Password Hashing

There is an excellent article on securing passwords at  This is a notoriously dense topic, and this is the most accessible reference material I have ever seen.

Unfortunately, when I read about this article and went to see it it appeared that the site is offline.  That may be temporary or permanent, I don't know.

I was able to find the Google Cache copy here.  However, if the site stays down that will fall out of the cache eventually.  So what I'm going to do is recreate the content below, obviously giving full credit to the original source.  If I see the site back online, or the site owner asks me to take it down, I'll certainly remove it from my site. seems to be a related organization, and they have an excellent article on creating passwords in PHP at


Salted Password Hashing – Doing it Right

If you're a web developer, you've probably had to make a user account system.
The most important aspect of a user account system is how user passwords are
protected. User account databases are hacked frequently, so you absolutely must
do something to protect your users' passwords if your website is ever breached.
The best way to protect passwords is to employ salted password hashing.
This page will explain how to do it properly.

There are a lot of conflicting ideas and misconceptions on how to do password
hashing properly, probably due to the abundance of misinformation on the web.
Password hashing is one of those things that's so simple, but yet so many people
get wrong. With this page, I hope to explain not only the correct way to do it,
but why it should be done that way.

You may use the following links to jump to the different sections of this page.

1. What is password hashing? 2. How Hashes are Cracked 3. Adding Salt
4. Ineffective Hashing Methods 5. How to hash properly 6. Frequently Asked Questions

There is public domain password hashing source code at the bottom of this page:

PHP Source Code Java Source Code ASP.NET (C#) Source Code Ruby (on Rails) Source Code

What is password hashing?

hash("hello") = 2cf24dba5fb0a30e26e83b2ac5b9e29e1b161e5c1fa7425e73043362938b9824hash("hbllo") = 58756879c05c68dfac9866712fad6a93f8146f337a69afe7dd238f3364946366hash("waltz") = c0e81794384491161f1777c232bc6bd9ec38f616560b120fda8e90f383853542

Hash algorithms are one way functions. They turn any amount of data into a
fixed-length "fingerprint" that cannot be reversed. They also have the property
that if the input changes by even a tiny bit, the resulting hash is completely
different (see the example above). This is great for protecting passwords,
because we want to store passwords in an encrypted form that's impossible to
decrypt, but at the same time, we need to be able to verify that a user's
password is correct.

The general workflow for account registration and authentication in a hash-based
account system is as follows:

  1. The user creates an account.
  2. Their password is hashed and stored in the database. At no point is the plain-text (unencrypted) password ever written to the hard drive.
  3. When the user attempts to login, the hash of the password they entered is checked against the hash of their real password (retrieved from the database).
  4. If the hashes match, the user is granted access. If not, the user is told they entered invalid login credentials.
  5. Steps 3 and 4 repeat everytime someone tries to login to their account.

In step 4, never tell the user if it was the username or password they got wrong. Always display
a generic message like "Invalid username or password." This prevents attackers from enumerating
valid usernames without knowing their passwords.

It should be noted that the hash functions used to protect passwords are not the
same as the hash functions you may have seen in a data structures course. The
hash functions used to implement data structures such as hash tables are
designed to be fast, not secure. Only cryptographic hash functions may be
used to implement password hashing. Hash functions like SHA256, SHA512, RipeMD,
and WHIRLPOOL are cryptographic hash functions.

It is easy to think that all you have to do is run the password through a
cryptographic hash function and your users' passwords will be secure. This is
far from the truth. There are many ways to recover passwords from plain hashes
very quickly. There are several easy-to-implement techniques that make these
"attacks" much less effective. To motivate the need for these techniques,
consider this very website. On the front page, you can submit a list of hashes
to be cracked, and receive results in less than a second. Clearly, simply
hashing the password does not meet our needs for security.

The next section will discuss some of the common attacks used to crack plain password hashes.

How Hashes are Cracked

  • Dictionary and Brute Force Attacks

    Dictionary Attack
    Trying apple        : failedTrying blueberry    : failedTrying justinbeiber : failed

    Trying letmein      : failedTrying s3cr3t       : success!

    Brute Force Attack
    Trying aaaa : failedTrying aaab : failedTrying aaac : failed

    Trying acdb : failed

    Trying acdc : success!

    The simplest way to crack a hash is to try to guess the password, hashing each guess, and checking if the guess's hash equals the hash being cracked. If the hashes are equal, the guess is the password.
    The two most common ways of guessing passwords are dictionary attacks and brute-force attacks.

    A dictionary attack uses a file containing words, phrases, common passwords,
    and other strings that are likely to be used as a password. Each word in the
    file is hashed, and its hash is compared to the password hash. If they
    match, that word is the password. These dictionary files are constructed by
    extracting words from large bodies of text, and even from real databases of
    passwords. Further processing is often applied to dictionary files, such as
    replacing words with their "leet speak" equivalents ("hello" becomes
    "h3110"), to make them more effective.

    A brute-force attack tries every possible combination of characters up to a
    given length. These attacks are very computationally expensive, and are
    usually the least efficient in terms of hashes cracked per processor time,
    but they will always eventually find the password. Passwords should be long
    enough that searching through all possible character strings to find it will
    take too long to be worthwhile.

    There is no way to prevent dictionary attacks or brute force attacks. They
    can be made less effective, but there isn't a way to prevent them
    altogether. If your password hashing system is secure, the only way to crack
    the hashes will be to run a dictionary or brute-force attack on each hash.

  • Lookup Tables


    Searching: 5f4dcc3b5aa765d61d8327deb882cf99: FOUND: password5Searching: 6cbe615c106f422d23669b610b564800:  not in databaseSearching: 630bf032efe4507f2c57b280995925a9: FOUND: letMEin12 Searching: 386f43fab5d096a7a66d67c8f213e5ec: FOUND: mcd0naldsSearching: d5ec75d5fe70d428685510fae36492d9: FOUND: p@ssw0rd!

