Password salting is a technique used in cryptography and computer security to make password storage more secure. It involves adding random data, called a “salt,” to a user’s password before it gets hashed and stored in a database.

Salting prevents attackers from easily using precomputed tables or “rainbow tables” to crack passwords.

You must add salt to almost any dish to enhance its flavor when cooking. In cryptography and computer security, adding salt means putting another layer of protection to your password.

Read More about Password Salting

Given the ubiquity of phishing, password salting has become a must for companies that store employee and customer data on their systems.

How Does Password Salting Work?

Want to know how password salting works? Read on.

  1. Salt generation: This step occurs as soon as users create accounts or change their passwords. The system generates a random and unique salt, typically comprising a random string of characters for each specific user.
  1. Salt and password combination: The salt is then combined with a user’s password before it gets hashed. So, even if two users have the same password, they will have different hashes because of the different salts used.
  1. Salt hashing: The combined salt and password get hashed using a secure cryptographic hash function, such as SHA-256 or bcrypt. The resulting hash gets stored in a database along with the salt.
  1. Salt and hash storage: The salt and resulting hash get stored in a database. The salt is not considered a secret and can be stored alongside the hash.
  1. Password verification: When users attempt to log in to a system, it retrieves their salt and hash from the database. The device then combines the password with the stored salt, hashes it, and checks if the resulting hash matches the stored hash. If they match, the password is valid. If they don’t, the password is incorrect.
Password Salting Steps

What Benefits Does Password Salting Provide?

Password salting provides several benefits, including:

  • Producing unique hashes: Even if two users have the same password, their hashes will differ due to the addition of unique salts, preventing attackers from using rainbow tables.
  • Enhancing resistance to rainbow table attacks: Rainbow tables are precomputed tables of hashes and their corresponding passwords. Salting makes these tables ineffective because the same password will get different hashes for different salts.
  • Increasing security: Salting significantly increases the effort and time attackers need to crack passwords using techniques like brute-force or dictionary attacks.

It’s important to note that while password salting enhances security, it should be used in conjunction with strong cryptographic hash functions and other security practices to create a robust defense against password-related attacks. Using more modern techniques like adaptive hashing functions (e.g., bcrypt or Argon2) is recommended over utilizing older hashing algorithms (e.g., MD5 or SHA-1) due to their increased resistance to various attack methods.

What Systems Can Password Salting Protect?

Any system can benefit from password salting, especially regarding password security. Here are some examples.

  • Online services and websites: Many online services and websites, such as social media platforms, email services, and e-commerce sites, use password salting to protect user accounts.
  • Content management systems (CMSs): Platforms like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal often incorporate password salting to secure user accounts and prevent unauthorized access.
  • Authentication services: Identity and authentication services, including Single Sign-On (SSO) providers, use password salting to safeguard user credentials and ensure secure access to multiple applications using a single set of login credentials.
  • Enterprise applications: Business applications, such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, and collaboration tools, commonly use password salting to protect sensitive corporate data.
  • Online banking and financial services: Financial institutions and online banking services utilize password salting to ensure user account security and sensitive financial information protection.
  • E-commerce platforms: Online shopping platforms employ password salting to safeguard customer accounts, payment information, and transaction histories.
  • Gaming services: Online gaming platforms use password salting to protect player accounts, virtual assets, and in-game purchases.
  • Healthcare systems: Electronic health record (EHR) systems and healthcare applications use password salting to secure patient data and comply with privacy regulations.
  • Cloud services: Cloud service providers use password salting to secure user accounts and access to cloud resources, including virtual machines (VMs), storage devices, and other services.
  • Mobile apps: Mobile apps that require user authentication, such as banking, messaging, and productivity apps, implement password salting to enhance security.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) devices and applications: IoT devices and applications that involve user accounts, such as smart home systems and wearable technologies, may use password salting to protect user data and device access.
  • Educational platforms: Online learning platforms and educational systems use password salting to safeguard student and educator accounts.

While password salting is a widely adopted practice, specific implementations may vary across systems and applications. And as security practices continually evolve, more advanced techniques like using adaptive hashing functions are recommended over traditional ones to enhance security further.

Key Takeaways

  • Password salting is a cryptography and computer security technique to enhance password storage security.
  • The term “salt” in password salting refers to random data added to a password before it gets hashed and stored.
  • Password salting produces unique hashes, enhances resistance to rainbow table attacks, and improves security.