This Standard specifies secure hash algorithms -SHA-1, SHA-224, SHA-256, SHA-384, SHA-512, SHA-512/224 and SHA-512/256 -for computing a condensed representation of electronic data (message).
When a message of any length less than 2^64 bits (for SHA-1, SHA-224 and SHA-256) or less than 2^128 bits (for SHA-384, SHA-512, SHA-512/224 and SHA-512/256) is input to a hash algorithm, the result is an output called a message digest. The message digests range in length from 160 to 512 bits, depending on the algorithm. Secure hash algorithms are typically used with other cryptographic algorithms, such as digital signature algorithms and keyed-hash message authentication codes, or in the generation of random numbers (bits).
The hash algorithms specified in this Standard are called secure because, for a given algorithm, it is computationally infeasible 1) to find a message that corresponds to a given message digest, or 2) to find two different messages that produce the same message digest. Any change to a message will, with a very high probability, result in a different message digest. This will result in a verification failure when the secure hash algorithm is used with a digital signature algorithm or a keyed-hash message authentication algorithm.
SOURCE: FIPS 180-4
Specification for a secure hash algorithm that can generate a condensed message representation called a message digest.