    Lookup tables are an extremely effective method for cracking many hashes of
    the same type very quickly. The general idea is to pre-compute the
    hashes of the passwords in a password dictionary and store them, and their
    corresponding password, in a lookup table data structure. A good
    implementation of a lookup table can process hundreds of hash lookups per
    second, even when they contain many billions of hashes.

    If you want a better idea of how fast lookup tables can be, try cracking the
    following sha256 hashes with CrackStation's free hash

  • Reverse Lookup Tables


    Searching for hash(apple) in users' hash list…     : Matches [alice3, 0bob0, charles8]Searching for hash(blueberry) in users' hash list… : Matches [usr10101, timmy, john91]Searching for hash(letmein) in users' hash list…   : Matches [wilson10, dragonslayerX, joe1984]Searching for hash(s3cr3t) in users' hash list…    : Matches [bruce19, knuth1337, john87]Searching for hash(z@29hjja) in users' hash list…  : No users used this password

    This attack allows an attacker to apply a dictionary or brute-force attack to many hashes at the same time, without having to pre-compute a lookup table.

    First, the attacker creates a lookup table that maps each password hash from
    the compromised user account database to a list of users who had that hash.
    The attacker then hashes each password guess and uses the lookup table to
    get a list of users whose password was the attacker's guess. This attack is
    especially effective because it is common for many users to have the same

  • Rainbow Tables

    Rainbow tables are a time-memory trade-off technique. They are like lookup
    tables, except that they sacrifice hash cracking speed to make the lookup
    tables smaller. Because they are smaller, the solutions to more hashes can
    be stored in the same amount of space, making them more effective. Rainbow
    tables that can crack any md5 hash of a password up to 8 characters long exist.

Next, we'll look at a technique called salting, which makes it impossible to use
lookup tables and rainbow tables to crack a hash.

Adding Salt

hash("hello")                    = 2cf24dba5fb0a30e26e83b2ac5b9e29e1b161e5c1fa7425e73043362938b9824hash("hello" + "QxLUF1bgIAdeQX") = 9e209040c863f84a31e719795b2577523954739fe5ed3b58a75cff2127075ed1hash("hello" + "bv5PehSMfV11Cd") = d1d3ec2e6f20fd420d50e2642992841d8338a314b8ea157c9e18477aaef226abhash("hello" + "YYLmfY6IehjZMQ") = a49670c3c18b9e079b9cfaf51634f563dc8ae3070db2c4a8544305df1b60f007

Lookup tables and rainbow tables only work because each password is hashed the
exact same way. If two users have the same password, they'll have the same
password hashes. We can prevent these attacks by randomizing each hash, so that
when the same password is hashed twice, the hashes are not the same.

We can randomize the hashes by appending or prepending a random string, called a
salt, to the password before hashing. As shown in the example above, this
makes the same password hash into a completely different string every time. To
check if a password is correct, we need the salt, so it is usually stored in the
user account database along with the hash, or as part of the hash string itself.

The salt does not need to be secret. Just by randomizing the hashes, lookup
tables, reverse lookup tables, and rainbow tables become ineffective. An
attacker won't know in advance what the salt will be, so they can't pre-compute
a lookup table or rainbow table. If each user's password is hashed with a
different salt, the reverse lookup table attack won't work either.

In the next section, we'll look at how salt is commonly implemented incorrectly.

The WRONG Way: Short Salt & Salt Reuse

The most common salt implementation errors are reusing the same salt in multiple
hashes, or using a salt that is too short.

Salt Reuse

A common mistake is to use the same salt in each hash. Either the salt is
hard-coded into the program, or is generated randomly once. This is ineffective
because if two users have the same password, they'll still have the same hash.
An attacker can still use a reverse lookup table attack to run a dictionary
attack on every hash at the same time. They just have to apply the salt to each
password guess before they hash it. If the salt is hard-coded into a popular
product, lookup tables and rainbow tables can be built for that salt, to make it
easier to crack hashes generated by the product.

A new random salt must be generated each time a user creates an account or changes their password.

Short Salt

If the salt is too short, an attacker can build a lookup table for every
possible salt. For example, if the salt is only three ASCII characters, there
are only 95x95x95 = 857,375 possible salts. That may seem like a lot, but if
each lookup table contains only 1MB of the most common passwords, collectively
they will be only 837GB, which is not a lot considering 1000GB hard drives can
be bought for under $100 today.

For the same reason, the username shouldn't be used as a salt. Usernames may be
unique to a single service, but they are predictable and often reused for
accounts on other services. An attacker can build lookup tables for common
usernames and use them to crack username-salted hashes.

To make it impossible for an attacker to create a lookup table for every
possible salt, the salt must be long. A good rule of thumb is to use a salt that
is the same size as the output of the hash function. For example, the output of
SHA256 is 256 bits (32 bytes), so the salt should be at least 32 random bytes.

The WRONG Way: Double Hashing & Wacky Hash Functions

This section covers another common password hashing misconception: wacky
combinations of hash algorithms. It's easy to get carried away and try to
combine different hash functions, hoping that the result will be more secure. In
practice, though, there is very little benefit to doing it. All it does is
create interoperability problems, and can sometimes even make the hashes less
secure. Never try to invent your own crypto, always use a standard that has
been designed by experts. Some will argue that using multiple hash functions
makes the process of computing the hash slower, so cracking is slower, but
there's a better way to make the cracking process slower as we'll see later.

Here are some examples of poor wacky hash functions I've seen suggested in forums on the internet.

  • md5(sha1(password))
  • md5(md5(salt) + md5(password))
  • sha1(sha1(password))
  • sha1(str_rot13(password + salt))
  • md5(sha1(md5(md5(password) + sha1(password)) + md5(password)))

Do not use any of these.

Note: This section has proven to be controversial. I've received a number of
emails arguing that wacky hash functions are a good thing, because it's better
if the attacker doesn't know which hash function is in use, it's less
likely for an attacker to have pre-computed a rainbow table for the wacky hash
function, and it takes longer to compute the hash function.

