Table of Contents
    Home / Definitions / SHA-256
    Security 3 min read

    SHA-256 is an algorithm used for hash functions and is a vital component of contemporary cybersecurity. It is part of the Secure Hash Algorithm 2 (SHA-2), which was created by the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2001. The name SHA-256 refers to the 256-bit long output value of the hash function. 

    What Is SHA-256?

    SHA-256 can best be understood as a collection of cryptographic hash functions. A hash function, also referred to as digest or fingerprint, is like a unique signature for a data file or text. 

    It cannot be read or decrypted, as it only allows for a one-way cryptographic function. This allows hashing to be used for the verification of files, digital signatures, secure messages, and other applications.

    How Does SHA-256 Work?

    There are several steps involved in using SHA-256, including pre-processing a file or text into binary, initializing hash values and round constants, creating a message schedule, compressing, modifying final values, and completing a string concatenation to get all the bits together. 

    SHA-256 is one of the most secure and popular hash algorithms. It can be used to scramble and manipulate data irreversibility, which means the input cannot be derived from the 256-bits-long output of SHA-256. 

    Is SHA-256 an Improvement in Hashing?

    SHA-256 is one of the most secure hashing functions when compared to other hashing functions. Some U.S. government agencies are required to protect certain sensitive data with SHA-256. The highly secure structure of the SHA-256 hash makes it a strong barrier against cyberattacks. For example, a brute-force attack would need to make 2256 attempts to get to the initial data, which is more than the number of atoms in the universe.

    Is SHA-256 Still Being Used?

    SHA-256 is still relevant and is being used today in various applications, including blockchain, cryptocurrency, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates, and more. 

    In blockchain and cryptocurrency applications, SHA-256 is used for proof of work, mining, and creation of cryptocurrency addresses. SHA-256 is part of the process required by the miner to produce hash values for new blocks that are created. Similarly, SHA-256 is required for the public key required to create new Bitcoin addresses.

    The SSL certificate is a type of security technology used to establish an encrypted link between a client and a server. It allows for secure communication for web services and websites. The SSL certification contains certain cryptographic elements that use SHA-256, which has become the industry standard.

    Interested in SHA-256 and other trending cybersecurity solutions? Learn more in the TechnologyAdvice Buyer’s Guide to Security Software.