Cryptographer Career Overview
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Cryptographers help ensure computer and network security by writing algorithms to safeguard data through encryption. These professionals work in the cybersecurity sector, which Cybercrime Magazine projects will see 3.5 million job openings from 2021-2025, indicating consistent demand in the field.
Tech-savvy individuals with strong problem-solving skills may want to pursue work as cryptographers. Similar roles include information security analyst, penetration tester, and security architect.
Cryptographers typically work in finance, tech, or government organizations handling important information. A cryptographer usually needs a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field. Some professionals earn cybersecurity certifications to demonstrate dedication to their work.
This guide offers information on cryptographers, including common work responsibilities, available career pathways, education requirements, and similar roles in the field.
History of Cryptographers
Before the digital age, handwritten ciphers and codes protected sensitive information. The first recorded use potentially took place among Spartan military leaders in 400 B.C. In American history, encoded messages created by Navajo code talkers allowed the Marine Corps to organize operations without the enemy intercepting any communications.
The earliest instance of modern-day cryptography dates back to the early 1970s when IBM submitted an algorithm to the U.S. government to safeguard financial transactions between banks and the Federal Reserve.
As hackers and bad actors continue to become more skilled in using advanced techniques to break codes, cryptographers have also increased the complexity of their work.
Similar Specializations and Career Paths
A cryptographer's job description also applies to other similar roles in data protection. Most employers only require a bachelor's-level education for roles in this field, typically emphasizing experience, abilities, and industry certifications more than education alone. For example, security architects typically must accrue significant experience on the job before advancing to become cryptographers.
Chief information security officers (CISOs) also need years of IT experience. These executive-level professionals can also pursue certified information systems security professional or certified chief information security officer credentials to demonstrate their knowledge and pursue higher salaries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chief executives like CISOs earn a median salary of $179,250 as of May 2021.
|Career||Description||Required Education||Required Experience||Average Annual Salary|
Security analysts use software to maintain organizations' security and protect networks against intrusions.
Bachelor's degree, though some employers only require experience and/or certifications
Several years in IT roles
Also known as "ethical hackers," penetration testers probe networks and computer systems for flaws and exploitable vulnerabilities.
A few years in simulated and real-world environments
Security architects create and oversee digital security measures for organizations.
5-10 years in IT or database administration
CISOs handle the financial side of data protection, including developing policies and managing information security teams.
10+ years of experience in computer science or IT
Source: BLS, Payscale (June 2022)
What Is the Job Description of a Cryptographer?
Cryptographers secure computer systems by creating algorithms and ciphers to encrypt data. They also analyze existing encryption systems to identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
Cryptographers develop and test techniques, implementing new or revamped encryption solutions. By working with organizations and institutions, they incorporate security needs with industry standards, ensuring highly secure data transmission.
Cryptographers may also carry out the duties of a cryptanalyst. As cryptanalysts, cryptology professionals decrypt data, breaking down algorithms and ciphers to access information. By decrypting messages and coding systems, cryptanalysts better understand how to avoid security gaps.
These professionals have knowledge and skills in industries requiring high levels of confidentiality. By encrypting and decrypting data, cryptographers and cryptanalysts protect individuals, groups, businesses, and organizations.
Cryptographers work for the government, especially to secure military data and protect national security. They maintain the integrity of electronic medical records and personal health information for healthcare companies and organizations. They also encrypt financial data like bank records, e-commerce activity, and credit and debit card information.
Key Soft Skills for Cryptographers
Key Hard Skills for Cryptographers
A Day in the Life of a Cryptographer
A cryptographer's job description can vary based on their organization and project focus. Still, their goal of safeguarding sensitive data through encryption remains the same.
These professionals search for and test weaknesses in existing networks. They maintain companies' information security systems and offer ideas for possible improvements. Cryptographers may also train new employees and other staff members on their organization's encryption efforts.
Cryptographer Salary and Career Outlook
With an estimated 13% growth in employment between 2020 and 2030, computer and information technology occupations are projected for strong gains. According to Payscale, cryptographers earn average salaries just over $73,000.
