When looking at the poor state of the security industry one of the things we have noticed is that far too often you can get better information from the Wikipedia than you can from many in the security industry.
One re-occuring issue we see is people in the security industry referring to dictionary attacks, which involves trying to log in using common passwords, as being brute force attacks, which involve trying to log in using every possible password. The Wikipedia by comparison manages to accurately describe both dictionary attacks and brute force attack. They even mention the contrast between them:
While looking for some information on the website of security company Checkmarx recently we ran across them not understanding the difference between hashing and encryption.
The last sentence of an article looking at a hack of website is as follows:
Included in the leaked information of the VerticalScope forum and website users were their usernames, user IDs, email addresses and encrypted passwords.
For people that know about password security the use of encrypted passwords would seem rather odd and would indicate things were not being done securely.
Further down the article it goes in to more details.
Finally, a vast majority of the passwords were encrypted using methods that were very easy to break using MD5 with salting and less than a couple million of the 45 million passwords were sufficiently encrypted.
That brings us to the first sentence of the second paragraph of the Wikipedia article on MD5:
Like most hash functions, MD5 is neither encryption nor encoding.
To understand why that matters, it helps to think of hashing as one way encryption. When using that on a password the actual password is converted in to some other text, but unlike encryption you cannot decrypt it. That way even if someone gets a hold of the stored versions of the password, say on a website, they can’t get the original password.
If you wondering how the system then know how if the correct password is being entered in the future, the answer is that the password entered then is run through the hashing algorithm and the result is checked to see if it matches the stored version.
The misuse of the term encryption continues in the article, even being used to promote one of Checkmark’s services:
The Importance of Proper Encryption
VerticalScope attempted to hash their passwords using MD5 with salting which security minded developers agree is an “emphatically poor choice” when it comes to securing passwords. First designed in 1992, the MD5 algorithm is a hash function which produces a 128-bit hash value. As early as 1996, flaws were determined in the design of MD5 and in 2005 it became apparent that MD5 was not collision resistant, a key component for a secure encryption algorithm.
How to Ensure Proper Encryption
In addition to avoiding MD5 hashing as your method of choice, it’s important to also avoid SHA-0 since it has been conclusively broken, SHA-1 as well as DES as it can be broken by the average desktop computer’s GPU.
When choosing your encryption method, be sure to focus on using a symmetric algorithm key size that is at least 168 bit and if you’re dealing with financial transactions, use at least 256 bits. Ensuring that your application protects all cryptographic keys within the file system will also help ensure that your encrypted data is not exploited.