MD5 Features and Functionality

Defined in RFC 1321, MD5 (Message Digest algorithm 5), with its 128-bit hash value, has been employed in a wide variety of security applications. It is also commonly used to check the integrity of files. An MD5 hash typically is expressed as a 32-character hexadecimal number.

Figure 13-3 shows a single MD5 operation. In practice, MD5 consists of 64 of these operations. These are grouped in four rounds of 16 operations. In this figure, F is a nonlinear function; one function is used in each round. Mi denotes a 32-bit block of the message input, and Ki denotes a 32-bit constant, which is different for each operation.

Key Topic

Figure 13-3 MD5 Algorithm

Single MD5 Operation

A

B

C

D

Figure 13-3 MD5 Algorithm

F = a nonlinear function; one function is used in each of the 64 rounds.

M = a 32-bit block of the message input.

K = a 32-bit constant, different for each operation.

A

B

C

D

Ronald Rivest designed MD5 in 1991 as a replacement for the earlier MD4 hash function. Five years later, in 1996, a flaw was found in the design of MD5. Although this flaw was not a fatal weakness, the cryptography community began recommending the use of other algorithms, such as SHA-1. Ironically, the widely used SHA-1 algorithm has since been shown to be vulnerable as well, as noted earlier. In 2004, researchers discovered more serious flaws in the algorithm, calling into question the use of the algorithm for certain security purposes.

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