Have you ever wondered how sensitive data and messages are kept away from prying eyes? This is done using cryptography. Cryptography is the practice of writing (or cracking) encryption code which keeps data private. Cryptographers are the individuals who do the writing and cracking of these ciphers.
Cryptographers have made the internet a safer place to conduct tasks such as online shopping and sending private emails. Imagine if every time you shopped online you knew that your credit card numbers were being sent in plain text across the internet for anyone to see. It would probably make you reconsider that purchase. Luckily for all of us, and the online shopping industry, cryptographers have created plenty of methods to encrypt your credit card numbers as they travel over the wire.
In the interest of public safety, it is sometimes necessary for the government to decrypt data that has been encrypted. In order to do this, government agencies such as the FBI, NSA, and CIA employ cryptographers who spend countless hours attempting to decrypt and dissect the ciphers and algorithms used to encrypt data.
Those looking to pursue a career as cryptographer should have extremely strong mathematical and analytical skills. Most cryptographers also have a graduate degree, but in some cases, a bachelor’s degree may suffice for an entry-level position.
Five steps to becoming a cryptographer or cryptologist
1. Focus on math: Math is the cornerstone of cryptography. Ciphers and encryption algorithms do not exist without math. This means that anyone looking to pursue a career in cryptography must possess extremely strong math skills. Anyone wanting to be a cryptographer should spend time perfecting their math skills and even taking refresher classes.
2. Pursue a bachelor’s degree: To obtain a job as a cryptologist, employers will generally require, at the minimum, a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, computer science, or a related field. To be successful in the field of cryptography, most cryptographers will need to go on and pursue a master’s or doctorate degree, but getting a bachelor’s is the first step.
3. Work as an intern: While it may be possible to obtain a cryptography job with a bachelor’s degree, most organizations will require that their cryptographers have a graduate degree. This makes it difficult to gain experience in the field. One alternative option is to look for internships (both paid and unpaid) as a cryptographer.
Internships will not only give you experience which can be used on your resume but will also work as a great tool to continue your learning. Working alongside experienced cryptographers will teach you techniques that may not be taught in the classroom. Landing a paid internship has the added bonus of providing income to pay for your furthering education.
If you are unable to find a job or internship within cryptography with the bachelor’s degree, apply for other related internships and jobs within the fields of mathematics or cybersecurity.
4. Pursue your master’s degree: As previously mentioned, most organizations will require that their cryptographers have a graduate degree. Once you’ve completed your bachelor’s program you can choose to either take a bit of time off to pursue an internship or entry-level job within cryptography or you may choose to immediately jump right into a master’s program for computer science or mathematics.
5. Begin your search: Cryptographers are needed across many different industries. Financial institutions such as credit card companies and banks hire cryptographers to protect their financial data. Government organizations such as the FBI and NSA both hire cryptographers to assist with national security. The first step of the job search is determining what type of industry you might want to work in and then you can start applying.
What is a cryptographer?
While Cryptography may seem like a new career only for the digital age, this isn’t actually the case. Modern cryptographers use computer algorithms and ciphers, but math has been used all throughout history to secure communication.
Cryptographers use mathematics and computer science to create ciphers which are then used to secure data. Cryptographers work to come up with new solutions for security as the previous methods become obsolete. When messages are encrypted, cryptographers are needed to be able to crack the ciphers used on the messages and read them.
Cryptographers work within many different industries such as financial organizations and government agencies to protect communications and sensitive data.
Those pursuing cryptography should try to gain skills in the following areas:
- Advanced algebra
- Programming languages such as C, C++, Python, and Java
- Symmetric cryptography
- Asymmetric cryptography
- Computer networking
What do cryptographers do?
The day to day tasks for a cryptographer will vary depending on what type of organization they work for. For instance, cryptographers working within a government agency such as the National Security Agency might spend their day working to decrypt a sensitive document needed to ensure national security. Imagine that a terrorist has been captured and many documents have been recovered from his laptop. Intelligence officials believe these documents could lead to the arrests of other suspected terrorists, unfortunately, the documents have been encrypted. This is where a cryptographer comes into play. The cryptographer for the NSA will work to crack the encryption method used on these documents so that they can be analyzed further.
Cryptographers, both in government and private sector jobs, may find themselves spending their time using mathematics to come up with new and innovative ways to encrypt data. While there are plenty of algorithms that already exist encrypt data, attackers are always coming up with new ways to access secure data. This means that the cryptographers must work even harder to protect it. Cryptographers are constantly working on new ways to protect data and also new techniques for cracking ciphers. In some ways, cryptography can seem like very advanced puzzle solving.
General cryptographer job description
Job descriptions for cryptographers will vary based upon the industry and organization for you which you are a cryptographer. Here are some responsibilities that you might see on a job description for a cryptographer, cryptanalyst, or cryptologist.
- Use mathematical theories to solve advanced problems
- Develop new methods for encrypting data
- Decipher encrypted message
- Develop statistical or mathematical models to analyze data
- Apply methods of numeric analysis to data
- Create reports based upon data
- Find new relationships between existing mathematical principles to advance mathematical science
Outlook for cryptographer
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment is expected grow 30 percent by 2028. This means that it’s a great time to enter the field of cryptography. As mentioned previously, cryptography has been used all through history and it doesn’t look jobs in cryptography will be going away anytime soon.
Due to the fact that most jobs within cryptography require a graduate degree, choosing a career as a cryptographer can be a pricey choice. Fortunately, careers in cryptography are also generally well paying and the salaries can help to offset some of the educational costs. According to ZipRecruiter, the national average salary of a cryptographer is $149,040 annually. ZipRecruiter also has the lower end, entry level cryptographers still raking in six figures at around $109,500. On the higher end, about 3% of cryptography jobs pay between $189,500 – $197,500. Other sites, such as SimplyHired.com, calculate that average salary of a cryptographer at $77,000 with the top 10% taking home $166,000 per year and the lowest earners making around $51,000 annually. The website Payscale.com lists the average salary at $98,000. As you can see from these numbers, while it’s hard to determine the exact salary, it’s likely that a career in cryptography will be lucrative.