse their authority and sign certificates of fraudulent servers and applications.

  • Certificate Outages

    Certificates issued have a validity period associated with them. If a certificate is not renewed before it expires, it can result in a certificate-related outage on the system it supports. Until a new certificate is installed, the unplanned outage and associated downtime will persist. Certificate-related outages are difficult to identify without knowing exactly where a certificate is installed and who controls that system.

  • Operational Inefficiencies

    Each digital certificate that serves as a machine identification takes some time per year for the organizations to manage. With thousands of machine identities, the overhead can quickly increase. And the administration of these identities can be more complicated when the administrator unfamiliar with certificates or trust stores. And the time required will be increase quickly if the machine identity operations are not running smoothly, especially when there is a breach or outage.

  • Unknown Revoked Certificates

    Sometimes, digital certificates get revoked before their validity period because of their private key compromised or the application to which certificate is associated no longer operational. Sometimes certificates may not be revoked by Certificate Authority (CA) or Certification Revocation List (CRL) not updated on time that leads to recognize a revoked certificate as valid. For example, attackers can use an orphan certificate for phishing attacks if an application has been taken down, but its certificate has not been revoked on time.

Challenges in Machine Identity Management

Following are some challenges that make Machine Identity Management critical:

  • Visibility

    When there is a large number of certificates and keys in an organization, it is difficult to track them. Many organizations even do not know how many certificates and keys they have, their validity period, and the policy they comply with.

  • Governance

    The next problem is a lack of ownership and control. In organizations, SSH keys and SSL/TLS certificates are used by various teams. But there is no consistent policy of how they are issued, who can access them, rotation of keys, renewal of the certificates, etc.

  • Protection

    Digital certificates to the machine identities must be provided by a trusted Certificate Authority (CA). Private keys must be stored in Hardware Security Module (HSM) and protected from compromise. Machine identities cannot be trusted unless these safeguards are in place.

  • Automation

    Manual management of certificate lifecycle is not just time-consuming. It is error-prone and highly inefficient also. Manually issuing, revoking, renewing, and auditing certificates can lead to downtimes and outages.

Best Practices for Machine Identity Management

  • Centralize Management

    There should be a centralized machine identity that helps streamline policy implementation across various devices. Certificates can also be grouped based on multiple parameters like expiry date, criticality, etc., and implement group policy, making it easy to manage them. There should be proper policy management that prevents unauthorized access and allows machine identities to do their job securely.

  • Automation

    Machine Identity Management process can be automated that helps in defining an action for a single machine identity as well as for an entire group. All the actions can be defined in advance and can be triggered based on specific conditions. Enrollment, provisioning, renewal, revocation of certificates, etc., can be automated, which helps maintain machine identities up to date and effectively eliminating outages. In short, the entire machine identity lifecycle should be automated, including certificate and key lifecycle management that prevent errors that can be done in manual actions.

  • Storage

    All the machine identities like SSH keys, digital certificates must be stored in a centralized, secure environment. Identities can be stored in Hardware Security Module (HSM), FIPS 140-2 Level 3 compliant. HSM keeps the certificate and keys secured even if the user network gets compromised.

  • SSH key rotation

    Organizations must rotate their SSH keys after a certain period that prevents using the same SSH keys for a long time by generating new keys. Key rotation helps strengthen SSH keys security and protects against risks like key sprawl. The key rotation process should be automatic rather than manual so that keys should be rotated regularly.

  • Enforce strong security policies

    Organizations must set up and enforce strong security policies to keep their machine identities secure and ensures that every machine identity complies with appropriate government regulations. Implementing strong security policies allows monitoring every aspect of machine identity.

  • Machine Identities Auditing

    There should be auditing of machine identities at regular intervals, which helps in finding vulnerabilities like expiring certificates, weak passwords, etc., and prevent outages. Auditing can also be automated using third-party tools. Regular auditing helps an organization to improve its management strategies.