An attacker cannot attack a hash when he doesn't know the algorithm, but note Kerckhoffs's
, that the attacker will usually have access to the source code
(especially if it's free or open source software), and that given a few
password-hash pairs from the target system, it is not difficult to reverse
engineer the algorithm. It does take longer to compute wacky hash functions, but
only by a small constant factor. It's better to use an iterated algorithm that's
designed to be extremely hard to parallelize (these are discussed below). And,
properly salting the hash solves the rainbow table problem.

Compare these minor benefits to the risks of accidentally implementing a
completely insecure hash function and the interoperability problems wacky hashes
create. It's clearly best to use a standard and well-tested algorithm.

Hash Collisions

Because hash functions map arbitrary amounts of data to fixed-length strings,
there must be some inputs that hash into the same string. Cryptographic hash
functions are designed to make these collisions incredibly difficult to find.
From time to time, cryptographers find "attacks" on hash functions that make
finding collisions easier. A recent example is the MD5 hash function, for which
collisions have actually been found.

Collision attacks are a sign that it may be more likely for a string other than
the user's password to have the same hash. However, finding collisions in even a
weak hash function like MD5 requires a lot of dedicated computing power, so it
is very unlikely that these collisions will happen "by accident" in practice. A
password hashed using MD5 and salt is, for all practical purposes, just as
secure as if it were hashed with SHA256 and salt. Nevertheless, it is a good
idea to use a more secure hash function like SHA256, SHA512, RipeMD, or
WHIRLPOOL if possible.

The RIGHT Way: How to Hash Properly

This section describes exactly how passwords should be hashed. The first
subsection covers the basics—everything that is absolutely necessary. The
following subsections explain how the basics can be augmented to make the hashes
even harder to crack.

The Basics: Hashing with Salt

We've seen how malicious hackers can crack plain hashes very quickly using
lookup tables and rainbow tables. We've learned that randomizing the hashing
using salt is the solution to the problem. But how do we generate the salt, and
how do we apply it to the password?

Salt should be generated using a Cryptographically Secure Pseudo-Random
Number Generator
(CSPRNG). CSPRNGs are very different than ordinary
pseudo-random number generators, like the "C" language's
rand() function. As the name suggests, CSPRNGs are
designed to be cryptographically secure, meaning they provide a high level of
randomness and are completely unpredictable. We don't want our salts to be
predictable, so we must use a CSPRNG. The following table lists some CSPRNGs
that exist for some popular programming platforms.

Platform CSPRNG
PHP mcrypt_create_iv, openssl_random_pseudo_bytes
Dot NET (C#, VB) System.Security.Cryptography.RNGCryptoServiceProvider
Ruby SecureRandom
Python os.urandom
Perl Math::Random::Secure
C/C++ (Windows API) CryptGenRandom
Any language on GNU/Linux or Unix Read from /dev/random or /dev/urandom

The salt needs to be unique per-user per-password. Every time a user creates an account or
changes their password, the password should be hashed using a new random salt. Never reuse a salt.
The salt also needs to be long, so that there are many possible salts. As a rule of thumb, make your
salt is at least as long as the hash function's output. The salt should be stored in the user
account table alongside the hash.

To Store a Password

  1. Generate a long random salt using a CSPRNG.
  2. Prepend the salt to the password and hash it with a standard cryptographic hash function such as SHA256.
  3. Save both the salt and the hash in the user's database record.

To Validate a Password

  1. Retrieve the user's salt and hash from the database.
  2. Prepend the salt to the given password and hash it using the same hash function.
  3. Compare the hash of the given password with the hash from the database. If they match, the password is correct. Otherwise, the password is incorrect.

At the bottom of this page, there are implementations of salted password hashing in
PHP, C#,
Java, and Ruby.

In a Web Application, always hash on the server

If you are writing a web application, you might wonder where to hash.
Should the password be hashed in the user's browser with JavaScript, or should
it be sent to the server "in the clear" and hashed there?

Even if you are hashing the user's passwords in JavaScript, you still have
to hash the hashes on the server. Consider a website that hashes users'
passwords in the user's browser without hashing the hashes on the server. To
authenticate a user, this website will accept a hash from the browser and check
if that hash exactly matches the one in the database. This seems more secure
than just hashing on the server, since the users' passwords are never sent to
the server, but it's not.

The problem is that the client-side hash logically becomes the user's
password. All the user needs to do to authenticate is tell the server the hash
of their password. If a bad guy got a user's hash they could use it to
authenticate to the server, without knowing the user's password! So, if the bad
guy somehow steals the database of hashes from this hypothetical website,
they'll have immediate access to everyone's accounts without having to guess any

This isn't to say that you shouldn't hash in the browser, but if you
do, you absolutely have to hash on the server too. Hashing in the browser is
certainly a good idea, but consider the following points for your implementation:

  • Client-side password hashing is not a substitute for HTTPS
    (SSL/TLS). If the connection between the browser and the server is
    insecure, a man-in-the-middle can modify the JavaScript code as it is
    downloaded to remove the hashing functionality and get the user's
  • Some web browsers don't support JavaScript, and some users disable
    JavaScript in their browser. So for maximum compatibility, your app
    should detect whether or not the browser supports JavaScript and emulate
    the client-side hash on the server if it doesn't.
  • You need to salt the client-side hashes too. The obvious solution is to
    make the client-side script ask the server for the user's salt. Don't do
    that, because it lets the bad guys check if a username is valid without
    knowing the password. Since you're hashing and salting (with a good
    salt) on the server too, it's OK to use the username (or email)
    concatenated with a site-specific string (e.g. domain name) as the
    client-side salt.

Making Password Cracking Harder: Slow Hash Functions

Salt ensures that attackers can't use specialized attacks like lookup tables
and rainbow tables to crack large collections of hashes quickly, but it
doesn't prevent them from running dictionary or brute-force attacks on each
hash individually. High-end graphics cards (GPUs) and custom hardware can
compute billions of hashes per second, so these attacks are still very
effective. To make these attacks less effective, we can use a technique
known as key stretching.

