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SHAvisual: A Visualization Tool for the Secure Hash Algorithm

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Information and Network Security

Tagged Division

Computing & Information Technology

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1371.1 - 26.1371.18



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Paper Authors

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Ching-Kuang Shene Michigan Technological University


Chaoli Wang University of Notre Dame

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Dr. Chaoli Wang is an associate professor of computer science and engineering at University of Notre Dame. He received a Ph.D. degree in computer and information science from The Ohio State University in 2006. Prior to joining Notre Dame, he was a postdoctoral researcher at University of California, Davis (2007-2009) and an assistant professor of computer science at Michigan Technological University (2009-2014). Dr. Wang's main research interest is scientific visualization, in particular on the topics of time-varying multivariate data visualization, flow visualization, and information-theoretic algorithms and graph-based techniques for big data analytics. He received the NSF CAREER Award in 2014.

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Jun Tao Michigan Technological University

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Melissa Sue Keranen Michigan Technological University


Jun Ma Michigan Technological University

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Jun Ma is a PhD student of computer science at Michigan Technological University. His research interests include flow visualization, large-scale data analysis and visualization, and mesh processing. He received a BS degree in computer
science from Xidian University, China, in 2006, and a MS degree in computer science from Michigan Technological University in 2009. He is a student member of the IEEE.

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Jean Mayo Michigan Technological University

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Dr. Mayo is a professor in the Department of Computer Science at Michigan Technological University. Her research interests are in the areas of distributed systems, security, and computer science education. She received the PhD in Computer Science from the College of William and Mary. She received the Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Prior to joining Michigan Tech, she worked as a mechanical engineer at Newport News Shipbuilding developing realtime simulations and microprocessor control systems.

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SHAvisual: A Visualization Tool for the Secure Hash AlgorithmData security is vital to the world we live in, and the foundation that securecommunication is built upon is cryptography. Cryptography is a course that isregularly offered at colleges and universities. In our experience, computer sciencestudents find that understanding the sophisticated mathematics behind the crypto-systems is a daunting task, while math majors often get lost in the details of thecomplicated algorithms. Educators need to find a way to help students understandboth what the algorithm does and why the algorithm does it. Visualization tools canbe an effective way for educators to battle this challenge. This paper describes atool, SHAvisual, that addresses this issue for the secure hash algorithm (SHA). SHAis a family of cryptographic hash functions that the National Institute of Standardsand Technology began publishing in the early 1960’s.SHAvisual is designed to help students learn and instructors teach the SHA-512algorithm. It supports Windows, MacOS and Linux. SHAvisual consists of threemajor components: Demo Mode, Practice Mode and Full Mode. A separate globalview window helps highlight the current procedure in the algorithm pipeline. TheDemo Mode provides a simplified SHA-512 visualization and is useful for theinstructor to demonstrate important operations in the classroom. The PracticeMode is designed for students to learn the detailed computations step by step andperform self-study. With the Practice Mode, the user may go through steps for allcomputations and perform self-study. The user may compute the output of eachoperation and check for correctness. This helps students learn the primitiveoperations and how they are used in the SHA-512 cipher. A test report systems alsohelps the instructor verify the learning effectiveness. The Full Mode is a full versionof the SHA-512 cipher. It takes a plaintext as input and generates the encrypteddigest message with major intermediate results shown. The next page includesseveral screenshots of SHAvisual in operation.SHAvisual was classroom tested in a Computer Security course. We collected 24valid survey forms from two disciplines: 19 in computer science and softwareengineering (CS) and 5 in computer and electrical engineering (ECE). The surveyform included 12 rating questions and 11 write-in questions. Because the samplesize was small, we were not able to perform a control-treatment type testing.However, the comprehensive questions did compensate for this weakness. Majorfindings of this survey include, but are not limited to, the following: (1) studentsindicated SHAvisual helped them understand SHA better; (2) both the Demo Modeand Practice Mode had positive impact on student learning; (3) more than 67% ofthe students used SHAvisual for over an hour while a quarter of them used it 30minutes to one hour; and (4) a MANOVA analysis suggested that the studentreactions were generally independent of the time spent on using the software.Write-in comments also verified that SHAvisual did help students learn and theinstructor teach the SHA algorithm effectively. 1Message Generation of the Demo Mode Workflow Overview of the Demo Mode Operations of Words Generation Words Generation of the Demo ModeCompression Function of the Demo Mode Round Detail of the Demo Mode Completion Report of the Practice Mode Practice Mode of SHAvisual 2

Shene, C., & Wang, C., & Tao, J., & Keranen, M. S., & Ma, J., & Mayo, J. (2015, June), SHAvisual: A Visualization Tool for the Secure Hash Algorithm Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24708

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