What Is a Cryptographer? 2024 Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Cryptography is in high demand in computer science today. Find out how to become a cryptographer and get started launching yourself in this challenging career.

[Featured Image] A cryptographer is looking at a security code in an office.

Cryptology is one of many jobs in information security. A cryptographer is the one who makes sure data is secure. Applying knowledge of codes and computer science, cryptographers play an important role in encrypting data and keeping information safe online. 

This is a particularly challenging field as data security is constantly evolving. Almost as soon as a cryptographer develops a protected code, there could be someone trying to crack (or hack) it. That keeps the job interesting, but also requires you to continuously improve your skills too.

To become a cryptographer, you’ll need to develop strong mathematics and computer-based skills. You can build your marketability as a cryptographer through a degree programme, internship, or certification programme.

What is cryptography?

Derived from the Greek word kryptos, which means hidden, cryptography is the study of secure communications. Although the focus today is on data encryption, even Roman Emperor Julius Caesar used cryptography in his private correspondence. At its most basic, cryptography is scrambling ordinary text to hide it from unauthorised parties. Only the intended recipient of the message will have the key needed to decipher (unscramble again) the text. 

Cryptographers devise systems to encrypt and decrypt email and other data in transit online today. Helping to make the internet a safe place, cryptographers work across industries including financial organisations and government agencies to protect data. 

What does a cryptographer do?

This is a fairly technical role that requires a deep understanding of maths and information technology. The role can include:

  • Develop, testing, and improving algorithms, key handling procedures, and security protocols

  • Maintaining and testing existing security protocols

  • Managing distribution and retirement of keys

  • Investigating security incidents where cryptographic elements were compromised

  • Securing your organisation across many business areas

  • Analysing and producing reports on threats and security protocols

  • Keeping up with the latest cryptographic techniques

Cryptographer skills

To become a cryptographer, you’ll need to demonstrate both personal and professional skills. Technical skills are essential but don’t underestimate the importance that potential employers will put on your personal attributes as well.

Workplace skills

Cryptography involves workplace skills, many employers might look for the following skills in cryptographer candidates:

  • Logical thinking

  • Strong problem solving

  • Attention to detail

  • Trustworthiness

  • Ability to communicate complex technical information effectively to a variety of audiences

Technical skills

Cryptography is a technical position that requires a firm foundation in math and computer science. If you're interested in pursuing a career in cryptography, here are some skills you should work on:

  • Knowledge of identity and access management protocols (e.g., OAuth2, SAML2, LDAP, OpenID, Kerberos)

  • Experience installing, maintaining, and troubleshooting communication devices and networks

  • Ability to create encryption and decryption programs 

  • Understanding of security incident handling 

  • Background in cryptographic security protocols and techniques (encryption at rest, TLS, hashing, etc.)

Cryptographer salary

The average annual median salary for a cryptographer in the United Kingdom is £59,526 according to IT Jobs Watch as of February 2023 [1]. The amount you make will vary based on your education level, amount of experience, location, and industry. 

How to become a cryptographer

As with most cyber security roles, a cryptographer has specialised knowledge. You can acquire this knowledge while getting a degree, completing internships, gaining work experience, or through earning relevant certifications.

1. Consider earning a degree.

An aspiring cryptographer won’t be expected to know everything when they first enter the field. Yet, you'll need to cover certain core knowledge areas. A relevant degree can help.

Studying cyber security or computer science can build your core knowledge of network security, code systems, programming, and system architecture. You might also find some of these covered in undergraduate mathematics programmes. A graduate degree in mathematics may also propel you into cryptography.

You might look particularly for a NCSC-certified degree. Many UK universities offer cyber security content that has the NCSC’s stamp of approval. For instance, at the undergraduate level Edinburgh Napier University, Oxford Brookes University and Royal Holloway, University of London all have certified degree courses. There are fully certified graduate courses at Royal Holloway, University of London; City, University of London, and University of Southampton.

2. Start with an apprenticeship or entry-level job.

Typically you will move into a cryptography role from another computer security area. You might begin with an apprenticeship or entry-level role in computer science, computer engineering, computer/network security, cyber security or information security. 

You might also become a cryptographer after first exploring IT system management, network engineering, systems architecture and design, network monitoring, intrusion detection, or vulnerability management.

The NSCS also certifies apprenticeships across the UK You might venture to Scotland for a graduate apprenticeship at the University of Strathcylde or Glasgow Caledonian University. Edinburgh Napier University offers an integrated degree apprenticeship in Cyber Security as well.

3. Get certified. 

Certification can show a prospective employer that you have the knowledge to complement your work experience. Suppose you want to learn cryptology for a particular operating platform or use a particular technology. In that case, a certification programme may be the way to organise your coursework and demonstrate your accomplishments.

Some common certifications among cryptographers include: 

  • Certified Encryption Specialist (ECES)

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

  • CompTIA Security+

  •  ISACA Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

Some common certifications among cryptographers include (ISC)² Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge (CCSK),  ISACA Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), and ISACA Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA).

Get started

Explore whether a career in cryptography could be right for you. Start developing the necessary skills with the Google Cybersecurity Professional Certificate. Learn in-demand skills and add a credential to your resume.

And learn more about what cryptography involves from Dan Boneh, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University:

Article sources

  1. IT Jobs Watch. “Cryptographer, https://www.itjobswatch.co.uk/default.aspx?q=cryptographer/" Accessed February 13, 2023.

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