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If I understand correctly, a HMAC is basically a keyed hash. Just a general yes or no question but is a keyed hash (HMAC) basically a rainbow table resistant hash? This is because you can't decrypt the 'encryption' with the key, only encrypt. So you could only make a rainbow table with the key.

If so, would it be a good idea to make a password database with HMACs instead of hashes as even if they do find the key in your code they would have to construct their own rainbow table.

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I see two qualities of a "rainbow table resistant hash"

  1. Pre-computation of hashes very expensive. The attacker cannot just hash every word in the dictionary, they have to hash every word in the dictionary with every possible salt. This grows exponentially with the size of the salt.
  2. You want to make it so that calculations attacking one user do not help you in attacking a another user. So if the attacker steals your hashes, if they break one user's password, that doesn't help them break anyone else's password.

Using HMAC with one global key gets you the first quality, but not the second. If they are able to break one user's password, they have (with high probability) also found your global key. Now breaking other users' passwords is much easier. In essence, what you are proposing is using (a global) pepper with no salt*.

So say you decide to add some salt into the mix and still want to use HMAC. I still wouldn't recommend that. HMAC is very easy to calculate and can scale well with powerful hardware. Instead, you want something that is slow on very powerful hardware. Something like PBKDF2 (which actually uses HMAC under the hood) or bcrypt. See here for more discussion on password hashing algorithms and how they compare.

* You could put it all on some grilled blowfish for a tasty treat, but that might be a question for another site.

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  • $\begingroup$ So, would this be more secure? HMAC with some key a hash of a password + salt? $\endgroup$
    – user44915
    Mar 10, 2017 at 22:11
  • $\begingroup$ @JustRayz more secure than what? Than, the original proposal, perhaps. More secure than PBKDF2 or bcrypt with a high work factor? Probably not. $\endgroup$
    – mikeazo
    Mar 10, 2017 at 23:51

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