Your Guide to Becoming a Cryptographer
Have you ever considered becoming a cryptographer? In this career guide, we’ll explore the ins and outs of this specialized cybersecurity position, including details on salary, education, skills required — and which top companies are hiring (hint: you’ve heard of many of them!).
What is Cryptography?
First, let’s explore the exciting world of cryptography. Here are a few definitions:
“Cryptography is the science of keeping information secure by transforming it into a form that unintended recipients cannot understand. In cryptography, an original human readable message, referred to as plaintext, is changed by means of an algorithm, or series of mathematical operations, into something that to an uninformed observer would look like gibberish; this gibberish is called ciphertext.” (CSO)
“Cryptography is associated with the process of converting ordinary plain text into unintelligible text and vice-versa. It is a method of storing and transmitting data in a particular form so that only those for whom it is intended can read and process it. Cryptography not only protects data from theft or alteration, but can also be used for user authentication.” (The Economic Times)
What Does a Cryptographer Do? (+ Average Day)
Cryptographers play a specialized role that “provides technical support to governments, businesses and industry to solve security-related issues,” according to Career Explorer. “They protect important information from interception or deletion, and can target weaknesses in security systems and algorithms. After detecting weaknesses, they can then design strong security systems to prevent further vulnerabilities.”
The exact day-to-day responsibilities and typical day will vary depending the position, but here are some examples listed in a few recent LinkedIn job postings:
- Guarantee all personal, financial and sensitive data is protected
- Create security systems that protect against any exposures or attacks
- Ensure critical information is protected from unauthorized personnel
- Test systems to check for vulnerabilities
- Assist in solving any security issues
- Knowledge of cryptographic primitives and how to use crypto toolkits securely
- Understanding of systematic encryption, public key encryption, digital signatures and message authentication codes
Additional responsibilities, as listed by Career Explorer, include:
- Develop and test mathematical models to analyze data and solve security problems
- Test models for reliability and accuracy
- Test new cryptography theories and applications
- Look for weaknesses in wireless networks, cellphones, emails, etc.
- Ensure credit cards, inter-bank, ATM, online transactions, etc., are secure
- Ensure wireless networks are not illegally accessed or altered
- Decode cryptic messages for military, political and law enforcement agencies
- Update methods for efficient handling of cryptic processes
- Advise work staff on cryptical/mathematical methods and applications
Paths to Become a Cryptographer
There are a few different ways to become a cryptographer, but a bachelor’s degree in a related field is usually a good first step, especially one that focuses on math or computer science. Cybersecurity Guide also recommends working as an intern to gain experience. In many cases, a master’s degree will be required.
QuickStart offers this advice: “It is imperative that you do your research before deciding to become a cryptographer. First of all, schooling is very important and certainly obtaining a technical degree is mandatory. A cryptographer should at least have a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, computer science or mathematics. There are a few employers who would hire you for your skills if you don’t have a technical degree, but you need to be prepared to demonstrate the skills and expertise employers would expect from a cryptographer with a technical degree. Certainly, advancing your education and obtaining a master’s or doctorate degree will add appeal to your resume while increasing your chances of landing your dream job as a cryptographer.”
You also need to figure out what industry you’d like to work in. Though there are a wealth of opportunities in the financial, government, IT-related sectors, cryptographer positions can be found across a wide variety of industries, including retail, health care and sports.
A more non-traditional way is to work in a different role before becoming a cryptographer, including financial consultant, university professor and security consultant, according to Cybersecurity Education.
Cryptographer Hard Skills
Cybersecurity Guide lists the following skills typically needed for cryptographer roles: Knowledge of advanced algebra, algorithms, programming languages (C, C++, Python and Java), symmetric cryptography, asymmetric cryptography, computer networking and cybersecurity.
Excellent math and statistical skills are also required, in addition to knowledge about
number theory, complexity theory, information theory, encryption, data structures and algorithms, according to QuickStart.
Cryptographer Soft Skills
Soft skills can be just as important as hard skills. In a cryptographer role, you must be a critical and analytical thinker who demonstrates good problem-solving, judgment and trustworthiness, and who embraces new challenges according to QuickStart.
Other top soft skills include good communication, being detail-oriented and having a good work ethic.
Certifications may be required, depending on the position. These are a few you might see in various cryptographer job postings:
- EC-Council Certified Encryption Specialist (ECES)
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- A security clearance
Education Required for a Cryptographer
A bachelor’s degree in math, computer science or a related field is typically required, but most cryptographers will need to pursue a master’s or doctorate degree.
Master’s of Cryptography vs. Masters in Cybersecurity
A master’s degree in cryptography is very specialized. An advanced degree in cybersecurity would allow you to pursue other related cybersecurity careers, in addition to cryptographer.
Cryptographer vs. Similar Job Titles
When searching for cryptographer positions, you will likely come across a variety of job titles, including:
- Applied Cryptographer
- Cryptography Security Analyst
- Research Scientist in Cryptography
- Security Engineer
- Software Engineer
- Investigation Specialist
- Cryptography Security and Research Consultant
- Cyber Cryptography Engineer
- Client Software Engineer, Security & Cryptography
- Cryptography Researcher
- Research Scientist – Cryptography and Internet Technology
Companies (By Industry) Hiring Cryptographers
It’s important to note that searches for “cryptographer” or “cryptography” will result in a variety of various job titles (many of which we mentioned in the previous paragraph).
- Ford Motor Company
- General Motors
- Panasonic Automotive
- U.S. Bank
- BMO Harris Bank
- Fidelity Investments
- Bank of America
- Wells Fargo
- State Farm
- American Express
- Texas Department of Criminal Justice
- Federal Reserve Board
- National Security Agency
- National Radio Astronomy Observatory
- Virginia Tech
- Clemson University
- Bleacher Report
- Fan Duel
Healthcare & Wellness
- Teladoc Health
- CVS Health
- Quest Diagnostics
- Mass General Brigham
Cryptographer Career Outlook
The outlook for cybersecurity jobs across the jobs is extremely favorable. Though the position of cryptographer isn’t listed with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for information security analysts, which is related, is as follows: “Employment of information security analysts is projected to grow 31 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for information security analysts is expected to be very high, as these analysts will be needed to create innovative solutions to prevent hackers from stealing critical information or causing problems for computer networks.”
How Much Does a Cryptographer Make?
Your salary will depend on a number of factors, including the specific job responsibilities, how much experience is required and where the job is located. It’s also important to remember that salary information is constantly being updated, often in real time, so the information we’ve included below is subject to change*. But here are a few numbers to give you an idea;
- ZipRecruiter lists the national average salary of a cryptographer as $145,356.
- Salary Expert estimates an average base salary of $121,381.
- According to Comparably, the salary range for cryptographers in the U.S. is $56,200 to $167,250 with a median salary of $111,000.
*These salaries are reflective of information available at the time this piece was published.
FAQs About Cryptographer Careers
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