How To Become A Cryptographer

Learn What To Expect As A Cryptographer

Do you know how sensitive data and messages are kept safe from intruders?

Have you ever wondered how your credit card number remains safe from prying eyes when you use it for online shopping?

All of this is possible with Cryptography that is an art of writing and cracking encrypted data. Needless to say, a person who does cryptography is known as a cryptographer.

With ever-increasing data, there are serious concerns for its security. Hence, the field of cryptography is getting wider with every passing second. This resulted in rising demand for professional cryptographers, making it a go-to career choice in 2020.

Following the trend, if you want to pursue this profession, this article will provide you with all the information you are looking for.

What Does A Cryptographer Do?
Roles & Responsibilities

Before choosing cryptography as a career, you need a clear picture of what a cryptographer does. In a nutshell, cryptographers make the internet a safer place by creating multiple methods for data encryption and decryption.

Cryptographers encrypt and decrypt codes, puzzles, and cryptograms. They are responsible for analyzing and interpreting the data. Cryptographers have the following domains:

  • Cryptologists
  • Cryptanalysts

Everything falls into place when these two work side-by-side. Cryptologists create algorithms, ciphers, and security protocols for data encryption. On the other hand, cryptanalysts decrypt encrypted data to extract information.

Where do they work

Cryptographers work for organizations that require highly secure communication and data transmission.

  • They keep the highly classified military data secure for the government.
  • For healthcare organizations, they keep the integrity of electronic personal health records and medical reports.
  • For financial organizations such as banks and insurance companies, they ensure safety and security of all financial information such as bank details.

All these organizations have some information that they don’t want anyone to know except for the authorized personnel. However, they still need to share that information through email or any other electronic media.

For this, they need cryptographers to convert their classified information into gibberish for the untrained eye.

A cryptologist helps in securing their data by building encryption protocols. And a cryptanalyst decodes that data and extracts information for them. However, a cryptographer doesn’t have to be one of these two. He can work as a cryptologist and cryptanalyst at the same time.

Along with creating new algorithms, a cryptographer also examines existing encryption systems to identify flaws and vulnerabilities. He creates and tests new cryptology solutions, theories, and techniques by the implementation of new or old encryption algorithms.

Also, he works on finding gaps in an organization’s security protocol and fills it. A cryptographer is a huge asset for a company requiring high levels of confidentiality. He protects individuals, businesses, and organizations from security breaches.

WhatsApp Encryption Algorithm

An easy-to-understand example would be the WhatsApp encryption system. If you have used WhatsApp, you would know that it keeps reminding you that your chats are end-to-end encrypted. This saves your chats, documents, and shared media from falling into the wrong hands.

To create this encryption algorithm, WhatsApp hired a team of cryptographers. They created an encryption key that secures every message from the wrong person.

As cybersecurity leaders, we have to create our message of influence because security is a culture and you need the business to take place and be part of that security culture.

If you think that a CISO’s job ends here, think again. A chief information security officer has to manage security mishaps, research into new safety plans, oversee updates, and ensure that new company procedures do not compromise the protective policies. Moreover, a CISO is also responsible for forecasting security budgets, allotting resources, carrying out audits, ensuring proper law practices, and creating appropriate channels for remote workers.

Job Requirements
Getting Started

What makes a great vulnerability assessor

Cryptography isn’t a simple career. Every organization has different sets of security issues and demands. Hence, each job is different. Therefore, you cannot fit a hundred percent into every job’s requirement. There will be a lot to learn on the go.

However, there are some basic job requirements that you can take care of. Focus on these, and you will end up landing one of your dream posts.

Skills 

Since it is a technical post, there are a few hard skills that you will need to learn to become a successful cryptographer. These skills include:

  • High-level understanding of advanced algebra
  • Expert-level command over encryption theories and algorithms
  • Fluency in all major programming languages such as Python, Jave, C, C#, C++
  • Fundamental knowledge of complexity theory, number theory, and information theory
  • High-level expertise in data structures, theories, and algorithms
  • Understanding of symmetric-key cryptography algorithms
  • Fundamental knowledge of symmetric encryption, hash functions, and message authentication

Along with these hard skills, to become a successful cryptographer, you will need some soft skills too. As this isn’t a one-man job, you will probably be working with a team. Here is what you need to be a perfect team member:

  • Leadership qualities
  • Team management
  • Communication skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Critical and analytical thinking

Education

We understand that some of the above-mentioned hard skills are quite difficult to attain in a short time. However, with the right educational background, this might not become a problem for you. A bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering, Computer Science, or a related Computer-Mathematics field will become the building block of your cryptography career.

Basically, all degrees whose coursework includes fundamental knowledge on Mathematics, Computer, and IT Systems, programming languages, and algorithms can begin your career in cryptography. Then, you can attain a master’s degree that focuses more on cryptography subjects.

You can also pursue a math-major degree alongside a computer-related course, hence performing a double-major. This will help you in getting a better understanding of abstract algebra, data structures, and algorithms.

