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What is a Cryptographer?

A Cryptographer is responsible for developing security systems using algorithms and cyphers to encrypt sensitive data. A related job role, that of Cryptanalyst, is like the flip side of the same coin. They analyse and decrypt information contained within cipher texts and encrypted data.

The role of cryptographer is vitally important as they must ensure that all of the modern worlds important data, including financial, personal, business and military, is safe from prying eyes. With the continually increasing incidences of cyber crime being encountered nowadays around the globe, this job is fast becoming an ever more important role in the race to beat the criminals!

What are the typical job duties for a Cryptographer?

Typical duties for the role of Cryptographer are many and varied, hugely dependent upon the organisations that they work for.
Job duties pivot around the need to protect data from being copied, intercepted, modified or deleted by unauthorized actors.
A Cryptographer will need a good grasp of cryptographic security systems and their related algorithms. They will be responsible for designing robust and – as far as possible – secure systems that are not vulnerable to penetration or hacking.

Cryptographers will develop and use various mathematical or statistical models in their quest to analyse and secure potential threats to their systems.
Computational modelling will likely be utilized and combined with knowledge of cryptographic theories and their potential application in the real world of IT security.
The role is all-encompassing then from the initial theoretical to the ultimate practical implementation of securely encrypted communications, processing and data storage.
Prototyping of new security solutions using programming techniques that incorporate the most secure programming practices may be required along with staff training in encryption techniques where necessary.

More specific Cryptographer responsibilities may include:

1) Identifying any weakness in existing cryptography systems with a view to making them more secure.
One of the main roles of Cryptographer is in identifying weaknesses and then designing robust security systems in order to negate those risks. A Cryptographer will have a deep understanding of mathematics and statistical modelling techniques, enabling them to understand fully the implications of the varied encryption techniques available.

2) Testing cryptology theories in practice according to the organisations needs.
You have a leading role in the development of code, software tools and third party products that will provide your organisation with encryption technology. You’ll nee a good technical understanding of session authentication and communication protocols. Your role will give you overall responsibility for cryptographic issues.

3) Implementing more secure, highly encrypted solutions for your organisation.
As part of your role one of the main objectives will be in enhancing data security. You will develop new systems and provide technical support to other team members or partners, advising them how to implement more secure encryption and on cutting edge cryptic methods and their application within such encrypted systems.

4) On-going development of encryption technology, training and enhancement of IT security
Training of staff responsible for handling encrypted data and helping them to develop safe and secure systems will be another of your priorities.
You will need to be familiar with high security encrypted tech, such as Bitcoin, in order to be able to implement state of the art encryption solutions into your organisation.

You may need to report to Senior IT management, such as Project Managers and other IT Security staff, providing assistance where necessary enabling them to understand and implement more secure platforms.

What hours will I work?

The highly important job of Cryptographer is usually a daytime role, working an average 40 hours per week. Short-term Cryptographer Contractors and Consultants may be paid a day rate where any additional work is chargeable.

What skills do I need?

  • Up to date knowledge of IT Security hardware, software and solutions
  • Up to date understanding of the source code programming languages, such as C#, C++, .NET, Java, Perl, PHP, Python or Ruby On Rails etc. that you will be using
  • Practical experience using computer operating systems such as MS Windows, UNIX/Linux
  • An analytical mind with the ability to create source code.
  • Have experience within an IT support company or provided IT support and gained network knowledge.
  • You will need to be organised, efficient and able to work unsupervised under your own initiative
  • A good team-worker
  • Good written and verbal communication skills

Where does a cryptographer work?

A cryptographer can technically be employed anywhere that requires a tough defense against cybercrime. That could mean a wide variety of workplaces, but jobs are most often available with the government, military, or large financial institutions like banks or credit card companies.

The workplace setting for a cryptographer may be remote or in a typical office. Office settings are still perhaps more common out of convenience for cryptographers as they work together or with other employees.

It’s worth noting that because cryptography is a specialized field, some cryptographer job titles may not include the word “cryptographer” or “cryptography.” Other keywords, like “research” or “cloud” or “cybersecurity”, may produce further leads.

Examples of cryptographer jobs include research scientist, applied research mathematician, systems engineer, cloud development engineer, cryptographer intern, cryptographer engineer, cybersecurity engineer, IT security manager, and many more.

Cryptographer jobs are typically full-time, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. It is a common expectation to be on call in case of an emergency security breach in a cybersecurity role like a cryptographer.

What degree is required to become a cryptographer?

The minimum required degree to become a cryptographer is a bachelor’s; however, a master’s or doctoral degree is often expected in the field. You can expect that a bachelor’s degree might be sufficient for an internship, typically, whereas higher levels on the career path will be more likely to require a graduate degree.

Regarding major, cryptographers often choose math or computer science (or similar fields) as their undergraduate major, then go on to pursue a graduate degree in cybersecurity or cryptography.

Cryptography is a field that additionally requires ongoing education. Cryptographers must constantly evolve to continue to defeat hackers. Membership in professional organizations like the International Association of Cryptologic Research is well worth consideration, along with professional credentials such as ECES (EC-Council Certified Encryption Specialist).

What skills are required to become a cryptographer?

There are many skills to master as a cryptographer. At the most basic level, a cryptographer needs to be fluent in multiple programming languages and high-level mathematics. Codecademy lists the following seven languages as the best suited for cryptography: Python, Go, Ruby, C++, C#, Java, and PHP.

These languages are particularly advantageous because of their prevalence, the variance in cryptographic libraries/packages, and even a dedicated cryptography API (in the case of Java).

Conceptually, a cryptographer should also be intimately familiar with algorithms and data structures along with their analysis. In math, topics like number theory, linear algebra, combinatorics, probability, and abstract algebra are especially important.

A cryptographer needs to have an information technology-related background, too. This may include familiarity with multiple operating systems, database architecture, and computer systems.

As you continue more specialized coursework related to cryptography, you will need to understand specific algorithms, such as RSA and DH, for starters. It would also be helpful to know one or more foreign languages, especially if you intend to pursue your career in a government agency.

How much money does a cryptographer earn?

Cryptography is typically not an entry-level job and often requires a graduate degree, so its average salary is high, as to be expected. Low-end estimates are still north of $100k annually. Average salary estimates range from $111,000/year to about $145,000/year. Read our salary guide for more detailed information.

The variance in reported salaries is due to an experience gap: there are those working as interns or, less commonly, in entry-level positions, but higher experience levels earn a significantly higher salary. Education level also makes a significant impact; those with master’s or doctoral degrees can expect a higher salary than those with a bachelor’s.