In the RSA cryptosystem, Wiener, Boneh and Durfee showed that low private exponents can be efficiently recovered. Is it possible to see from a public key alone whether the private exponent (d) is small? Is the public exponent (e) then necessarily large? Is it possible to have a small private exponent when e=65537?

  • $\begingroup$ Is it possible? Sure, if you have a very small modulus. $\endgroup$
    – forest
    Feb 19, 2019 at 10:40
  • $\begingroup$ (a) Yes: by running the Wiener–Boneh–Durfee attack! (b) Yes. (c) No. $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2019 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ Qualification on (b) and (c): large/small relative to the exponent of the group, to fend off the goofy counterexamples of forest and poncho. $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2019 at 19:44

2 Answers 2


When generating keys, $d$ and $e$ are each others modular inverse:

  • $d \times e \equiv 1 \pmod{ \lambda(n)}$
  • $d \times e = 1 + k \times \lambda (n)$

Unless $d = e = 1$, this means that $d \times e$ is at least $\lambda(n)$, otherwise it would not "wrap around" to become $1$. So $k$ is at least $1$:

  • $d \times e \ge 1 + \lambda(n)$

This means that at least one of $d$ and $e$ is at least $\sqrt{1 + \lambda(n)}$, otherwise they wouldn't multiple to be greater.

  • $d \ge \sqrt{\lambda(n)}$, or $e \ge \sqrt{\lambda(n)}$

If we set $e = 65537$, it must be $d$ that is large. It is not possible to have a key with a low private exponent that also has a low public exponent. A key with a low private exponent has to have a public exponent that is at least $\sqrt{\lambda(n)}$.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This gives a criterion for ruling out the possibility of a low private exponent, but not a criterion for recognizing a low private exponent. $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2019 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ A different problem w.r.t. the question is: $\lambda(n)$ can't be determined from the public key, as asked. And it is possible to craft $n$ so that $\lambda(n)$ is much smaller than $n$, or even smaller than $\sqrt[k]n$ for sizable $k$. But if $n$ is the product of two distinct primes, we have $\lambda(n)>\sqrt n-1$ and a slight variant of the reasoning leads to $d>\sqrt n/e$. $\endgroup$
    – fgrieu
    Feb 19, 2019 at 18:32

Sjoerd is quite correct in that we always have either $d \ge \sqrt{\lambda(n)}$ or $e \ge \sqrt{\lambda(n)}$.

I would alternatively express this as $d > p/e$, where $p$ is the largest prime dividing $n$.

And, if we knew we had a normal RSA key, that'd be the answer.

However, there is something called multiprime RSA, where $n$ has 3 or more prime factors. And, we are unable to distinguish normal RSA and multiprime RSA from just the public key.

Once we allow that as a possibility, the bound on $d$ decreases considerably.

If we take it to the extreme, we find this example:

e = 65537
d = 92056403
m = 3*7*11*23*31*43*47*67*71*79*103*131*139*191*211*239*331*419*443*463*547*571*599*647*691*859*911*

This m is a 2228 bit number, yet still has a comparatively small d with the standard e.

Now, such a number must be smooth (as every prime factor must satisfy $p < de$), and so is trivial to factor. However, I believe that is does answer the question "must a small e always imply a large d".


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