The idea is to make the hash function very slow, so that even with a fast
GPU or custom hardware, dictionary and brute-force attacks are too slow to
be worthwhile. The goal is to make the hash function slow enough to impede
attacks, but still fast enough to not cause a noticeable delay for the user.

Key stretching is implemented using a special type of CPU-intensive hash
function. Don't try to invent your own–simply iteratively hashing the
hash of the password isn't enough as it can be parallelized in hardware and
executed as fast as a normal hash. Use a standard algorithm like PBKDF2 or bcrypt.
You can find a PHP implementation of PBKDF2 here.

These algorithms take a security factor or iteration count as an argument.
This value determines how slow the hash function will be. For desktop
software or smartphone apps, the best way to choose this parameter is to run
a short benchmark on the device to find the value that makes the hash take
about half a second. This way, your program can be as secure as possible
without affecting the user experience.

If you use a key stretching hash in a web application, be aware that you
will need extra computational resources to process large volumes of
authentication requests, and that key stretching may make it easier to run a
Denial of Service (DoS) attack on your website. I still recommend using key
stretching, but with a lower iteration count. You should calculate the
iteration count based on your computational resources and the expected
maximum authentication request rate. The denial of service threat can be
eliminated by making the user solve a CAPTCHA every time they log in.
Always design your system so that the iteration count can be increased or
decreased in the future.

If you are worried about the computational burden, but still want to use key
stretching in a web application, consider running the key stretching
algorithm in the user's browser with JavaScript. The Stanford JavaScript Crypto
includes PBKDF2. The iteration count should be set low enough
that the system is usable with slower clients like mobile devices, and the
system should fall back to server-side computation if the user's browser
doesn't support JavaScript. Client-side key stretching does not remove the
need for server-side hashing. You must hash the hash generated by the client
the same way you would hash a normal password.

Impossible-to-crack Hashes: Keyed Hashes and Password Hashing Hardware

As long as an attacker can use a hash to check whether a password guess is
right or wrong, they can run a dictionary or brute-force attack on the hash.
The next step is to add a secret key to the hash so that only someone
who knows the key can use the hash validate a password. This can be
accomplished two ways. Either the hash can be encrypted using a cipher like
AES, or the secret key can be included in the hash using a keyed hash
algorithm like HMAC.

This is not as easy as it sounds. The key has to be kept secret from an
attacker even in the event of a breach. If an attacker gains full access to
the system, they'll be able to steal the key no matter where it is stored.
The key must be stored in an external system, such as a physically separate
server dedicated to password validation, or a special hardware device
attached to the server such as the YubiHSM.

I highly recommend this approach for any large scale (more than 100,000
users) service. I consider it necessary for any service hosting more than
1,000,000 user accounts.

If you can't afford multiple dedicated servers or special hardware devices,
you can still get some of the benefits of keyed hashes on a standard web
server. Most databases are breached using SQL Injection Attacks,
which, in most cases, don't give attackers access to the local filesystem
(disable local filesystem access in your SQL server if it has this feature).
If you generate a random key and store it in a file that isn't accessible
from the web, and include it into the salted hashes, then the hashes won't
be vulnerable if your database is breached using a simple SQL injection
attack. Don't hard-code a key into the source code, generate it randomly
when the application is installed. This isn't as secure as using a separate
system to do the password hashing, because if there are SQL injection
vulnerabilities in a web application, there are probably other types, such
as Local File Inclusion, that an attacker could use to read the secret key
file. But, it's better than nothing.

Please note that keyed hashes do not remove the need for salt. Clever
attackers will eventually find ways to compromise the keys, so it is
important that hashes are still protected by salt and key stretching.

Other Security Measures

Password hashing protects passwords in the event of a security breach. It does
not make the application as a whole more secure. Much more must be done to
prevent the password hashes (and other user data) from being stolen in the first

Even experienced developers must be educated in security in order to write secure applications.
A great resource for learning about web application vulnerabilities is
The Open Web Application
Security Project (OWASP)
. A good introduction is the
OWASP Top Ten Vulnerability List.
Unless you understand all the vulnerabilities on the list, do not attempt to
write a web application that deals with sensitive data. It is the employer's
responsibility to ensure all developers are adequately trained in secure
application development.

Having a third party "penetration test" your application is a good idea. Even
the best programmers make mistakes, so it always makes sense to have a security
expert review the code for potential vulnerabilities. Find a trustworthy
organization (or hire staff) to review your code on a regular basis. The
security review process should begin early in an application's life and continue
throughout its development.

It is also important to monitor your website to detect a breach if one does
occur. I recommend hiring at least one person whose full time job is detecting
and responding to security breaches. If a breach goes undetected, the attacker
can make your website infect visitors with malware, so it is extremely important
that breaches are detected and responded to promptly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What hash algorithm should I use?

DO use:

DO NOT use:

  • Outdated hash functions like MD5 or SHA1.
  • Insecure versions of crypt ($1$, $2$, $2a$, $2x$, $3$).
  • Any algorithm that you designed yourself. Only use technology that is in the public domain and has been well-tested by experienced cryptographers.

Even though there are no cryptographic attacks on MD5 or SHA1 that make
their hashes easier to crack, they are old and are widely considered
(somewhat incorrectly) to be inadequate for password storage. So I don't
recommend using them. An exception to this rule is PBKDF2, which is
frequently implemented using SHA1 as the underlying hash function.

How should I allow users to reset their password when they forget it?

It is my personal opinion that all password reset mechanisms in widespread
use today are insecure. If you have high security requirements, such as an
encryption service would, do not let the user reset their password.

Most websites use an email loop to authenticate users who have forgotten their
password. To do this, generate a random single-use token that is strongly
tied to the account. Include it in a password reset link sent to the user's
email address. When the user clicks a password reset link containing a valid
token, prompt them for a new password. Be sure that the token is strongly tied
to the user account so that an attacker can't use a token sent to his own email
address to reset a different user's password.