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Datasheet of Encryption Consulting Services

Encryption Consulting is a customer focused cybersecurity firm that provides a multitude of services in all aspects of encryption for our clients.

Encryption Services

About the Author

Shorya Goel is a Consultant at Encryption Consulting, working with PKIs, HSMs, and working as a consultant with high-profile clients.

Table of Contents


The Internet of Things (IoT) has developed and is continuing to evolve. The Internet of Things (IoT) is already well-established in a number of industries, including factories, smart cities, retail, healthcare, and a variety of other sectors. By enabling connectivity of devices, services, and systems that go far beyond conventional machine-to-machine (M2M) capabilities, the Internet of Things provides a unique opportunity to deliver compelling benefits across numerous sectors. On the other hand, establishing trust and security is critical to ensuring that IoT innovation offers the services that people and organizations expect.

IoT solutions rely on working with fundamentally secure systems and data. That means maintaining confidentiality, availability, and integrity is critical. For example, access to information should be limited to those who are authorized to access it in order to keep data private. In addition, transmitted data should be encrypted to prevent any unauthorized.

Need for IoT Security

Security breaches in IoT devices can occur at any time, including manufacturing, network deployment, and software updates. These vulnerabilities provide entry points for hackers to introduce malware into the IoT device and corrupt it. In addition, because all the devices are connected to the internet for example: through Wi-Fi, a flaw in one device might compromise the entire network, leading other devices to malfunction.

Some key requirement for IoT security are:

  • Device security like device authentication through digital certificates and signatures.
  • Data security, including device authentication and data confidentiality and integrity.
  • To comply with regulatory requirements and requests to ensure that IoT devices meet the regulations set up by the industry within which they are used.

Role of PKI in IoT Security

Devices are the most frequent Internet users, and they require digital IDs to operate safely. In addition, the rapid evolution of IoT technology is boosting demand for internet of things public key infrastructure (IoT PKI) as businesses seek to adapt their business models to stay competitive and secure.

PKI has long been a significant Internet security standard, with all of the characteristics required to provide the high degree of trust and security demanded by today’s IoT deployments. It provides robust and well-proven security through encryption and authentication, as well as digital signatures to validate data integrity. PKI is also a dynamic security approach designed to handle a variety of IoT use cases. Organizations can use PKI to ensure that users, systems, and devices are securely authenticated and secure data both in-transit and at-rest.

The public key infrastructure (PKI) is a set of hardware, software, policies, and procedures for creating, managing, distributing, and updating digital certificates over time. PKI is considered the backbone of Internet security for decades, and it’s now evolving as a flexible and scalable solution capable of fulfilling the data and device security needs of the Internet of Things.

End-user adoption and productivity are boosted when friction is reduced, and PKI provides an intuitive experience that includes mutual authentication, encryption of sensitive data, and data integrity assurance. In addition, it allows for flexible deployment in a variety of environments and is scalable.

PKI eliminates the need for passwords and complex authorization checks. Devices need to share their public keys and can begin exchanging data. Digital certificates provide a secure environment for IoT devices to operate, minimizing data leakage and hacking risks with point-to-point encryption and flawless authentication. They also validate software upgrades, making it difficult for hackers to get access to the network. PKI is a key component of TLS (Transport Layer Security), and incorporating it into IoT could provide much-needed consistency.

How to Use Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) to Protect IoT Devices

  • Assign Unique identity to each IoT device

    You can enable secure network access and code execution throughout the device lifecycle by integrating a cryptographically verifiable unique identity into each device. These identities, i.e., digital certificates, can also be altered based on manufacturer policy.

  • Define and Enforce Security Standards

    The open standard for PKI enables the organizations to define a system cryptographically with various options for trusted root CAs, revocation, and standard protocols for enrollment and deployment of certificates like- Simple Certificate Enrollment Protocol (SCEP), Automated Certificate Management Environment (ACME), etc.

  • Scalable Security

    Asymmetric encryption allows to issue certificates from a single trusted Certificate Authority (CA). This disconnected verification architecture eliminates the requirement for a centralized server or agent-based software to authenticate devices and applications.

