Message Digest 5 and Secure Hash Algorithm

Several hashing algorithms are available. The two discussed here are MD5 and SHA. There is a slight, unknown difference between SHA and SHA-1. NSA released SHA and then later discovered a flaw (undisclosed). NSA fixed it, and called the new version SHA-1. In this guide, SHA refers to SHA-1 also.

Message hashing is an encryption technique that ensures that a message or data has not been tampered with or modified. MD5 message hashing is supported on Cisco IOS routers. A variable-length message is taken, the MD5 algorithm is performed (for example, the enable secret password command), and a final fixed-length hashed output message called a message digest is produced. MD5 is defined in RFC 1321.

Figure 4-6 displays the MD5 message operation.

Figure 4-6 MD5 Operation

Clear Text message of variable length "Hello, it's me"

MD5 hash algorithm applied here.

Unreadable message is now hashed, fixed length.

4w5645968234t43ty34t5n 45y654y67365346316464n

Figure 4-6 displays the simple clear-text message, "Hello, it's me," which can be of any variable length. This message is sent to the MD5 process, where the clear-text message is hashed and a fixed-length, unreadable message is produced. The data can include routing updates or username/ password pairings, for example. MD5 produces a 128-bit hash output.

SHA is the newer, more secure version of MD5, and Hash-based Message Authentication (HMAC) provides further security with the inclusion of a key exchange. SHA produces a 160-bit hash output, making it even more difficult to decipher. SHA follows the same principles as MD5 and is considered more CPU-intensive.

For more details on Cisco IOS encryption capabilities, visit the following website:

http://www.cisco.com/en/US/products/sw/iosswrel/products_ios_cisco_ios_software _releases.html

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