During college, you should try to work on a lot of projects and internships to get hands-on experience. This will greatly help you in gaining the expertise and knowledge to land your first job as a cryptographer.

Keep in mind that many employers prefer hiring someone with a master’s or Ph.D. degree. Hence, do not stop at a bachelor’s degree. Someone with higher education will always get preference over you.

Experience

This highly depends on the company’s size and exact job requirements. Those companies which require highly personalized skillset, look for individuals with at least five years of experience in IT and computer security.

However, some companies might ask for one-to-two years of experience. This also depends on the job level. If it is an entry-level job, they might even consider people with zero-to-six months experience too. However, there is no compromise on the skill-set.

Entry-level jobs such as IS analysts, software programmers, CS analysts, etc. count as a valid experience. Familiarity with IT security software and hardware systems is a plus. A mid-level post such as network administrator, CS administrator, or IT manager can also count as extended experience.

In short, if you have a relevant degree and a little cybersecurity or IT experience, you have a future in cryptography.

Certifications

If you are worried about not having the right set of skills or experience, you can always get a certification. Relevant certifications act as a catalyst for you.

Even if you are highly skilled, you should consider getting a few of these, just to up your game. It will help you in standing out and scoring that promotion you always had eyes on.

Certifications especially help when you want a specific position in a specific organization. Look at the job requirements and find out which skill you are falling short off. Then, try to look for relevant licenses and certifications to hit the bull’s eye.

Also, if you are already on a good post, keep getting certifications as they will always add to your resume. Remember that there is always a better opportunity out there. These certifications will help you in landing that opportunity.

For a successful career in cryptography, you can consider getting these certifications:

Career Path For A Cryptographer
Moving On

In a report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated around 546,200 positions for cryptographers would emerge in the next decade. This is mainly due to ever-increasing threats to the cybersecurity of sensitive organizations.

Be it government agencies, banks, or private institutions; cryptographers remain a crucial team member for all of them to keep their data safe and secure.

Hence, expecting a lot of opportunities isn’t living in a fool’s paradise. From entry-level jobs to mid-rank and executive posts, cryptography seems to only be gaining popularity in the future.

The career path of a cryptographer will start with a strong skill in mathematics. Remember that maths is the cornerstone of cryptography. Without it, there are no ciphers and encryption/decryption algorithms. Polish your maths skills as much as you can.

Then, pursue a degree in computer science that can add to your IT skills and make you proficient in programming languages. You can go on and get a master’s degree, or you can find a paid or unpaid internship as a cryptographer to start your career officially.

Although, we would recommend getting a master’s degree anyway as most organizations look for a graduate for this post. Entry-level cryptographer jobs include Signal Analyst, Message Decoder, Data Decoder, etc.

Some higher-level cryptography jobs include Encryption Expert, Crypto Research Professional, Security Director, Security Consultant, Cryptography Professor, etc.

There is no specific name for the highest post in the career of cryptography. Every company has its own set of names for the posts of cryptographers.

Expected Salary For A Cryptographer
Average Earnings

With a projected growth of 12% in employment from 2018 to 2028, CS and IT careers are set for huge gains. According to one of PayScale reports, an average salary for a cryptographer is $102k.

Similarly, ZipRecruiter shows that cryptography is one of the highly-paid jobs with an average salary of $145,356. It also says that entry-level cryptographers make around $109,500, whereas executive cryptography jobs pay around $189,500 to $197,500.

According to another website, SimpleHired.com, the average salary of a cryptographer is $79,476.

A very important factor to consider is that this salary greatly depends on your qualifications, post and the company you are working in.

For example, there is a huge demand for cryptographers in high-security government departments, IT businesses, and financial corporations.

The National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) require cryptographers to secure classified military data, to keep the integrity of national security, and to protect cybersecurity systems.

Now, cryptographers working at NSA or DOD are set to earn more than cryptographers working at private businesses, banks, or healthcare institutions.

FAQs

Is it Hard to Get a Job as a Cryptographer?

With a projected 12% increase in cryptography jobs, you will see a lot of vacancies in the near future. Hence, it will not be that hard to get a job as a cryptographer. However, since it is a technical position, make sure you have the right set of skills and appropriate experience to land a dream job.

Does a Cryptographer Have to Do Coding?

Yes, as a cryptographer, you will have to create encryption and decryption codes. You will also be required to comprehend advanced algebra and maths into computer languages. Hence, you must have a strong grip over coding and decoding.

Conclusion

Since your interest in cryptography brought you here, we see a bright future for you in this field. Start by getting the most appropriate degree and you are all set for a wonderful career.

Cryptographers are super-important. Without them, the internet would be the most dangerous place to be. Hence, if you pick this as a career, you will do good to a lot of people. Whether you work in a government agency or credit card company, you will keep people safe from security breaches.

Moreover, cryptography is super-fun. No one can understand what you can and you will get paid for that. What’s better than that?