MD5 Hashing



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The MD5 function is a cryptographic algorithm that takes
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an input of arbitrary length and produces a message digest that is 128 bits long. The digest is sometimes also called the "hash" or "fingerprint" of the input. MD5 is used in many situations where a potentially long message needs to be processed and/or compared quickly. The most common application is the creation and verification of digital signatures.

MD5 was designed by well-known cryptographer Ronald Rivest in 1994. In 2004, some serious flaws were found in MD5. The complete implications of these flaws has yet to be determined.

Vulnerability

Because MD5 makes only one pass over the data, if two prefixes with the same hash can be constructed, a common suffix can be added to both to make the collision more reasonable.

Because the current collision-finding techniques allow the preceding hash state to be specified arbitrarily, a collision can be found for any desired prefix; that is, for any given string of characters X, two colliding files can be determined which both begin with X.

All that is required to generate two colliding files is a template file, with a 128-byte block of data aligned on a 64-byte boundary, that can be changed freely by the collision-finding algorithm.

Recently, a number of projects have created MD5 "rainbow tables" which are easily accessible online, and can be used to reverse many MD5 hashes into strings that collide with the original input, usually for the purposes of password cracking. However, if passwords are combined with a salt before the MD5 digest is generated, rainbow tables become much less useful.

Applications

MD5 digests have been widely used in the software world to provide some assurance that a transferred file has arrived intact. For example, file servers often provide a pre-computed MD5 for the files, so that a user can compare the checksum of the downloaded file to it.

Software applications like eMule and BitTorrent that are used by millions of users world wide, make extensive use of the MD5 algorithm.