I was attempting to explain public key cryptography to a layman the other day which requires an explanation of a trap door function. While I do know in principle what a trap door function is, I have to admit the specific mathematical properties behind the prime factorization problem and the ECC problem are beyond me.

Is there a simple example that can be used to exemplify a trap door function? I was thinking of squares and square roots, since squares are easily computed but square roots, in a way, require guided brute force.


The most basic answer is simply factorization. It's easy to compute the product of two prime numbers. It would take a minute or two, but you can calculate on pen and paper that 1093*1039=1,135,627. Going the other way is much harder. If I just gave you the number 1,135,627 and asked you what two numbers I multiplied to get that number, it might take you hours of trial factorization with pen and paper to factor it. To do it quickly you'd need a computer.

But if I asked you to factor 15, you'd quickly answer 5 and 3. So the difficulty of factoring goes up as the primes go up in value. If the two primes are chosen sufficiently large even a computer, or even thousands of computers aren't sufficient to arrive at the two factors.

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