Cryptographic hashes produce a fixed-size and unique hash value from variable-size transaction input. The SHA-256 computational algorithm is an example of a cryptographic hash.

cryptographic hash function (Wikipedia)
Secure Hash Algorithm
Sha-family.svg
Concepts
hash functions · SHA · DSA
Main standards
SHA-0 · SHA-1 · SHA-256 · SHA-3
A cryptographic hash function (specifically SHA-1) at work. A small change in the input (in the word "over") drastically changes the output (digest). This is the so-called avalanche effect.

A cryptographic hash function is a special class of hash function that has certain properties which make it suitable for use in cryptography. It is a mathematical algorithm that maps data of arbitrary size to a bit string of a fixed size (a hash function) which is designed to also be a one-way function, that is, a function which is infeasible to invert. The only way to recreate the input data from an ideal cryptographic hash function's output is to attempt a brute-force search of possible inputs to see if they produce a match, or use a rainbow table of matched hashes. Bruce Schneier has called one-way hash functions "the workhorses of modern cryptography". The input data is often called the message, and the output (the hash value or hash) is often called the message digest or simply the digest.

The ideal cryptographic hash function has five main properties:

  • it is deterministic so the same message always results in the same hash
  • it is quick to compute the hash value for any given message
  • it is infeasible to generate a message from its hash value except by trying all possible messages
  • a small change to a message should change the hash value so extensively that the new hash value appears uncorrelated with the old hash value
  • it is infeasible to find two different messages with the same hash value

Cryptographic hash functions have many information-security applications, notably in digital signatures, message authentication codes (MACs), and other forms of authentication. They can also be used as ordinary hash functions, to index data in hash tables, for fingerprinting, to detect duplicate data or uniquely identify files, and as checksums to detect accidental data corruption. Indeed, in information-security contexts, cryptographic hash values are sometimes called (digital) fingerprints, checksums, or just hash values, even though all these terms stand for more general functions with rather different properties and purposes.

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