  • Maintain a High Level of Security

    Digital certificates issued by a well-managed PKI provide significantly more security than conventional authentication techniques. In addition, secure hardware elements for cryptographic key storage can also be used in IoT devices, with validity periods that significantly exceed passwords or tokens’ practical lifetime.

  • Securing with a minimal Footprint

    As devices with low memory and processing power have the ability to use asymmetric keys, PKI enables manufacturers to secure IoT devices with a minimal footprint. Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) is considered ideal for sensor and network devices using smaller size keys.

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IoT Security Challenges

  • Malware and Ransomware

    The number of malware and ransomware used to exploit IoT-connected devices continue to rise in the coming years as the number of connected devices grows. While classic ransomware uses encryption to lock users out of various devices and platforms entirely, hybridization of malware and ransomware strains is on the rise to integrate various attacks. The ransomware attacks could be aimed at reducing or disabling device functioning while also stealing user data. For example, A simple IP (Internet Protocol) camera can collect sensitive information from your house, office, etc.

  • Data Security and Privacy

    Data privacy and security are the most critical issues in today’s interconnected world. Large organizations use various IoT devices, such as smart TVs, IP cameras, speakers, lighting systems, printers, etc., to constantly capture, send, store, and process data. All the user data is often shared or even sold to numerous companies, violating privacy and data security rights and creating public distrust.
    Before storing and disassociating IoT data payloads from information that might be used to identify users personally, the organization needs to establish dedicated compliance and privacy guidelines that redact and anonymize sensitive data. Data that has been cached but is no longer needed should be safely disposed of. If the data is saved, the most challenging part will be complying with various legal and regulatory structures. Mobile, web, cloud apps, and other services used to access, manage, and process data associated with IoT devices should comply with the guidelines.

  • Brute Force Attacks

    According to government reports, manufacturers should avoid selling IoT devices with default credentials, as they use “admin” as a username and password. However, these are only guidelines at this point, and there are no legal penalties in place to force manufacturers to stop using this risky approach. In addition, almost all IoT devices are vulnerable to password hacking and brute-forcing because of weak credentials and login details. And due to the same reason, Mirai malware was successful in detecting vulnerable IoT devices and compromised them using default usernames and passwords.

  • Skill Gap

    Nowadays, organizations are facing a significant IoT skills gap that is stopping them from fully utilizing the new prospects. As it is not always possible to hire a new team, it is necessary to set up training and upskilling programs. Adequate training workshops and hands-on activities should be set up to hack a specific smart gadget. The more knowledge your team members have in IoT, the more productive and secured your IoT will be.

  • Lack of Updates and Weak Update Mechanism

    IoT products designed with connectivity and ease of use in mind. They may be secure when purchased, but they become vulnerable when hackers find new security flaws or vulnerabilities. In addition, IoT devices become vulnerable over time if they are not fixed with regular updates.

Best Practices for IoT Device Security

Following are some best practices that the manufacturer team should follow to secure IoT Devices.

  • Assign Unique Credentials to Each Device

    IoT devices must be capable of sending encrypted data so that both users and manufacturers can trust that the data they receive is authentic and intended for them. This can be achieved by providing unique credentials to each IoT device in the form of digital certificates that helps in improving authentication and provides more security over today’s common practice of using default passwords or sharing keys in the case of symmetric cryptography.

  • Private Keys Protection

    Asymmetric cryptography will be required to generate a unique digital certificate for each IoT device. Asymmetric cryptography generates public and private key pairs, so manufacturers must take additional security while storing private keys. Private keys can be securely stored in Hardware Security Module (HSM), which is FIPS 140-2 Level 3 compliant.

  • Verify Updated through Code Signing

    Manufacturers should validate the authenticity of new firmware or software before installing it. So that if a hacker integrates any malicious script in the software update, it can be detected. To do so, manufacturers should use a digital signature, achieved using public and private key pair. When the developers sign their code with a private key, it can be verified with the public key that the update is not modified or tampered when transit and is sent from the authorized manufacturer. Learn more about code signing.

