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SHA-2 (Secure Hash Algorithm 2) is a set of cryptographic hash functions designed by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). They are built using the Merkle–Damgård structure, from a one-way compression function itself built using the Davies–Meyer structure from a (classified) specialized block cipher.

SHA-2 includes significant changes from its predecessor, SHA-1. The SHA-2 family consists of six hash functions with digests (hash values) that are 224, 256, 384 or 512 bits: SHA-224, SHA-256, SHA-384, SHA-512, SHA-512/224, SHA-512/256.

SHA-256 and SHA-512 are novel hash functions computed with 32-bit and 64-bit words, respectively. They use different shift amounts and additive constants, but their structures are otherwise virtually identical, differing only in the number of rounds. SHA-224 and SHA-384 are truncated versions of SHA-256 and SHA-512 respectively, computed with different initial values. SHA-512/224 and SHA-512/256 are also truncated versions of SHA-512, but the initial values are generated using the method described in Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) PUB 180-4. SHA-2 was published in 2001 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) a U.S. federal standard (FIPS). The SHA-2 family of algorithms are patented in US patent 6829355. The United States has released the patent under a royalty-free license.

Currently, the best public attacks break preimage resistance for 52 out of 64 rounds of SHA-256 or 57 out of 80 rounds of SHA-512, and collision resistance for 46 out of 64 rounds of SHA-256.

For a hash function for which L is the number of bits in the message digest, finding a message that corresponds to a given message digest can always be done using a brute force search in 2L evaluations. This is called a preimage attack and may or may not be practical depending on L and the particular computing environment. The second criterion, finding two different messages that produce the same message digest, known as a collision, requires on average only 2L/2 evaluations using a birthday attack.

Some of the applications that use cryptographic hashes, such as password storage, are only minimally affected by a collision attack. Constructing a password that works for a given account requires a preimage attack, as well as access to the hash of the original password (typically in the shadow file) which may or may not be trivial. Reversing password encryption (e.g., to obtain a password to try against a user's account elsewhere) is not made possible by the attacks. (However, even a secure password hash cannot prevent brute-force attacks on weak passwords.)