When information is shared on the web, it takes on a different form. In the same way that large files need to be compressed before sharing, pieces of written information need to be condensed into a kind of shorthand in order for computers to be able to quickly communicate with one another. This shorthand system is created via hashing algorithms. For information that’s private and privileged, such as passwords, SHA Hash Algorithms come into play. SHA Hash Algorithms, or “Secure” Hash Algorithms, give computers a way to quickly authenticate and decrypt specific shared information, such as the SSL certificates that we rely upon to get us to the right place rather than being trapped by hackers or fraudulent middlemen. By creating a completely unique hash of a certificate and its signature, SHA Hash Algorithms protect us from giving our protected information to the wrong people. So how do they work, and why is it so important to use the most current versions?

What are the different versions of SHA?

SHAs come in three forms: SHA-1, SHA-2, and SHA-256. SHA-1 is the first iteration of the algorithm, followed by SHA-2, which is seen as an improved and updated version of the first. SHA-256 is another name for SHA-2 and comes with a ton of bit-length variables stemming from the SHA-2 algorithm.


What are the differences between them?

The primary difference between SHA-1 and SHA-2 is the length of the hash. While SHA-1 is the more basic version of the hash providing a shorter code with fewer possibilities for unique combinations, SHA-2 or SHA-256 creates a longer, and thus more complex, hash. In 2015, new SSL certificates with SHA-1 were phased out. By 2016, it became mandatory for SHA-2 to be used for all new certificates. However, some old certificates remain, which is why SHA-1 is still being used to this day.


What if I am using an older version of SHA?

If you’re using SHA-1, you’re not alone. Since the switch to SHA-2 was only made two years ago, there are tons of websites that still communicate using the first version of the hashing algorithm. However, since the SSL industry made a move to switch completely to the more nuanced system presented by SHA-2 and SHA-256, browsers like Chrome, Safari, and Firefox have followed suit.


Why is updating my version of SHA important?

If you’re still using SHA-1, browsers like Google Chrome will issue a warning to users visiting your website that their data may be hacked or given to the wrong person. Since Chrome’s security settings are going to update within the year, these warnings are bound to become more severe. Failing to update your version of SHA could compromise your security standing and cause users to shy away from visiting your site due to enhanced security protocol from Chrome and other browsers. In addition to this warning, your web address will convert from an ‘https’ title to an ‘http’ title, which indicates a lack of security. To avoid traffic loss, update your SHA version as soon as you can.