The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has announced that the SHA-1 algorithm, one of the first widely used methods of protecting electronic information, has reached the end of its useful life. This algorithm, which has been in use since 1995 as part of the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 180-1, is a slightly modified version of SHA, the first hash function the federal government standardized for widespread use in 1993. As today’s increasingly powerful computers are able to attack the algorithm, NIST has announced that SHA-1 should be phased out by December 31, 2030, in favor of the more secure SHA-2 and SHA-3 groups of algorithms.
Importance of SHA-1
SHA-1, whose initials stand for “secure hash algorithm,” has served as a building block for many security applications such as validating websites, SSL certificates and digital signatures. It secures information by performing a complex mathematical operation on the characters of a message, producing a short string of characters known as a hash. It is impossible to reconstruct the original message from the hash alone, but knowing the hash provides an easy way for a recipient to check whether the original message has been compromised, as even a slight change to the message alters the resulting hash dramatically. However, today’s more powerful computers can create fraudulent messages that result in the same hash as the original, potentially compromising the authentic message. These “collision” attacks have been used to undermine the security of SHA-1 in recent years.
At nGuard, we recommend that organizations still using SHA-1 for security conduct a thorough network and database assessment to identify and address vulnerabilities. Our team of experts can assist with this transition by identifying any instances of SHA-1 usage and recommend a migration plan. Additionally, our web application testing can also lead to the discovery of data hashed with SHA-1, further highlighting the need for an upgrade.
In conclusion, SHA-1 has reached the end of its life, and organizations should consider migrating to the more secure SHA-2 or SHA-3 algorithms as soon as possible. It is important to note that NIST will stop using SHA-1 in its last remaining specified protocols by Dec. 31, 2030. And by that date, NIST plans to:
- Publish FIPS 180-5 (a revision of FIPS 180) to remove the SHA-1 specification.
- Revise SP 800-131A and other affected NIST publications to reflect the planned withdrawal of SHA-1.
- Create and publish a transition strategy for validating cryptographic modules and algorithms.
As a result, modules that still use SHA-1 after 2030 will not be permitted for purchase by the federal government. Companies have eight years to submit updated modules that no longer use SHA-1. Because there is often a backlog of submissions before a deadline, we recommend that developers submit their updated modules well in advance, so that The Cryptographic Module Validation Program (CMVP) has time to respond.