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Primed For Security

There’s a new number in its “prime”, and it’s really rather special at 22 million digits long. It’s so special that countless mathematicians around the globe are involved in the on-going battle to discover even greater versions of it.

The recent discovery of the world’s largest prime number (a number only divisible by itself and one), as of January 2016, at the University of Central Missouri, is in itself a tribute to humanity’s continued search for the understanding and application of knowledge.

To be certain, this new number isn’t making its way into a Sudoku puzzle anytime soon. Even assuming you didn’t need to eat, sleep or generally live like a normal human being, it would still take you 4 months simply to say it out loud.

The largest prime number discovered may not have any use (yet), but it has its roots in the right place

So what use is it? Well there are many wonderful attributes to primes, the most intriguing of which is the rather grand sounding “fundamental theorem of arithmetic.” Put (very) simply, it means any whole number can be produced multiplying prime numbers together. The number 20? Simply, 2x2x5. The number 21? 3×7.

There are all sorts of shiny number games mathematicians could use to explain this, but if all this is starting to sound a little bit, well, cryptic, then consider this: prime numbers are a vital element of global data security. Welcome to the world of cryptography.

This infographic shows how prime numbers are used to keep your data safe:

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