  • Establish Root of Trust (RoT)

    There should be an organization-specific Root of Trust (RoT). RoT helps in initial identity authentication while issuing new keys or digital certificates. RoT contains key and provides manufacturers complete control over identity verification to whom they issue an encryption key.

  • Lifecycle Management of Keys, Certificates, and RoT

    All the above best practices require continuous lifecycle management. Without adequate lifecycle management, the digital certificates, key pairs, and RoT in use would weaken over time. There should be a mapping of everything in use so that there will nothing extra created. There should be continuous monitoring of keys, certificates, and RoT to find and fix any vulnerabilities. Update keys, digital certificates, and RoT if required to maintain the health of the security.

How Encryption Consulting’s Managed PKI’s can secure IoT

Encryption Consulting LLC (EC) will completely offload the Public Key Infrastructure environment, which means EC will take care of building the PKI infrastructure to lead and manage the PKI environment (on-premises, PKI in the cloud, cloud-based hybrid PKI infrastructure) of your organization.

Encryption Consulting will deploy and support your PKI using a fully developed and tested set of procedures and audited processes. Admin rights to your Active Directory will not be required, and control over your PKI and its associated business processes will always remain with you. Furthermore, for security reasons, the CA keys will be held in FIPS 140-2 Level 3 HSMs hosted either in your secure datacentre or in our Encryption Consulting datacentre in Dallas, Texas.

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Datasheet of Encryption Consulting Services

Encryption Consulting is a customer focused cybersecurity firm that provides a multitude of services in all aspects of encryption for our clients.

Encryption Services

About the Author

Shorya Goel is a Consultant at Encryption Consulting, working with PKIs, HSMs, and working as a consultant with high-profile clients.

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In the data security field, encryptioand hashing are commonly compared, but why is this the case. Encryption is a two-way function where data is passed in as plaintext and comes out as ciphertext, which is unreadable. Since encryption is two-way, the data can be decrypted so it is readable again. Hashing, on the other hand, is one-way, meaning the plaintext is scrambled into a unique digest, through the use of a salt, that cannot be decrypted. Technically, hashing can be reversed, but the computational power needed to decrypt it makes decryption infeasible.

The way hashing works is with a hashing algorithm. This algorithm is most effective when it collision resistant. Collision resistance means that all the digests are unique and do not overlap with each other. This means that the hashing algorithm must be complex enough to not have overlapping hashes, but not so complex as to take too long to compute hashes. Encryption comes in two different types, and both encryption and hashing have several common types of algorithms.

Common Encryption and Hashing Algorithms

Encryption comes in two types: Asymmetric and Symmetric. Asymmetric encryption uses two different keys, a public and private key, for encryption and decryption. The private key is used to encrypt data, and is kept a secret from everyone but the person encrypting the data. The public key is available for anyone, and is used for decryption. Using asymmetric encryption, the authenticity of the data can be verified, because if the data was modified in transit, it would not be able to be re-encrypted with the private key. Symmetric encryption uses the same key for both encryption and decryption. This type of encryption uses less processing power and is faster, but is less secure as only one key is used.

Symmetric Encryption Algorithms:

Asymmetric Encryption Algorithms:

Hashing Algorithms:

  • Message Digest Algorithm (MD5)
  • Secure Hashing Algorithm (SHA-1, SHA-2, SHA-3)
  • Cyclical Reduction Check (CRC32)
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Hashing and Encryption Use Cases

Though they are similar, encryption and hashing are utilized for different purposes. One of the uses for hashing is to compare large amounts of data. Hash values are much easier to compare than large chunks of data, as they are more concise. Hashing is also used for mapping data, as finding values using hashes is quick, and good hashes do not overlap. Hashes are used in digital signatures and to create random strings to avoid duplication of data in databases too. As hashing is extremely infeasible to reverse, hashing algorithms are used on passwords. This makes the password shorter and undiscoverable by attackers.