The token must be set to expire in 15 minutes or after it is used, whichever
comes first. It is also a good idea to expire any existing password tokens when
the user logs in (they remembered their password) or requests another reset
token. If a token doesn't expire, it can be forever used to break into the
user's account. Email (SMTP) is a plain-text protocol, and there may be
malicious routers on the internet recording email traffic. And, a user's email
account (including the reset link) may be compromised long after their password
has been changed. Making the token expire as soon as possible reduces the
user's exposure to these attacks.

Attackers will be able to modify the tokens, so don't store the user account
information or timeout information in them. They should be an unpredictable
random binary blob used only to identify a record in a database table.

Never send the user a new password over email.

What should I do if my user account database gets leaked/hacked?

Your first priority is to determine how the system was compromised and patch
the vulnerability the attacker used to get in. If you do not have experience
responding to breaches, I highly recommend hiring a third-party security firm.

It may be tempting to cover up the breach and hope nobody notices. However, trying to cover up a breach makes you look worse, because you're putting
your users at further risk by not informing them that their passwords and other
personal information may be
compromised. You must inform your users as soon as possible—even if you don't yet fully understand what happened. Put a notice on the
front page of your website that links to a page with more detailed information,
and send a notice to each user by email if possible.

Explain to your users exactly how their passwords were protected—hopefully
hashed with salt—and that even though they were protected with a salted
hash, a malicious hacker can still run dictionary and brute force attacks on the
hashes. Malicious hackers will use any passwords they find to try to login to a
user's account on a different website, hoping they used the same password on
both websites. Inform your users of this risk and recommend that they change
their password on any website or service where they used a similar password.
Force them to change their password for your service the next time they log in.
Most users will try to "change" their password to the original password to get
around the forced change quickly. Use the current password hash to ensure that
they cannot do this.

It is likely, even with salted slow hashes, that an attacker will be able to
crack some of the weak passwords very quickly. To reduce the attacker's window of opportunity to use these passwords, you should require, in
addition to the current password, an email loop for authentication until the
user has changed their password. See the previous question, "How should I allow
users to reset their password when they forget it?" for tips on implementing
email loop authentication.

Also tell your users what kind of personal information was stored on the
website. If your database includes credit card numbers, you should instruct your
users to look over their recent and future bills closely and cancel their
credit card.

What should my password policy be? Should I enforce strong passwords?

If your service doesn't have strict security requirements, then don't limit your
users. I recommend showing users information about the strength of their
password as they type it, letting them decide how secure they want their
password to be. If you have special security needs, enforce a minimum length of
12 characters and require at least two letters, two digits, and two symbols.

Do not force your users to change their password more often than once every six
months, as doing so creates "user fatigue" and makes users less likely to choose
good passwords. Instead, train users to change their password whenever they feel
it has been compromised, and to never tell their password to anyone. If it is a
business setting, encourage employees to use paid time to memorize and practice
their password.

If an attacker has access to my database, can't they just replace the hash of my password with their own hash and login?

Yes, but if someone has accesss to your database, they probably already have
access to everything on your server, so they wouldn't need to login to your
account to get what they want. The purpose of password hashing (in the context
of a website) is not to protect the website from being breached, but to protect
the passwords if a breach does occur.

You can prevent hashes from being replaced during a SQL injection attack by
connecting to the database with two users with different permissions. One for
the 'create account' code and one for the 'login' code. The 'create account'
code should be able to read and write to the user table, but the 'login' code
should only be able to read.

Why do I have to use a special algorithm like HMAC? Why can't I just append
the password to the secret key?

Hash functions like MD5, SHA1, and SHA2 use the
Merkle–Damgård construction
, which makes them vulnerable to what are known
as length extension attacks. This means that given a hash H(X), an attacker can
find the value of H(pad(X) + Y), for any other string Y, without knowing X.
pad(X) is the padding function used by the hash.

This means that given a hash H(key + message), an attacker can compute H(pad(key +
message) + extension), without knowing the key. If the hash was being used as a
message authentication code, using the key to prevent an attacker from being
able to modify the message and replace it with a different valid hash, the
system has failed, since the attacker now has a valid hash of message +

It is not clear how an attacker could use this attack to crack a password hash
quicker. However, because of the attack, it is considered bad practice to
use a plain hash function for keyed hashing. A clever cryptographer may one day
come up with a clever way to use these attacks to make cracking faster, so use

Should the salt come before or after the password?

It doesn't matter, but pick one and stick with it for interoperability's sake.
Having the salt come before the password seems to be more common.

Why does the hashing code on this page compare the hashes in

Comparing the hashes in "length-constant" time ensures that an
attacker cannot extract the hash of a password in an on-line system using a
timing attack, then crack it off-line.

The standard way to check if two sequences of bytes (strings) are the same is to
compare the first byte, then the second, then the third, and so on. As soon as
you find a byte that isn't the same for both strings, you know they are
different and can return a negative response immediately. If you make it through
both strings without finding any bytes that differ, you know the strings are the
same and can return a positive result. This means that comparing two strings can
take a different amount of time depending on how much of the strings match.

For example, a standard comparison of the strings "xyzabc" and
"abcxyz" would immediately see that the first character is different
and wouldn't bother to check the rest of the string. On the other hand, when the
strings "aaaaaaaaaaB" and "aaaaaaaaaaZ" are compared, the
comparison algorithm scans through the block of "a" before it determins the
strings are unequal.

Suppose an attacker wants to break into an on-line system that rate limits
authentication attempts to one attempt per second. Also suppose the attacker
knows all of the parameters to the password hash (salt, hash type, etc), except
for the hash and (obviously) the password. If the attacker can get a precisise
measurement of how long it takes the on-line system to compare the hash of the
real password with the hash of a password the attacker provides, he can use the
timing attack to extract part of the hash and crack it using an offline attack,
bypassing the system's rate limiting.

First, the attacker finds 256 strings whose hashes begin with every possible
byte. He sends each string to the on-line system, recording the amount of time
it takes the system to respond. The string that takes the longest will be the
one whose hash's first byte matches the real hash's first byte. The attacker now
knows the first byte, and can continue the attack in a similar manner on the
second byte, then the third, and so on. Once the attacker knows enough of the
hash, he can use his own hardware to crack it, without being rate limited by the

This is a theoretical attack. I've never seen it done in practice,
and I seriously doubt it could be done over the internet. Nevertheless, the
hashing code on this page compares strings in a way that takes the same amount
of time no matter how much of the strings match, just in case the code gets used
in an environment that's unusually vulnerable to timing atttacks (such as
on an extremely slow processor).

