Understanding Password Protection: The Power of Salt and Hash

Published Categorized as Guide

In the realm of cybersecurity, password protection methods like Diceware, password managers, and two-factor authentication have taken the limelight. However, there’s another crucial side to this story – what measures do apps and websites implement to safeguard your passwords? Today, we delve into the realm of password salting and how it serves as a stalwart guardian against potential attacks. To grasp the concept of salting, we must first understand hashing, and to do that, let’s explore the pitfalls of plaintext.

The Pitfalls of Plaintext Passwords

In cryptography, “plaintext” refers to data sitting in a file, like a text file or spreadsheet, unaltered and fully readable. Storing passwords in plaintext is a glaring security flaw, yet it occasionally happens even at prominent platforms like Google. While encryption might seem like a solution, it merely shifts the problem, as encrypted data requires a key, leading to an endless loop of securing keys with more keys. Enter hashing.

Demystifying Password Hashing

A hash function, an algorithm that transforms any password into a seemingly random string of bits, is the cornerstone of password hashing. Unlike encryption, hashing is a one-way function with no reversible process. Picture it as adding up the digits in a large number – easy to get a sum, but impossible to reverse. Hashing also adds length, acting as a defense against brute-force attacks.

Popular hashing algorithms like SHA-256 and MD5 play a pivotal role, ensuring that the hashed password remains a fixed length, irrespective of the original password’s length. Storing passwords as hashes, rather than plaintext, empowers websites to verify correctness without needing to know the actual password. It’s the reason behind those occasions when you forget a password, and the website prompts you to create a new one – a result of hashing.

Is Hashing Alone Sufficient?

Hashing, while a robust defense, isn’t foolproof. Rainbow table attacks, a relative of brute-force attacks, exploit password reuse and identical hashes. These attacks start with a pre-existing list of common passwords and their hashes. Users can mitigate this risk by using unique passwords for every account. However, apps and websites can take an additional step to safeguard against such attacks – password salting.

The Magic of Password Salting

A salt, a unique randomly generated string, becomes the hero in password salting. Added to the beginning or end of a password, it transforms the hash function result into a salted hash. Salting mitigates password reuse issues by ensuring that different salts result in different hashes. The beauty lies in the fact that salts can be stored with hashes, enhancing security without jeopardizing the original password.

Even if an attacker knows the salt corresponding to a hash, reversing the process to obtain the original password remains an insurmountable challenge, provided the salts are long and unique. While salting addresses the reused password problem, it’s crucial not to assume that all apps and websites implement proper salting measures.

Can You Safely Reuse Passwords with Salting?

Unfortunately, no. While salted hashes provide an added layer of protection, assuming every app or website salting their databases correctly is a risky gamble. The best defense against attacks remains generating unique, random passwords for each online account. And the most efficient way to achieve this? A password manager.


  1. What is the purpose of password hashing?
    • Password hashing transforms passwords into a secure, irreversible format, protecting them from unauthorized access.
  2. How does salting enhance password security?
    • Salting involves adding a unique string to passwords before hashing, preventing rainbow table attacks and enhancing overall security.
  3. Can apps and websites always protect against rainbow table attacks with salting?
    • While salting provides robust protection, it’s essential not to assume that every platform implements salting effectively.
  4. Why shouldn’t users reuse passwords, even with salting in place?
    • Salting mitigates risks, but users should always generate unique passwords for each account to ensure maximum security.
  5. What is the recommended solution for secure password management?
    • The best defense against attacks is to use a password manager, generating and storing unique, random passwords for each account.

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