Encryption, on the other hand, tends to be used for encrypting data that is in transit. Data being transmitted is data that needs to be read by the recipient only, thus it must be sent so that an attacker cannot read it. Encryption hides the data from anyone taking it in the middle of transit, and allows only the decryption key owner to read the data. Other times encryption would be used over hashing is for storing and retrieving data in databases, authentication methods, and other cases where data must be hidden at rest, but retrieved later.

DefinitionA two-way function that takes in plaintext data, and turns it into undecipherable ciphertext.A one-way method of hiding sensitive data. Using a hashing algorithm, hashing turns a plaintext into a unique hash digest that cannot be reverted to the original plaintext, without considerable effort.
Reversible or Irreversible?ReversibleIrreversible
Variable or Fixed Length Output?Variable LengthFixed Length
TypesAsymmetric and SymmetricHashing
Common AlgorithmsAES, RC4, DES, RSA, ECDSASHA-1, SHA-2, MD5, CRC32, WHIRLPOOL

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Encryption Consulting is a customer focused cybersecurity firm that provides a multitude of services in all aspects of encryption for our clients.

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Introduction to SHA

SHA stands for secure hashing algorithm. SHA is a modified version of MD5 and used for hashing data and certificates. A hashing algorithm shortens the input data into a smaller form that cannot be understood by using bitwise operations, modular additions, and compression functions. You may be wondering, can hashing be cracked or decrypted? Hashing is similar to encryption, the only difference between hashing and encryption is that hashing is one-way, meaning once the data is hashed, the resulting hash digest cannot be cracked, unless a brute force attack is used. See the image below for the working of SHA algorithm. SHA works in such a way even if a single character of the message changed, then it will generate a different hash. For example, hashing of two similar, but different messages i.e., Heaven and heaven is different. However, there is only a difference of a capital and small letter.

 The initial message is hashed with SHA-1, resulting in the hash digest “06b73bd57b3b938786daed820cb9fa4561bf0e8e”. If the second, similar, message is hashed with SHA-1, the hash digest will look like “66da9f3b8d9d83f34770a14c38276a69433a535b”. This is referred to as the avalanche effect. This effect is important in cryptography, as it means even the slightest change in the input message completely changes the output. This will stop attackers from being able to understand what the hash digest originally said and telling the receiver of the message whether or not the message has been changed while in transit.

SHAs also assist in revealing if an original message was changed in any way. By referencing the original hash digest, a user can tell if even a single letter has been changed, as the hash digests will be completely different. One of the most important parts of SHAs are that they are deterministic. This means that as long as the hash function used is known, any computer or user can recreate the hash digest. The determinism of SHAs is one of reasons every SSL certificate on the Internet is required to have been hashed with a SHA-2 function.

Different SHA Forms

When learning about SHA forms, several different types of SHA are referenced. Examples of SHA names used are SHA-1, SHA-2, SHA-256, SHA-512, SHA-224, and SHA-384, but in actuality there are only two types: SHA-1 and SHA-2. The other larger numbers, like SHA-256, are just versions of SHA-2 that note the bit lengths of the SHA-2. SHA-1 was the original secure hashing algorithm, returning a 160-bit hash digest after hashing. Someone may wonder, can SHA-2 be cracked like SHA-1? The answer is yes. Due to the short length of the hash digest, SHA-1 is more easily brute forced than SHA-2, but SHA-2 can still be brute forced. Another issue of SHA-1 is that it can give the same hash digest to two different values, as the number of combinations that can be created with 160 bits is so small. SHA-2 on the other hand gives every digest a unique value, which is why all certificates are required to use SHA-2.

