Summary
In cryptography, a collision attack on a cryptographic hash tries to find two inputs producing the same hash value, i.e. a hash collision. This is in contrast to a where a specific target hash value is specified. There are roughly two types of collision attacks: Classical collision attack Find two different messages m1 and m2 such that hash(m1) = hash(m2). More generally: Chosen-prefix collision attack Given two different prefixes p1 and p2, find two appendages m1 and m2 such that hash(p1 ∥ m1) = hash(p2 ∥ m2), where ∥ denotes the concatenation operation. Mathematically stated, a collision attack finds two different messages m1 and m2, such that hash(m1) = hash(m2). In a classical collision attack, the attacker has no control over the content of either message, but they are arbitrarily chosen by the algorithm. Much like symmetric-key ciphers are vulnerable to brute force attacks, every cryptographic hash function is inherently vulnerable to collisions using a birthday attack. Due to the birthday problem, these attacks are much faster than a brute force would be. A hash of n bits can be broken in 2n/2 time steps (evaluations of the hash function). More efficient attacks are possible by employing cryptanalysis to specific hash functions. When a collision attack is discovered and is found to be faster than a birthday attack, a hash function is often denounced as "broken". The NIST hash function competition was largely induced by published collision attacks against two very commonly used hash functions, MD5 and SHA-1. The collision attacks against MD5 have improved so much that, as of 2007, it takes just a few seconds on a regular computer. Hash collisions created this way are usually constant length and largely unstructured, so cannot directly be applied to attack widespread document formats or protocols. However, workarounds are possible by abusing dynamic constructs present in many formats. In this way, two documents would be created which are as similar as possible in order to have the same hash value.
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