How does the SlowEquals code work?

The previous question explains why SlowEquals is necessary, this one explains
how the code actually works.

1.     private static boolean slowEquals(byte[] a, byte[] b)2.     {3.         int diff = a.length ^ b.length;4.         for(int i = 0; i < a.length && i < b.length; i++)5.             diff |= a[i] ^ b[i];

6.         return diff == 0;

7.     }

The code uses the XOR "^" operator to compare integers for equality, instead of
the "==" operator. The reason why is explained below. The result of XORing
two integers will be zero if and only if they are exactly the same. This is
because 0 XOR 0 = 0, 1 XOR 1 = 0, 0 XOR 1 = 1, 1 XOR 0 = 1. If we apply that to
all the bits in both integers, the result will be zero only if all the bits

So, in the first line, if a.length is equal to
b.length, the diff variable will get a zero value, but if not, it
will get some non-zero value. Next, we compare the bytes using XOR, and OR the
result into diff. This will set diff to a non-zero value if the bytes differ.
Because ORing never un-sets bits, the only way diff will be zero at the end of
the loop is if it was zero before the loop began (a.length == b.length) and all
of the bytes in the two arrays match (none of the XORs resulted in a non-zero

The reason we need to use XOR instead of the "==" operator to compare integers
is that "==" is usually translated/compiled/interpreted as a branch. For example,
the C code "diff &= a == b" might compile to the following x86

MOV EAX, [A]CMP [B], EAXJZ equalJMP doneequal:




The branching makes the code execute in a different amount of time depending on
the equality of the integers and the CPU's internal branch prediction state.

The C code "diff |= a ^ b" should compile to something like
the following, whose execution time does not depend on the equality of the


Why bother hashing?

Your users are entering their password into your website. They are trusting you
with their security. If your database gets hacked, and your users' passwords are
unprotected, then malicious hackers can use those passwords to compromise your
users' accounts on other websites and services (most people use the same
password everywhere). It's not just your security that's at risk, it's your
users'. You are responsible for your users' security.

PHP PBKDF2 Password Hashing Code

PHP Source Code Java Source Code ASP.NET (C#) Source Code Ruby (on Rails) Source Code

The following code is a secure implementation of PBKDF2 hashing in PHP. You can find a test suite
and benchmark code for it on Defuse Security's
page. The code is in the public domain, so you may use it for any purpose

Download PasswordHash.php

 * Password hashing with PBKDF2.
 * Author: havoc AT
 * www:

// These constants may be changed without breaking existing hashes.
define("PBKDF2_HASH_ALGORITHM", "sha256");
define("PBKDF2_ITERATIONS", 1000);
define("PBKDF2_SALT_BYTES", 24);
define("PBKDF2_HASH_BYTES", 24);

define("HASH_SECTIONS", 4);
define("HASH_SALT_INDEX", 2);
define("HASH_PBKDF2_INDEX", 3);

function create_hash($password)
    // format: algorithm:iterations:salt:hash
    $salt = base64_encode(mcrypt_create_iv(PBKDF2_SALT_BYTES, MCRYPT_DEV_URANDOM));
    return PBKDF2_HASH_ALGORITHM . ":" . PBKDF2_ITERATIONS . ":" .  $salt . ":" .

function validate_password($password, $good_hash)
    $params = explode(":", $good_hash);
    if(count($params) < HASH_SECTIONS)
       return false;
    $pbkdf2 = base64_decode($params[HASH_PBKDF2_INDEX]);
    return slow_equals(

// Compares two strings $a and $b in length-constant time.
function slow_equals($a, $b)
    $diff = strlen($a) ^ strlen($b);
    for($i = 0; $i < strlen($a) && $i < strlen($b); $i++)
        $diff |= ord($a[$i]) ^ ord($b[$i]);
    return $diff === 0;

 * PBKDF2 key derivation function as defined by RSA's PKCS #5:
 * $algorithm - The hash algorithm to use. Recommended: SHA256
 * $password - The password.
 * $salt - A salt that is unique to the password.
 * $count - Iteration count. Higher is better, but slower. Recommended: At least 1000.
 * $key_length - The length of the derived key in bytes.
 * $raw_output - If true, the key is returned in raw binary format. Hex encoded otherwise.
 * Returns: A $key_length-byte key derived from the password and salt.
 * Test vectors can be found here:
 * This implementation of PBKDF2 was originally created by
 * With improvements by
function pbkdf2($algorithm, $password, $salt, $count, $key_length, $raw_output = false)
    $algorithm = strtolower($algorithm);
    if(!in_array($algorithm, hash_algos(), true))
        die('PBKDF2 ERROR: Invalid hash algorithm.');
    if($count <= 0 || $key_length <= 0)
        die('PBKDF2 ERROR: Invalid parameters.');

    $hash_length = strlen(hash($algorithm, "", true));
    $block_count = ceil($key_length / $hash_length);

    $output = "";
    for($i = 1; $i <= $block_count; $i++) {
        // $i encoded as 4 bytes, big endian.
        $last = $salt . pack("N", $i);
        // first iteration
        $last = $xorsum = hash_hmac($algorithm, $last, $password, true);
        // perform the other $count - 1 iterations
        for ($j = 1; $j < $count; $j++) {
            $xorsum ^= ($last = hash_hmac($algorithm, $last, $password, true));
        $output .= $xorsum;

        return substr($output, 0, $key_length);
        return bin2hex(substr($output, 0, $key_length));

Java PBKDF2 Password Hashing Code

PHP Source Code Java Source Code ASP.NET (C#) Source Code Ruby (on Rails) Source Code

The following code is a secure implementation of PBKDF2 hashing in Java.
The code is in the public domain, so you may use it for any purpose whatsoever.


