Paper 2023/1086

On One-way Functions and the Worst-case Hardness of Time-Bounded Kolmogorov Complexity

Yanyi Liu, Cornell Tech
Rafael Pass, Tel-Aviv University & Cornell Tech

Whether one-way functions (OWF) exist is arguably the most important problem in Cryptography, and beyond. While lots of candidate constructions of one-way functions are known, and recently also problems whose average-case hardness characterize the existence of OWFs have been demonstrated, the question of whether there exists some \emph{worst-case hard problem} that characterizes the existence of one-way functions has remained open since their introduction in 1976. In this work, we present the first ``OWF-complete'' promise problem---a promise problem whose worst-case hardness w.r.t. $\BPP$ (resp. $\Ppoly$) is \emph{equivalent} to the existence of OWFs secure against $\PPT$ (resp. $\nuPPT$) algorithms. The problem is a variant of the Minimum Time-bounded Kolmogorov Complexity problem ($\mktp[s]$ with a threshold $s$), where we condition on instances having small ``computational depth''. We furthermore show that depending on the choice of the threshold $s$, this problem characterizes either ``standard'' (polynomially-hard) OWFs, or quasi polynomially- or subexponentially-hard OWFs. Additionally, when the threshold is sufficiently small (e.g., $2^{O(\sqrt{n})}$ or $\poly\log n$) then \emph{sublinear} hardness of this problem suffices to characterize quasi-polynomial/sub-exponential OWFs. While our constructions are black-box, our analysis is \emph{non- black box}; we additionally demonstrate that fully black-box constructions of OWF from the worst-case hardness of this problem are impossible. We finally show that, under Rudich's conjecture, and standard derandomization assumptions, our problem is not inside $\coAM$; as such, it yields the first candidate problem believed to be outside of $\AM \cap \coAM$, or even ${\bf SZK}$, whose worst case hardness implies the existence of OWFs.

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Publication info
One-way functionsKolmogorov complexityWorst-case assumptions
Contact author(s)
yl2866 @ cornell edu
rafaelp @ tau ac il
2023-09-05: revised
2023-07-12: received
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      author = {Yanyi Liu and Rafael Pass},
      title = {On One-way Functions and the Worst-case Hardness of Time-Bounded Kolmogorov Complexity},
      howpublished = {Cryptology ePrint Archive, Paper 2023/1086},
      year = {2023},
      note = {\url{}},
      url = {}
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