.NET makes it pretty simple to work with data encryption with the Cryptography namespace. So there should be no reason to have plain text passwords in your database, like I've seen sooo many times at various companies that I've worked for. And we've read countless times about companies getting hacked, so taking any extra measures to protect your data is important. Or for any of your data encryption needs really. And while I'm not an expert in hashing algorithms and encryption, I know enough to build login systems using them. While the odds of someone taking over your database aren't exactly super high, it is possible, and you want to lower the amount of damage done to your users/clients as much as you can.
The Basic Process
The overall process is relatively simple and will go like this: A user will enter their password on your website, but we won't be storing this password anywhere. Instead we're going to calculate the SHA256 hash and then store that instead. This makes it pretty much impossible to retrieve the users password back, which is what we want. The tiniest change to a string will create unpredictable changes to the resulting SHA256 hash. So when a user attempts to log in to their account, you recalculate the hash with the value that they have entered and compare the result with what's in the database. If both hashes are the same, then bingo, the user is valid.
You don't have to use the SHA256 variation algorithm to encrypt passwords mind you. But you should pick one, any one, and never store the users passwords in plain text. Many websites still do this, and you can tell because when you attempt to retrieve your password, they will send it right back to you no problem. If they were encrypting your passwords properly, this would not be possible.
First off we need to specify the correct namespace to do our work.
We'll need to create a new SHA256 object to work with. However, SHA256 is an abstract class so we will need to use the static class SHA256Managed in order to initialize a SHA256 hash object. We'll be putting the result in a byte array, because that's what the ComputeHash function returns as its calculated value. The byte array will be, you guessed it, 256 bits of data, which translate to a 32 byte array.
We'll also need to create a new object of type UTF8Encoding which will take the string representation of our data and convert it to a byte array using the GetBytes(string) method. So that's alot of setup, but in the end we'll have our hashed result and that's all that matters.
private byte CalculateSHA256(string str)
SHA256 sha256 = SHA256Managed.Create();
UTF8Encoding objUtf8 = new UTF8Encoding();
hashValue = sha256.ComputeHash(objUtf8.GetBytes(str));
Most of the hashing algorithms in .NET will follow the same pattern of creating a new managed object and computing the hash on the byte interpretation of the data.
Storing The Hash
So now that you have a value you'll need to store that sucker in the database. If you're working with SQL Server than you can create a new column with a Data Type of binary(32), because the result is 32 bytes long. If you're working with any other DBMS, than you'll have to lookup the equivalent to a 32 byte array.
So now when a user logs in with their password, you'll start off by calculating a hash for that password and then comparing it with the value that is stored in the database. If both values end up matching then we have a winner.
Adding A Salt
This is totally optional, but recommended to make it harder for would be intruders to figure out your stored passwords. A salt is extra data that is appended to a string before it is encrypted. For example:
With Salt: password1234k44LD8Ew90
The appended string can be any random set of characters that you define and should be different for every user. It's an extra level of protection because the users password alone is not enough to calculate the hashed value. Any attacker would also have to know the users salt in order to compare values.
It's just a few extra steps in order to better protect your websites and you'll feel better knowing that your users are that much more protected and they'll feel better knowing that your website cares about their security.
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Walter Guevara is a Computer Scientist, software engineer, startup founder and currently mentors for a coding bootcamp. He has been creating software for the past 15 years.