import javax.crypto.spec.PBEKeySpec;
import javax.crypto.SecretKeyFactory;
import java.math.BigInteger;

 * PBKDF2 salted password hashing.
 * Author: havoc AT
 * www:
public class PasswordHash
    public static final String PBKDF2_ALGORITHM = "PBKDF2WithHmacSHA1";

    // The following constants may be changed without breaking existing hashes.
    public static final int SALT_BYTES = 24;
    public static final int HASH_BYTES = 24;
    public static final int PBKDF2_ITERATIONS = 1000;

    public static final int ITERATION_INDEX = 0;
    public static final int SALT_INDEX = 1;
    public static final int PBKDF2_INDEX = 2;

     * Returns a salted PBKDF2 hash of the password.
     * @param   password    the password to hash
     * @return              a salted PBKDF2 hash of the password
    public static String createHash(String password)
        throws NoSuchAlgorithmException, InvalidKeySpecException
        return createHash(password.toCharArray());

     * Returns a salted PBKDF2 hash of the password.
     * @param   password    the password to hash
     * @return              a salted PBKDF2 hash of the password
    public static String createHash(char[] password)
        throws NoSuchAlgorithmException, InvalidKeySpecException
        // Generate a random salt
        SecureRandom random = new SecureRandom();
        byte[] salt = new byte[SALT_BYTES];

        // Hash the password
        byte[] hash = pbkdf2(password, salt, PBKDF2_ITERATIONS, HASH_BYTES);
        // format iterations:salt:hash
        return PBKDF2_ITERATIONS + ":" + toHex(salt) + ":" +  toHex(hash);

     * Validates a password using a hash.
     * @param   password    the password to check
     * @param   goodHash    the hash of the valid password
     * @return              true if the password is correct, false if not
    public static boolean validatePassword(String password, String goodHash)
        throws NoSuchAlgorithmException, InvalidKeySpecException
        return validatePassword(password.toCharArray(), goodHash);

     * Validates a password using a hash.
     * @param   password    the password to check
     * @param   goodHash    the hash of the valid password
     * @return              true if the password is correct, false if not
    public static boolean validatePassword(char[] password, String goodHash)
        throws NoSuchAlgorithmException, InvalidKeySpecException
        // Decode the hash into its parameters
        String[] params = goodHash.split(":");
        int iterations = Integer.parseInt(params[ITERATION_INDEX]);
        byte[] salt = fromHex(params[SALT_INDEX]);
        byte[] hash = fromHex(params[PBKDF2_INDEX]);
        // Compute the hash of the provided password, using the same salt,
        // iteration count, and hash length
        byte[] testHash = pbkdf2(password, salt, iterations, hash.length);
        // Compare the hashes in constant time. The password is correct if
        // both hashes match.
        return slowEquals(hash, testHash);

     * Compares two byte arrays in length-constant time. This comparison method
     * is used so that password hashes cannot be extracted from an on-line
     * system using a timing attack and then attacked off-line.
     * @param   a       the first byte array
     * @param   b       the second byte array
     * @return          true if both byte arrays are the same, false if not
    private static boolean slowEquals(byte[] a, byte[] b)
        int diff = a.length ^ b.length;
        for(int i = 0; i < a.length && i < b.length; i++)
            diff |= a[i] ^ b[i];
        return diff == 0;

     *  Computes the PBKDF2 hash of a password.
     * @param   password    the password to hash.
     * @param   salt        the salt
     * @param   iterations  the iteration count (slowness factor)
     * @param   bytes       the length of the hash to compute in bytes
     * @return              the PBDKF2 hash of the password
    private static byte[] pbkdf2(char[] password, byte[] salt, int iterations, int bytes)
        throws NoSuchAlgorithmException, InvalidKeySpecException
        PBEKeySpec spec = new PBEKeySpec(password, salt, iterations, bytes * 8);
        SecretKeyFactory skf = SecretKeyFactory.getInstance(PBKDF2_ALGORITHM);
        return skf.generateSecret(spec).getEncoded();

     * Converts a string of hexadecimal characters into a byte array.
     * @param   hex         the hex string
     * @return              the hex string decoded into a byte array
    private static byte[] fromHex(String hex)
        byte[] binary = new byte[hex.length() / 2];
        for(int i = 0; i < binary.length; i++)
            binary[i] = (byte)Integer.parseInt(hex.substring(2*i, 2*i+2), 16);
        return binary;

     * Converts a byte array into a hexadecimal string.
     * @param   array       the byte array to convert
     * @return              a length*2 character string encoding the byte array
    private static String toHex(byte[] array)
        BigInteger bi = new BigInteger(1, array);
        String hex = bi.toString(16);
        int paddingLength = (array.length * 2) - hex.length();
        if(paddingLength > 0)
            return String.format("%0" + paddingLength + "d", 0) + hex;
            return hex;

     * Tests the basic functionality of the PasswordHash class
* @param   args        ignored
    public static void main(String[] args)
            // Print out 10 hashes
            for(int i = 0; i < 10; i++)

            // Test password validation
            boolean failure = false;
            System.out.println("Running tests...");
            for(int i = 0; i < 100; i++)
                String password = ""+i;
                String hash = createHash(password);
                String secondHash = createHash(password);
                if(hash.equals(secondHash)) {
                    System.out.println("FAILURE: TWO HASHES ARE EQUAL!");
                    failure = true;
                String wrongPassword = ""+(i+1);
                if(validatePassword(wrongPassword, hash)) {
                    System.out.println("FAILURE: WRONG PASSWORD ACCEPTED!");
                    failure = true;
                if(!validatePassword(password, hash)) {
                    System.out.println("FAILURE: GOOD PASSWORD NOT ACCEPTED!");
                    failure = true;
                System.out.println("TESTS FAILED!");
                System.out.println("TESTS PASSED!");
        catch(Exception ex)
            System.out.println("ERROR: " + ex);


ASP.NET (C#) Password Hashing Code

PHP Source Code Java Source Code ASP.NET (C#) Source Code Ruby (on Rails) Source Code

The following code is a secure implementation of salted hashing in C# for ASP.NET. It is in the
public domain, so you may use it for any purpose whatsoever.