SHA-2 can produce a variety of bit-lengths, from 256 to 512 bit, allowing it to assign completely unique values to every hash digest created. Collisions occur when two values have the same hash digest. SHA-1 can easily create collisions, making it easier for attackers to get two matching digests and recreate the original plaintext Compared to SHA-1, SHA-2 is much more secure and has been required in all digital signatures and certificates since 2016. Common attacks like brute force attacks can take years or even decades to crack the hash digest, so SHA-2 is considered the most secure hash algorithm.

What SHA is used for and Why

As previously mentioned, Secure Hashing Algorithms are required in all digital signatures and certificates relating to SSL/TLS connections, but there are more uses to SHAs as well. Applications such as SSH, S-MIME (Secure / Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions), and IPSec utilize SHAs as well.  SHAs are also used to hash passwords so that the server only needs to remember hashes rather than passwords. In this way, if an attacker steals the database containing all the hashes, they would not have direct access to all of the plaintext passwords, they would also need to find a way to crack the hashes to be able to use the passwords. SHAs can also work as indicators of a file’s integrity. If a file has been changed in transit, the resulting hash digest created from the hash function will not match the hash digest originally created and sent by the file’s owner.

We have now learned what SHAs are used for, but why use a Secure Hashing Algorithm in the first place? A common reason is their ability to stop attackers. Though some methods, like brute force attacks, can reveal the plaintext of the hash digests, these tactics are made extremely difficult by SHAs. A password hashed by a SHA-2 can take years, even decades to break, thus wasting resources and time on a simple password, which may turn many attackers away. Another reason to use SHAs is the uniqueness of all the hash digests. If SHA-2 is used, there will likely be few to no collisions, meaning a simple change of one word in a message would completely change the hash digest. Since there are few or no collisions, a pattern cannot be found to make breaking the Secure Hashing Algorithm easier for the attacker. These are just a few reasons why SHA is used so often.

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SHA 2 Limitations

  • Browser Support
BrowserMinimum Browser Version
Internet Explorer6+ (With XP SP3+)
Safari3+ (Ships with OS X 10.5)
  • Server Support
ServerMinimum Server Version
AWS (Amazon Web Services)YES
Apache2.0.63+ w/ OpenSSL 0.9.8o+
Cisco ASA 55008.2.3.9+ for AnyConnect VPN Sessions; 8.4(2)+ for other functionalities
Java based productsJava 1.4.2+
IBM Domino Server9.0+ (Bundled with HTTP 8.5+)
IBM HTTP Server8.5+ (Bundled with Domino 9+)
IBM z/OSv1r10+
OpenSSL based productsOpenSSL 0.9.8o+
Oracle Wallet Manager11.2.0.1+
Oracle Weblogic10.3.1+
Web Sphere MQ7.0.1.4+
  • OS Support
Operating SystemSSL Certificate Minimum OS VersionClient Certificate Minimum OS Version
Mac OS X10.5+10.5+
Windows XPSP3+ XPSP3+ (partial)
Windows Server2003 SP2 +Hotfixes (Partial)2003 SP2 +Hotfixes (Partial)
Windows Phone7+7+

The Future of Hashing

At this point in time, SHA-2 is the industry standard for hashing algorithms, though SHA-3 may eclipse this in the future. SHA-3 was released by the NIST, which also created SHA-1 and SHA-2, in 2015 but was not made the industry standard for many reasons. During the release of SHA-3, most companies were in the middle of migrating from SHA-1 to SHA-2, so switching right on to SHA-3 while SHA-2 was still very secure did not make sense. Along with this, SHA-3 was seen as slower than SHA-2, although this is not exactly the case. SHA-3 is slower on the software side, but it is much faster than SHA-1 and SHA-2 on the hardware side, and is getting faster every year. For these reasons, we will likely see the move to SHA-3 later on down the line, once SHA-2 becomes unsafe or deprecated.

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Datasheet of Encryption Consulting Services

Encryption Consulting is a customer focused cybersecurity firm that provides a multitude of services in all aspects of encryption for our clients.

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About the Author

President at Encryption Consulting LLC focusing on providing consulting to customers in the Applied Cryptography space.

