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According to Postgres's documentation, Postgres's password authentication method uses MD5 hashing to secure the password:

The password-based authentication methods are md5 and password. These methods operate similarly except for the way that the password is sent across the connection, namely MD5-hashed and clear-text respectively.

If you are at all concerned about password "sniffing" attacks then md5 is preferred. Plain password should always be avoided if possible. However, md5 cannot be used with the db_user_namespace feature. If the connection is protected by SSL encryption then password can be used safely (though SSL certificate authentication might be a better choice if one is depending on using SSL).

I've heard from numerous sources that the MD5 hashing algorithm is no longer considered secure. Does this mean that I should avoid using password-based authentication for Postgres? If so, which alternative method should I use?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

If using SSL, then what PostgreSQL does is fine. If not using SSL, but still doing the authentication across the network, then what PostgreSQL does stinks. Their games with MD5 are worthless, but not because they use MD5. MD5 has its own issues, but there they are just misusing it awfully.

With "cleartext password" authentication, the client shows a user name and a password, and the server accepts them if they match what the server stored.

With "md5" authentication, the client shows a value (which happens to be the MD5 hash of the concatenation of the password and the user name) and the server accepts it if it matches what the server stored.

So you see it: in both cases, the client shows a bunch of bytes to the server, always the same sequence. It suffices for an attacker to tap on the network to observe these bytes, and then connect to the server and sends the same bytes to be granted entry. That the bytes are the result of a MD5 hash is completely irrelevant here. This MD5 hash is said to be password equivalent. As long as the connection can be eavesdropped at all (i.e. no SSL), then security goes down the drain.

See this page for the details of the MD5 computation. They call it "encryption", which it is not at all (hashing is not encryption).

We could even argue that using this MD5 decreases security: when a plaintext password is used, it can be forwarded to another authentication server (using Kerberos, LDAP,...) and that authentication server could then employ strong storage techniques (see password hashing). With the PostgreSQL-specific MD5 hash, this cannot apply. When the "md5" authentication method is used, it MUST be against a table in the database which contains all these "md5" value as is. An attacker who can get his hands on, say, a backup tape or an old disk, will immediately obtain many free accounts on the database.

And, I insist, nothing in all this has anything to do with MD5 cryptographic weaknesses. All of this would still apply if MD5 was replaced with SHA-512.

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