When extracting files from an encrypted zip archive, the user is asked to give a password in order to read the original file.

How does an encrypted ZIP detect when the user has given the correct password?

Obviously it does not connect with some backend service, and it doesn't contain the actual password to compare against. So how exactly does it check? Is there some hash of the original password included in the archive? Is it easy to find this hash?


2 Answers 2


The Cyclic Redundancy Check (CRC) field is used to determine whether or not the file is decrypted correctly. Quoted from the original ZIP format specification:

After the header is decrypted, the last 1 or 2 bytes in Buffer SHOULD be the high-order word/byte of the CRC for the file being decrypted, stored in Intel low-byte/high-byte order. Versions of PKZIP prior to 2.0 used a 2 byte CRC check; a 1 byte CRC check is used on versions after 2.0. This can be used to test if the password supplied is correct or not.

Update: As can be seen from Info-ZIP's unzip source code, the CRC value is used to check if the password is correct:


#ifdef ZIP10 /* check two bytes */
    c = hh[RAND_HEAD_LEN-2], b = hh[RAND_HEAD_LEN-1];
      "  (c | (b<<8)) = %04x  (crc >> 16) = %04x  lrec.time = %04x\n",
      (ush)(c | (b<<8)), (ush)(GLOBAL(lrec.crc32) >> 16),
      ((ush)GLOBAL(lrec.last_mod_dos_datetime) & 0xffff))));
    if ((ush)(c | (b<<8)) != (GLOBAL(pInfo->ExtLocHdr) ?
                           ((ush)GLOBAL(lrec.last_mod_dos_datetime) & 0xffff) :
                           (ush)(GLOBAL(lrec.crc32) >> 16)))
        return -1;  /* bad */
    b = hh[RAND_HEAD_LEN-1];
    Trace((stdout, "  b = %02x  (crc >> 24) = %02x  (lrec.time >> 8) = %02x\n",
      b, (ush)(GLOBAL(lrec.crc32) >> 24),
      ((ush)GLOBAL(lrec.last_mod_dos_datetime) >> 8) & 0xff));
    if (b != (GLOBAL(pInfo->ExtLocHdr) ?
        ((ush)GLOBAL(lrec.last_mod_dos_datetime) >> 8) & 0xff :
        (ush)(GLOBAL(lrec.crc32) >> 24)))
        return -1;  /* bad */
    /* password OK:  decrypt current buffer contents before leaving */
    for (n = (long)GLOBAL(incnt) > GLOBAL(csize) ?
             (int)GLOBAL(csize) : GLOBAL(incnt),
         p = GLOBAL(inptr); n--; p++)
    return 0;       /* OK */
  • 1
    With a 1-byte CRC especially (and also with a 2-byte) there will be a high rate of false positives. That's probably for the best, to prevent use of the CRC as an oracle during brute force attacks (although validation of internal structure can also rule out a large fraction of attempts, unless the true content has intentionally inconsistent structure)
    – Ben Voigt
    Dec 12, 2018 at 4:06
  • @BenVoigt I agree, the short CRC actually helps with the security. The fact that the file names are not encrypted will help the attacker to validate the internal structure though. That being said, ZIP encryption is mostly a convenient method for confidentiality, not for security or integrity.
    – Selcuk
    Dec 12, 2018 at 4:10
  • filenames will be somewhat helpful, but I was actually thinking of other information in the file catalog (particularly that offsets and sizes shouldn't extend beyond the length, etc)
    – Ben Voigt
    Dec 12, 2018 at 4:11
  • you can zip twice to hide filenames, adding a password to the "outer zip". It's not just CRC methinks; if the pw is wrong, it will be "corrupt" or non-parse-able.
    – dandavis
    Dec 12, 2018 at 17:36
  • @dandavis Define "corrupt". Any byte sequence is a perfectly valid file. And using zip twice makes it even more vulnerable as the attacker now knows that the inner file must start with the bytes PK as part of zip header.
    – Selcuk
    Dec 12, 2018 at 22:49

How does an encrypted ZIP detect when the user has given the correct password?

Obviously it does not connect with some backend service, and it doesn't contain the actual password to compare against. So how exactly does it check?

Short answer: most zip extraction programs probably don't check the password. They simply attempt to decrypt the data, and possibly check if it looks like real data. Selcuk's answer indicates some programs will probably use a CRC included in the file to get some level of confidence that the data decrypted correctly, but from the "should" and "can be used" in the text it sounds like this is optional (although encouraged) for applications using zip format.

Incidentally this also may allow (partial) data recovery in case of file corruption, as an application could simply ignore the CRC check and extract what it can from the encrypted zip, relying on the user to find the bad files (which could be indistinguishable from a wrong password depending on how the rest of the spec is written).

  • 1
    How can a program check if something "looks like real data" ? Dec 14, 2018 at 16:36
  • Easiest is some checksum in the file. But not required. E.g.: MS Office documents use a zip format internally. I don't know enough about the MS Office format to know if they ever use the zip encryption features, but if they did, they could check that the resulting data after decrypting with a given password is validly formatted for an office document. Other files have similarly strict formatting you can check for. For plaintext format of any kind, for a suitably large file, if there are no unprintable or invalid characters (for the assumed encoding), it's a good chance it's real data. Etc.
    – Ben
    Dec 14, 2018 at 22:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.