Cryptographers work for government, technology, and financial entities. The Department of Defense and the National Security Agency employ cryptographic professionals to protect military, national security, and cybersecurity systems and data.
Information technology companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple need cryptographers to protect their data alongside that of their users and consumers. Banks, investment firms, and accounting companies also rely on cryptographers to secure confidential financial information.
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How to Become a Cryptographer
The path to a career in cryptography begins with a bachelor's degree in computer science, computer engineering, or related field. Coursework develops foundational knowledge and skills in mathematics, computer and information technology systems, and programming languages. Aspiring cryptographers need strong mathematical skills. They may complete a double major, studying mathematics alongside a computer-related discipline. A math major emphasizes the data structures, abstract algebra, and algorithms essential for a career in cryptology.
Most cryptography jobs require at least five years of experience in computer and information technology security. Entry-level positions as software programmers, information security analysts, or computer system analysts build familiarity with information technology security hardware and software. A mid-level role as an information technology manager or network and computer systems administrator can also give future cryptographers insight into information technology design, organization, and leadership.
Many employers prefer to hire cryptographers with a master's or doctoral degree. Graduate programs in cybersecurity, mathematics, or computer engineering lead to positions in cryptography. Non-technical degrees in economics, English, or public administration can facilitate a career in the field alongside extensive computer-related experience. Graduate programs also build research and analytical skills applicable to cryptography.
Professional Organizations for Cryptographers
International Association for Cryptologic Research: The IACR, a nonprofit cryptology organization established in 2013, offers its members access to journal publications, a database of information on cryptology conferences, and a job board listing current openings in the field. National Institute of Standards and Technology: NIST, a government agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, has developed cryptography standards in technology for over 50 years. Explore news and read about upcoming events on the NIST website. American Cryptogram Association: This nonprofit organization promotes the art of breaking codes and ciphers. Members can connect with like-minded individuals and collaborate to sharpen their code-breaking skills with its Cryptogram magazine. National Security Agency: This government agency employs cryptographers to handle and safeguard national interests. The NSA website lists available jobs and provides information on student programs for aspiring cryptographers.
Learn More About Cryptographers
Certifications for Cryptographers
Day in the Life of a Cryptographer
How to Become a Cryptographer
Salary and Career Outlook for Cryptographers
Frequently Asked Questions About Cryptographers
What is a cryptographer?
A cryptographer is a cybersecurity professional who uses encryption codes to protect data and other sensitive information. These individuals may also break existing codes to better understand algorithms and their use in information security.
Is cryptography a good career?
Cryptographers may enjoy higher than average salaries. The BLS reports that information security analysts, a similar cybersecurity career to cryptographers, earn a median income of $102,600, much higher than the $45,760 for all other workers.
Are cryptographers in demand?
Yes. The BLS projects an encouraging 33% employment growth rate for information security analysts from 2020-2030. Other research suggests continued growth in the cybersecurity sector for the near future.
What do cryptographers do daily?
Cryptographers use codes and algorithms to encrypt sensitive data daily. This work requires them to handle specific ciphers and security improvements through software maintenance and updates.
Reviewed by: Darnell Kenebrew
Darnell Kenebrew is a first-generation graduate from San Francisco State University's class of 2020. He graduated with a bachelor's in computer science, which helped him kick off a career in tech and pursue roles within data and engineering.
Currently, he's a data analytics engineer at Meta and an executive captain for COOP Careers — a nonprofit for overcoming underemployment. Kenebrew strongly believes in giving people a chance and that everyone should have an equal opportunity within the job market. He believes that COOP Careers helps this equality materialize.
Kenebrew is passionate about how the industry is shaped with data and how data can be leveraged in many aspects of business decisions to meet goals. In addition, he's passionate about inclusion, community, education, and using data for good. He hopes that he can pivot business decisions to make a positive, meaningful impact and that his work will positively impact end-users, as well as meet business goals.
Darnell Kenebrew is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.
Page last reviewedJul 6, 2022
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