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Cryptography is the study of securing communications from outside observers. Encryption algorithms take the original message, or plaintext, and converts it into ciphertext, which is not understandable. The key allows the user to decrypt the message, thus ensuring on they can read the message. The strength of the randomness of an encryption is also studied, which makes it harder for anyone to guess the key or input of the algorithm. Cryptography is how we can achieve more secure and robust connections to elevate our privacy. Advancements in cryptography makes it harder to break encryptions so that encrypted files, folders, or network connections are only accessible to authorized users.

Cryptography focuses on four different objectives:

  1. Confidentiality

    Confidentiality ensures that only the intended recipient can decrypt the message and read its contents.

  2. Non-repudiation

    Non-repudiation means the sender of the message cannot backtrack in the future and deny their reasons for sending or creating the message.

  3. Integrity

    Integrity focuses on the ability to be certain that the information contained within the message cannot be modified while in storage or transit.

  4. Authenticity

    Authenticity ensures the sender and recipient can verify each other’s identities and the destination of the message.

These objectives help ensure a secure and authentic transfer of information.

History of Cryptography

Cryptography began with ciphers, the first of which was the Caesar Cipher. Ciphers were a lot easier to unravel compared to modern cryptographic algorithms, but they both used keys and plaintext. Though simple, ciphers from the past were the earliest forms of encryption. Today’s algorithms and cryptosystems are much more advanced. They use multiple rounds of ciphers and encrypting the ciphertext of messages to ensure the most secure transit and storage of data. There are also methods of cryptography used now that are irreversible, maintaining the security of the message forever.

The reason for more advanced cryptography methods is due to the need for data to be protected more and more securely. Most of the ciphers and algorithms used in the early days of cryptography have been deciphered, making them useless for data protection. Today’s algorithms can be deciphered, but it would require years and sometimes decades to decipher the meaning of just one message. Thus, the race to create newer and more advanced cryptography techniques continues.

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Types of Cryptography

Cryptography can be broken down into three different types:

  • Secret Key Cryptography
  • Public Key Cryptography
  • Hash Functions

Secret Key Cryptography, or symmetric cryptography, uses a single key to encrypt data. Both encryption and decryption in symmetric cryptography use the same key, making this the easiest form of cryptography. The cryptographic algorithm utilizes the key in a cipher to encrypt the data, and when the data must be accessed again, a person entrusted with the secret key can decrypt the data. Secret Key Cryptography can be used on both in-transit and at-rest data, but is commonly only used on at-rest data, as sending the secret to the recipient of the message can lead to compromise.


  • AES
  • DES
  • Caesar Cipher

Public Key Cryptography, or asymmetric cryptography, uses two keys to encrypt data. One is used for encryption, while the other key can decrypts the message. Unlike symmetric cryptography, if one key is used to encrypt, that same key cannot decrypt the message, rather the other key shall be used.

One key is kept private, and is called the “private key”, while the other is shared publicly and can be used by anyone, hence it is known as the “public key”. The mathematical relation of the keys is such that the private key cannot be derived from the public key, but the public key can be derived from the private. The private key should not be distributed and should remain with the owner only. The public key can be given to any other entity.


  • ECC
  • Diffie-Hellman
  • DSS

Hash functions are irreversible, one-way functions which protect the data, at the cost of not being able to recover the original message. Hashing is a way to transform a given string into a fixed length string. A good hashing algorithm will produce unique outputs for each input given. The only way to crack a hash is by trying every input possible, until you get the exact same hash. A hash can be used for hashing data (such as passwords) and in certificates.

Some of the most famous hashing algorithms are:

  • MD5
  • SHA-1
  • SHA-2 family which includes SHA-224, SHA-256, SHA-384, and SHA-512
  • SHA-3
  • Whirlpool
  • Blake 2
  • Blake 3

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About the Author

Shorya Goel is a Consultant at Encryption Consulting, working with PKIs, HSMs, and working as a consultant with high-profile clients.

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