The SHA-256 hash function has started getting attention recently by the cryptanalysis community due to the various weaknesses found in its predecessors such as MD4, MD5, SHA-0 and SHA-1. We make two contributions in this work. First we describe message modification techniques and use them to obtain an algorithm to generate message pairs which collide for the actual SHA-256 reduced to 18 steps. Our second contribution is to present differential paths for 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23 steps of SHA-256. We construct parity check equations in a novel way to find these characteristics. Further, the 19-step differential path presented here is constructed by using only 15 local collisions, as against the previously known 19-step near collision differential path which consists of interleaving of 23 local collisions. Our 19-step differential path can also be seen as a single local collision at the message word level. We use a linearized local collision in this work. These results do not cause any threat to the security of the SHA-256 hash function. © 2008 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.