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Cryptographer Career Guide

How to Become a Cryptographer

Cryptography is one of the most important tools for building secure digital systems. Cryptographers play a big role in building these systems. This makes them some of the most well paid and highly valued workers within the booming world of cybersecurity. A career as a cryptographer can be challenging and rewarding both intellectually and monetarily. If you're thinking about a career as a cryptographer, there's a lot you should know and much you should learn. This career guide will help you discover more about what a cryptographer is, what they do, and explore the IT degrees you can pursue to prepare for this exciting career.

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What Is a Cryptographer?

A cryptographer is someone who writes (or cracks) the encryption code used for data security. Computer-encrypted data uses exceptionally long, advanced encryption algorithms that are incredibly hard and time-consuming for people to break. It's why today, online encryption governs the data exchange between web servers and web browsers and is critical to stable online transactions, secure communications, and safe data exchanges.

Cryptography is a critical element within the broader field of cybersecurity. As the need for better online security grows, the need for cryptographers will only continue to increase. Learn more about cryptography jobs, the median cryptography salary, and how to become a cryptographer so you can secure your future in this exciting field.

What Does a Cryptographer Do?

As a cryptographer, you’ll help develop complex security systems using ciphers and algorithms to encrypt sensitive data and protect it from hackers, misuse, and cybercrime. This protected information can include financial, personal, business, or military data. Cryptographers use many different private key or secret key ciphers to help with encryption. They can use RSA public keys, digital signatures, and other encryption techniques to help ensure their work is secure.

Your typical duties will be many and vary depending on what type of organization you work for.  Most center on protecting data from being intercepted, decrypted, copied, altered, or deleted by unauthorized actors. Thus, you’ll need a solid understanding of cryptographic security systems and their related algorithms. You’ll also develop and apply various statistical and mathematical models to help find and thwart potential systems threats.

The day-to-day responsibilities of a cryptographer can include:

  • Identifying and securing weaknesses in existing cryptography systems.
  • Testing cryptology theories in practice per your organization’s needs.
  • Enhancing data security through the implementation of more secure and encrypted solutions.
  • Using public key cryptography with RSA or other cipher types.
  • Utilizing secret key, private key, and public key cryptography to aid in encryption goals.
  • Developing and managing your organization’s encryption technology, including its code, software, and third-party product adoption.
  • Prototyping new security solutions with advanced programming encryption techniques and practices.
  • Training other staff that handles encryption data and helping them develop safe and secure systems.
  • Working to decrypt information if needed to find vulnerabilities that hackers could find.

How do I Become a Cryptographer?

To become a cryptographer you must first earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, cybersecurity, or mathematics. All of these disciplines teach the technical, quantitative, and logic skills needed for making and breaking complex computerized codes.

If you’re considering working for the military or Department of Defense, you may also want to study linguistics or a foreign language since your role may interact with foreign communication signals. Additionally, advanced degrees such as a Master of Science in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance help to give you an edge in securing higher-paying, more competitive jobs. And many of these preferred roles require at least five years of experience.  

Whatever role you choose, cryptologists must maintain subject matter expertise and relevance through continuous learning. Strategies and technologies are constantly changing. So to keep up, you can join professional organizations like the International Association for Cryptologic Research or earn a job-specific certification like the ECES.

Which Degrees are Best for a Cryptographer?

Cybersecurity and Information Assurance – B.S.

Protect your career and earning potential with this degree....

Protect your career and earning potential with...

Protect your career and earning potential with this degree.

  • Employer approval: 74% of graduates finish within 18 months.
  • Tuition: $3,950 per 6-month term.

Some careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Cyber crimes investigator
  • Director of cybersecurity
  • Chief of cyber counterintelligence
  • Cybersecurity engineer
  • Cyber operations planner

Certifications included in this program at no extra cost include:

  • Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP) - Associate of (ISC)2 designation
  • Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) - Associate of (ISC)2 designation
  • ITIL® Foundation Certification
  • CompTIA A+
  • CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst Certification (CySA+)
  • CompTIA IT Operations Specialist
  • CompTIA Network+
  • CompTIA Network Vulnerability Assessment Professional
  • CompTIA Network Security Professional
  • CompTIA PenTest+
  • CompTIA Project+
  • CompTIA Secure Infrastructure Specialist
  • CompTIA Security+
  • CompTIA Security Analytics Professional


Cybersecurity and Information Assurance – M.S.

Become the authority on keeping infrastructures and information...

Become the authority on keeping infrastructures...

Become the authority on keeping infrastructures and information safe.

  • Time: 76% of graduates finish within 24 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,295 per 6-month term.
  • Certifications: cost of two EC-Council certs, included.

The curriculum is closely aligned with the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) Workforce Framework, plus includes the opportunity to earn these certifications:

  • EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker
  • EC-Council Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI)

This program was designed in collaboration with national intelligence organizations and IT industry leaders, ensuring you'll learn emerging technologies and best practices in security governance.

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What Skills Does a Cryptographer Need?

Some of the hard skills you’ll need for a successful career as a cryptographer include:

  • A knowledge of IT security hardware, software, and solutions.
  • Fluency in source code programming languages such as C#, C++, .NET, Java, Perl, PHP, Python, or Ruby on Rails.
  • Experience within IT support and using computer operating systems like UNIX, Linux, and MS Windows.
  • The ability to create source code.
  • Skills in symmetric cryptography—message authentication codes, hash functions, and symmetric encryption.
  • A basic understanding of complexity, information, and number theories.
  • A knowledge in public key and private key encryption, key exchange, and digital signatures.
  • The ability to use decryption methods to add even more security to your organization.
  • Strong math skills in discrete mathematics, and linear or matrix algebra.
  • Proficiency in data structures and cryptographic algorithms.

You should also have excellent written and verbal communication skills since you’ll need to help senior IT management—including security staff and project managers—better understand and implement more secure platforms. Other soft skills of good cryptographers include being:

  • Organized, efficient, and self-motivated.
  • A good team player.
  • Able to explain technical concepts to non-technical professionals.
  • Capable of handling multiple projects simultaneously.
  • Trustworthy with good judgment.
  • Interested in solving problems and puzzles.
  • Inclined towards analytical and critical thinking.

How Much Does a Cryptographer Make?


As of 2021, the average annual cryptographer salary is over $145,356. The top earners in this field make as much as $195,000 or more and the bottom 4% make around $102,000 per year. A career as a cryptographer can be financially rewarding.

What is the Projected Job Growth?


The job outlook for cryptographers is very favorable. From 2020 to 2030, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in computer and information technology occupations to grow by 13%. The need to collect and store big data in the information economy is driving this rapid growth.

Where Does a Cryptographer Work?


Typically, cryptographers work for technology, financial, and government entities. For example, the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense employ cryptographers to protect our country’s military, national security, and cybersecurity systems and data. They use RSA and other private key systems to create solid encryption cryptographic systems.

Interested in Becoming a Cryptographer?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this lucrative career.

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