Download PasswordHash.cs

using System;
using System.Text;
using System.Security.Cryptography;

namespace PasswordHash
    /// Salted password hashing with PBKDF2-SHA1.
    /// Author: havoc AT
    /// www:
    /// Compatibility: .NET 3.0 and later.
    class PasswordHash
        // The following constants may be changed without breaking existing hashes.
        public const int SALT_BYTES = 24;
        public const int HASH_BYTES = 24;
        public const int PBKDF2_ITERATIONS = 1000;

        public const int ITERATION_INDEX = 0;
        public const int SALT_INDEX = 1;
        public const int PBKDF2_INDEX = 2;

        /// Creates a salted PBKDF2 hash of the password.
        ///<param name="password">The password to hash.</param>
        ///<returns>The hash of the password.</returns>
        public static string CreateHash(string password)
            // Generate a random salt
            RNGCryptoServiceProvider csprng = new RNGCryptoServiceProvider();
            byte[] salt = new byte[SALT_BYTES];

            // Hash the password and encode the parameters
            byte[] hash = PBKDF2(password, salt, PBKDF2_ITERATIONS, HASH_BYTES);
            return PBKDF2_ITERATIONS + ":" +
                Convert.ToBase64String(salt) + ":" +

        /// Validates a password given a hash of the correct one.
        ///<param name="password">The password to check.</param>
        ///<param name="goodHash">A hash of the correct password.</param>
        ///<returns>True if the password is correct. False otherwise.</returns>
        public static bool ValidatePassword(string password, string goodHash)
            // Extract the parameters from the hash
            char[] delimiter = { ':' };
            string[] split = goodHash.Split(delimiter);
            int iterations = Int32.Parse(split[ITERATION_INDEX]);
            byte[] salt = Convert.FromBase64String(split[SALT_INDEX]);
            byte[] hash = Convert.FromBase64String(split[PBKDF2_INDEX]);

            byte[] testHash = PBKDF2(password, salt, iterations, hash.Length);
            return SlowEquals(hash, testHash);

        /// Compares two byte arrays in length-constant time. This comparison
        /// method is used so that password hashes cannot be extracted from
        /// on-line systems using a timing attack and then attacked off-line.
        ///<param name="a">The first byte array.</param>
        ///<param name="b">The second byte array.</param>
        ///<returns>True if both byte arrays are equal. False otherwise.</returns>
        private static bool SlowEquals(byte[] a, byte[] b)
            uint diff = (uint)a.Length ^ (uint)b.Length;
            for (int i = 0; i < a.Length && i < b.Length; i++)
                diff |= (uint)(a[i] ^ b[i]);
            return diff == 0;

        /// Computes the PBKDF2-SHA1 hash of a password.
        ///<param name="password">The password to hash.</param>
        ///<param name="salt">The salt.</param>
        ///<param name="iterations">The PBKDF2 iteration count.</param>
        ///<param name="outputBytes">The length of the hash to generate, in bytes.</param>
        ///<returns>A hash of the password.</returns>
        private static byte[] PBKDF2(string password, byte[] salt, int iterations, int outputBytes)
            Rfc2898DeriveBytes pbkdf2 = new Rfc2898DeriveBytes(password, salt);
            pbkdf2.IterationCount = iterations;
            return pbkdf2.GetBytes(outputBytes);

Ruby (on Rails) Password Hashing Code

PHP Source Code Java Source Code ASP.NET (C#) Source Code Ruby (on Rails) Source Code

The following is a secure implementation of salted PBKDF2 password hashing in Ruby. The code is
public domain, so you may use it for any purpose whatsoever.

Download PasswordHash.rb

require 'securerandom'
require 'openssl'
require 'base64'

# Salted password hashing with PBKDF2-SHA1.
# Authors: RedragonX (, havoc AT
# www:
module PasswordHash

  # The following constants can be changed without breaking existing hashes.


  # Returns a salted PBKDF2 hash of the password.
  def self.createHash( password )
    salt = SecureRandom.base64( SALT_BYTES )
    pbkdf2 = OpenSSL::PKCS5::pbkdf2_hmac_sha1(
    return ["sha1", PBKDF2_ITERATIONS, salt, Base64.encode64( pbkdf2 )].join( SECTION_DELIMITER )

  # Checks if a password is correct given a hash of the correct one.
  # goodHash must be a hash string generated with createHash.
  def self.validatePassword( password, goodHash )
    params = goodHash.split( SECTION_DELIMITER )
    return false if params.length != HASH_SECTIONS

    pbkdf2 = Base64.decode64( params[HASH_INDEX] )
    testHash = OpenSSL::PKCS5::pbkdf2_hmac_sha1(

    return pbkdf2 == testHash

  # Run tests to ensure the module is functioning properly.
  # Returns true if all tests succeed, false if not.
  def self.runSelfTests
    puts "Sample hashes:"
    3.times { puts createHash("password") }

    puts "\nRunning self tests..."
    @@allPass = true

    correctPassword = 'aaaaaaaaaa'
    wrongPassword = 'aaaaaaaaab'
    hash = createHash(correctPassword)

    assert( validatePassword( correctPassword, hash ) == true, "correct password" )
    assert( validatePassword( wrongPassword, hash ) == false, "wrong password" )

    h1 = hash.split( SECTION_DELIMITER )
    h2 = createHash( correctPassword ).split( SECTION_DELIMITER )
    assert( h1[HASH_INDEX] != h2[HASH_INDEX], "different hashes" )
    assert( h1[SALT_INDEX] != h2[SALT_INDEX], "different salt" )

    if @@allPass
      puts "*** ALL TESTS PASS ***"
      puts "*** FAILURES ***"

    return @@allPass

  def self.assert( truth, msg )
    if truth
      puts "PASS [#{msg}]"
      puts "FAIL [#{msg}]"
      @@allPass = false


Article and code written by Defuse Security.

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