SHA vs MD5: Difference and Comparison

The standard conversion limit for MD5 is 128 bits. This is applicable to input messages of any length. However, SHA is quite diversified.

SHA can convert an input message with a maximum length of 264 – to – 2128 bits into a 160- 512 bits output message digest. This seminal dissimilarity between the two algorithms highlights further crevices between the two.

Key Takeaways

  1. SHA (Secure Hash Algorithm) is more secure than MD5 (Message Digest Algorithm 5) for cryptographic purposes because it produces a longer and more complex hash.
  2. SHA is used in more modern applications and is recommended by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), while MD5 is considered outdated and vulnerable to attacks.
  3. SHA can be used for digital signatures and data integrity checks, while MD5 is only suitable for data integrity checks.

SHA vs MD5

The difference between SHA and MD5 is that SHA was invented by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the United States to create condensed message digests. At the same time, MD5 was ideated by Ron Rivest with the view to condense files to a 128-bit hash value.

SHA vs MD5

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonSHAMD5
DefinitionSHA is a cryptographic hash function algorithm created by NIST to facilitate the creation of message digests.MD5 was created by Ron Rivest and is used to convert messages of indiscriminate length into 128-bit message digests.
Full FormThe abbreviation SHA stands for Secure Hash Algorithm.The abbreviation MD5 stands for Message Digest.
Maximum Message LengthSHA can convert a message of 264 – to – 2128 bits to form a 160- 512 bit message digest.MD5 can convert messages of any length into a 128-bit message digest.
SecurityAs a cryptographic hash algorithm, SHA is more secure than MD5.MD5 is less secure than SHA, an improved SHA-1 version.
SpeedThe original version of the algorithm is slower than MD5. However, its subsequent instalments, like SHA-1, offer much more enhanced speeds.MD5 is faster than the original SHA version.
VulnerabilityLess vulnerable to cyber threats and hacker attacks.More vulnerable to cyber threats and hacker attacks.
Number of AttacksFewer attacks have been able to breach the algorithm.Several severe attacks have been reported.
Uses TodayUsed in applications like SSH, SSL, etc.MD5’s usage is mostly limited to verifying the integrity of files due to its poor security protocols.

What is SHA?

SHA stands for Secure Hash Algorithm. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) initially developed and engineered it. SHA signifies a conglomerate of secured cryptographic hash functions specified under the Secure Hash Standard (SHS).


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The various versions of the algorithm include the advanced models of SHA-1, SHA-256, SHA-384, and SHA-512. The original version was equipped with a 10-bits hash function.

It was soon replaced with the new and improved SHA-1 version. The later versions of the algorithm also provide one-way hash functions that process a message with a maximum length of 264 – to – 2128 bits. This is condensed to form a 160- 512 bit message digest.

The security protocols of this algorithm and its improved variants are much more comprehensive and formidable than the other market competitors. The vulnerability protection provided by the algorithm is unparalleled.

What is MD5?

MD5 connotes the hashing algorithm known as Message Digest. It was created as a cryptographic hash algorithm by Ron Rivest. The MD5 version was created to improve the offerings of its predecessor –MD4.

The crux of the algorithm is based on a compression function that, in turn, operates on blocks. MD5 takes input messages of varying lengths and converts them into a 128-bits ‘fingerprint’ or ‘message digest’.

Thus, the algorithm can produce a 128-bit hash value from a capricious string length.

Although the MD5 version improves over its predecessor’s security concerns, it does not embody extremely formidable security protocols. MD5 has been widely critiqued for its intense vulnerability issues.

The algorithm does not offer much security to the user. Today, it is frequently used to determine the integrity of files rather than mainly its hashing functions.

Main Differences Between SHA and MD5

  1. The main difference between SHA and MD5 is that SHA connotes a cryptographic hash function developed by NIST, while MD5 is a commonly used hash function that produces a 128-bit hash value from a file with a varying string length.
  2. Each abbreviation represents a different full form. SHA stands for the Secure Hash Algorithm, while MD5 stands for the Message-Digest Algorithm.
  3. The maximum condensation length for each algorithm is different. SHA can process an input message with a maximum length of 264 – to – 2128 bits. This is condensed to form a 160- 512 bit message digest. At the same time, MD5 can take a message of any length and condense it into a 128-bit message digest.
  4. SHA is comparatively more secure as a cryptographic hash algorithm than MD5.
  5. The MD5 algorithm is much faster than the SHA version. However, the optimized SHA1 version was developed as an improvement over the initial algorithm and is considerably faster than MD5.
  6. Several serious attacks have been reported over the MD5 algorithm, while the SHA version- especially the improved variants- reports fewer attacks.
  7. The MD5 algorithm is more susceptible to cyber threats and hacker attacks, as its interface is easier to crack than the more improved SHA versions like SHA-1.
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