What Does A Cryptographer Do (including Their Typical Day at Work)

Alyssa OmandacCareer, Overview

Salary, Job Description, How To Become One, and Quiz


The main job duty of a Cryptographer is to design and test algorithms and computer software for encrypting important data. Cryptographers may also perform cryptoanalysis, which involves deciphering the encryption methods of an information system.

Bachelor's degree

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Cryptographers are the people responsible for ensuring that computer data remains secure. You can thank Cryptographers for protecting against identity theft when shopping online. Cryptography involves using mathematical formulas and algorithms to encrypt sensitive data, such as credit card details and personal information.

A wide range of industries and government agencies require Cryptographers to keep hackers out of sensitive data systems. Cryptographers may work for credit card processing companies, eCommerce businesses, law enforcement agencies, and even the US military.

What they do

The main job duty of a Cryptographer is to design and test algorithms and computer software for encrypting important data. Cryptographers may also perform cryptoanalysis, which involves deciphering the encryption methods of an information system.

Develop New Ciphers and Encryption Systems

When working for information security teams or private businesses, Cryptographers may develop new ciphers and encryption systems for securing data. A cipher is an algorithm used to encrypt and decrypt information.

In many cases, the Cryptographer does not develop a new encryption system from the ground up. They may modify existing systems to suit the needs of their employer. After designing or modifying an encryption system, a Cryptographer then attempts to crack it to ensure that it provides optimal protection. Cryptographers may also attempt to break into encryption systems developed by other Cryptographers.

Test Information Systems for Vulnerabilities

A lot of the work completed by Cryptographers involves testing information systems for vulnerabilities. This is especially common for Cryptographers who work for information security consultancy agencies. Cryptographers use their skills and knowledge to attempt to hack information systems and decrypt encrypted information. Finding vulnerabilities helps them to develop stronger encryption methods.

Along with testing information systems, Cryptographers may test communication lines for vulnerabilities. This typically includes wireless networks, cellphones, email systems, and telephones.

Help Businesses or Governments Resolve Security Issues

Cryptographers are often responsible for resolving various security issues related to data encryption. The details of the issues vary from human error and mistakes to software problems and security vulnerabilities.

For example, an employer may discover that data obtained from a specific source becomes corrupted during the encryption process. The Cryptographer may then review the encryption methods used to determine the cause of the problem. This may involve updating the encryption software or using a different encryption method.

Decrypt Encrypted Data for Law Enforcement Agencies

Law enforcement agencies frequently employ Cryptographers to decrypt data related to criminal investigations. For example, a police department may request a Cryptographer to decrypt information stored on a computer hard drive obtained from a crime scene.

Cryptographers may use existing software or write original code to decrypt encrypted information. They may also employ information security techniques for bypassing the security on smartphones and tablets.

Learn New Cryptography Techniques

As with other areas of information security, cryptography continues to evolve rapidly. Successful Cryptographers need to stay up to date with the latest cryptography techniques. This may require Cryptographers to read industry publications, attend lectures, or take courses at colleges.

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What is the job like


You May Help Solve Crimes

When working for government agencies or law enforcement, Cryptographers get to help solve crimes by decrypting data.

You Protect Citizens

Cryptographers protect citizens from hackers by improving the security of the encrypted communications used for online shopping or banking.

You Get to Work Your Brain

Cryptographers are constantly learning new information security protocols and practices, which keeps your brain sharp.

You May Transition to Other Careers

If you get bored of Cryptography, your skills are transferable to a wide range of careers, including most roles in Information Security.


The Job Is Occasionally Stressful

When working in law enforcement, others may depend on you to decrypt data, which can be stressful.

It Can Be Repetitive Work

Some of the programming tasks required in Cryptography are tedious and repetitive, which can be boring.

Where they work

Government Agencies
Law Enforcement Agencies
Financial Institutions
Software Providers

Most Cryptographers work for the government or law enforcement agencies. The National Security Agency (NSA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and state or local law enforcement agencies are common employers. Cryptographers may also find work at financial institutions and software providers that develop encryption software, such as IBM and Amazon. The insurance and healthcare industries also employ Cryptographers.

How to become one

Step 1: Study Programming and Math in High School

Cryptographers need to have strong math skills and an understanding of programming languages. High school students can develop these skills through school classes or extracurricular activities.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Cryptographers should have at least a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Mathematics, or Computer Engineering.

Step 3: Earn a Master’s Degree

A Master’s degree is not always required but it increases your career prospects. Common Master’s degrees for Cryptographers include Cryptography, Mathematics, or Computer Science.

Step 4: Obtain an Internship

During college, find an internship in the information security field.

Step 5: Start Looking for Work

After finishing college, start looking for employment in information security. You will likely need at least five years of relevant experience before qualifying for Cryptographer positions.

Should you become one

Best personality type for this career

The Thinker

People with this personality likes to work with ideas that require an extensive amount of thinking. They prefer work that requires them to solve problems mentally.

You can read more about these career personality types here.

Cryptographers are often analytical thinkers as they need to develop incredibly complex algorithms and ciphers. Patience is also a useful personality trait as Cryptographers may spend days working on a single problem. When working for law enforcement agencies or government agencies, integrity is a necessary trait due to the sensitive nature of the work.

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