What Does a Cryptologist Do?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn what it takes to become a cryptologist. This article also helps you plan a career encrypting and decrypting messages and explore employment prospects in cryptology.

[Featured Image] A cryptologist sits at a table and uses their computer.

Encryption is not new, but it is everywhere today. Encryption protects economies, business information, privacy, and more in our digital world. Yet we couldn’t have all this without cryptologists. Read on to learn what a cryptologist does and why they are in increasing demand globally in our technologically driven age.

What is a cryptologist?

In simple words, a cryptologist is someone who makes and breaks codes. To do so, a cryptologist generally understands a broad, complex field comprising number theory and applied formulas and algorithms. This field is known as cryptology and refers to the technique of converting plain text to ciphertext and vice versa. Cryptology is also known as encryption and decryption research. 

Once you've studied cryptology and can establish a channel for secure communications, you're known as a cryptologist. Cryptologists analyse and interpret data and patterns to decipher and generate encoded signals. For this reason, you typically have skills in both linguistics and mathematics.

There are vast professional opportunities available to cryptologists today. Electronic banking, military intelligence, governments, and private companies rely on cryptology for security.

Cryptology refers to the study of both encryption and decryption (creating and solving codes), whereas cryptography deals with encryption (creating codes) only. 


Cryptology salary and job outlook

Cryptologists in India make an average annual salary of ₹24,29,714, or an equivalent hourly rate of ₹1,168.13, according to SalaryExpert, as of March 2024 [1].

In the 1980s, the popular answer to what is a cryptologist would be to think of a spy or other government agent deciphering and coding messages. Today, the career has evolved to include information security in the digital age. There is a growing demand for cryptologists as the job now includes encrypting and decrypting all data susceptible to interception online or stored and processed in large computer bases.

How to become a cryptologist

To become a cryptologist, you will develop cryptology skills and typically earn a degree. We’ll share the additional steps in a typical cryptologist career path.

Step 1: Develop cryptology skills.

Consider the following strategies to develop your cryptology skills and help you succeed in cryptology. 

1.   Know your mathematics.

Mathematics is at the heart of cryptology. Even with ciphers (a secret code usually created using mathematics algorithms) dating back to Julius Caesar, you can find underlying mathematics. Today’s encryption algorithms also could not exist without math. To pursue a career in cryptography, you must possess solid math skills. You might start developing your arithmetic skills by studying or completing primary education at a university or equivalent facility.

2. Gain an understanding of computers.

Having an interest in and proper understanding of computer systems is also vital. The algorithms to secure digital information will be developed and distributed using software applications. Familiarising yourself with different computer systems can help your candidacy and success in cryptology. 

3.   Develop your problem-solving abilities.

Breaking a code is like solving a big puzzle. Cryptologists can benefit from problem-solving skills in using mathematical theories to solve problems, discovering flaws in enterprise security systems, developing new encryption methods, or deciphering data. Developing your critical thinking skills and ability to collaborate to brainstorm and analyse options can help enhance your problem-solving abilities. 

4.  Get organised.

Since developing and monitoring security systems can require a lot of multitasking, cryptologists must be highly organised. Electronic coding can be quite complicated, requiring a cryptologist's undivided attention. Being organised can help you work more effectively and concentrate on the task. Learn to become more organised by setting objectives, planning, and managing time.

5.   Be adaptable.

Technology evolves rapidly, posing new challenges and dangers to information security and privacy. Cryptologists frequently upgrade and design new security methods, which demands high adaptability. Experiencing new things, making errors, and learning from others can increase flexibility.

Step 2: Earn a degree.

Most employers seek candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, computer science, cybersecurity, linguistics, or a related field. Some companies might prefer candidates with a master’s degree. You might even pursue a PhD in cryptography as this is a research-based career. Doing so will also benefit your salary expectations.

In India, mathematical and statistical institutions such as the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, the Indian Institute of Science, the IITs in Chennai, Mumbai, Guwahati and Kharagpur, and the University of Calcutta offer cryptography studies.

Step 3: Search for an internship.

Consider taking on an internship to gain valuable experience for your resume and further your education. Internships would not only provide you with practical experience for your resume, but they will also help you further your education. Working with skilled cryptologists will help you gain skills you might not learn in a classroom. Getting a paid internship often comes with the extra benefit of earning money.

Step 4: Pursue certification.

You can further expand your cryptologist resume by pursuing certifications in information security, ethical hacking, digital forensics, network security, and penetration testing. Another option is the EC-Council’s Certified Encryption Specialist (ECES) programme, which introduces you to the foundations of cryptography.

Next steps

Start building job-ready skills in cybersecurity with the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate on Coursera. Get hands-on experience with industry tools and examine real-world case studies at your own pace. Upon completion, you’ll have a credential for your resume.

Article sources

Salary Expert “Cryptologist, https://www.salaryexpert.com/salary/job/cryptologist/india/.” Accessed March 6, 2024.

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