What Does a Cryptanalyst Do? 2024 Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about what it means to be a professional codebreaker and how to get started in this cybersecurity role.

[Featured image] A cryptanalyst wearing army fatigues and white earphones works on a laptop at a desk in front of three windows.

Cryptanalysts are code breakers. The term 'cryptanalysis' comes from the Greek words kryptós ('hidden') and analýein ('to analyse'). As a cryptanalyst, you’re responsible for analysing hidden messages by decoding or decrypting data, even without the encryption key. 

In this article, we’ll discuss what it’s like to work as a cryptanalyst. Learn more about the skills and experience you’ll need to get the job, as well as tips on how to build that experience. 

What is cryptanalysis?

Oxford Languages defines cryptanalysis as "the art or process of deciphering coded messages without being told the key." If you enjoy the thrill of solving a tough puzzle, a career in cryptanalysis may be worth considering. 

Companies might use cryptanalysis to look for security weaknesses or potential data leaks. Government organisations might use it to decipher encrypted communications, and law enforcement might use it to gain access to potential evidence stored in encrypted files.

Did you know? 

The earliest form of encryption dates back to ancient Egypt, where unusual hieroglyphs replaced the usual ones in the tomb of Khnumhotep II. Many civilisations have used some form of secret code throughout history, particularly in times of war to hide communications from the enemy.


What does a cryptanalyst do?

As a cryptanalyst, you’ll study ciphers, codes, and encryption systems to learn how they work and gain access to information that would otherwise be impossible to interpret. 

Tasks and responsibilities

The specific tasks you perform as a cryptanalyst will vary depending on the industry you work in and the organisation you work for. Here are some cryptanalyst tasks and responsibilities pulled from real job listings:

  • Collect, process, and analyse intelligence information

  • Analyse garbled intercepts

  • Exploit encrypted materials

  • Debug software programs

  • Diagnose weaknesses in cryptographic algorithms

  • Develop new cryptanalysis tools

  • Develop methods for exploiting computer network vulnerabilities

Cryptographer vs. cryptanalyst vs. cryptologist: What’s the difference?

A few different cybersecurity roles fall within the field of cryptology—the study of coded messages. Since many of these job titles sound the same, they’re often used interchangeably, but there are differences. If cryptanalysts are the code breakers, cryptographers are the code makers. Cryptographers create the encryption methods that help protect everything from top secret intelligence to our email messages and credit card numbers. Since cryptology refers to the art and science of both making and breaking codes, cryptologists might do both.


Cryptanalyst workplace

Cryptanalysts can work in a variety of settings, but they’re most often associated with government agencies, military forces, financial institutions, and law enforcement. The work you perform in this role will vary by the type of organisation you work for. Here’s a look at what you might expect:

  • Government: Working for the government might mean deciphering sensitive data transmitted by criminal organisations around the world to gather useful intelligence. 

  • Law enforcement: As a cryptanalyst in law enforcement, you may be tasked with gathering evidence of a crime by breaking codes and ciphers in digital and written letters, notes, ledgers, and other documents. You may also testify as an expert in legal proceedings.

  • Finance: Banks and credit card companies may hire cryptanalysts to analyse and diagnose security weaknesses in ATMs, online banking systems, and digital communications.

  • Academia: Working at a university will often mean researching ciphers, codes, and cryptographic techniques. You may also teach cryptology to university students.

  • Private sector: At a private company, you may assist product developers by reviewing code for vulnerabilities or offering security guidance.

Why pursue a career in cryptanalysis

If you enjoy working with numbers and love a good puzzle, working in cryptanalysis could offer an exciting and challenging career option. Developing the technical skills to work in the field can often yield other rewards in the form of a higher salary and a range of career opportunities.

Cryptanalyst salary

According to Payscale, cryptographers in India earn an average annual salary of ₹850,000 [1]. Keep in mind that salary may be influenced by your location, industry, and level of experience.

Job outlook

The Data Security Council of India expected the Indian cybersecurity services industry to grow from about $4.3 billion USD to about $7.6 billion USD in 2022. It also predicts the industry will grow to be worth about $13.6 billion and register an overall CAGR of about 21 per cent by 2025 [2]. 

Cryptanalyst career paths

Many other roles within cybersecurity use cryptanalysis and cryptographic techniques. With the right cryptanalysis skills, you could consider working as a penetration tester, ethical hacker, or digital forensic investigator. Some cryptanalysts work as security consultants.

How to become a cryptanalyst

Working in cryptanalysis often means building a solid foundation in cybersecurity first. But there’s more than one path towards this career. Here are some steps you can take to work towards a job as a cryptanalyst.

1. Consider pursuing a degree in maths or computer science.

Most cryptanalysis jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or engineering. Some roles may require a master’s degree or even a PhD. If you plan to work in cryptanalytic research, you’ll likely need a doctoral degree in a related field.

While a bachelor’s degree in a technical or maths-related field can help you develop a strong foundation for cryptanalysis, it’s also possible to get started with a non-technical degree with the right skills (more on that later). 

2. Start with an entry-level cybersecurity job.

Cryptanalysts are typically considered a more advanced role in cybersecurity. This means that you might start out as a cybersecurity analyst. Mid-level roles like penetration tester or digital forensic analyst can help you further develop your cryptography skills. With the right degree and skill set, you could also get a job directly out of university. 

3. Develop your cryptography skills.

Working in cryptanalysis involves several technical skills. Focusing on these skills while you’re in college or university, or as you prepare to switch careers can help enhance your CV (and make you more effective on the job).

  • Advanced mathematics: Cryptanalysts use linear algebra, number theory, algorithms, and discrete mathematics to break ciphers.

  • Programming languages: Coding languages like Java, Python, C, or C++ help cryptanalysts write complex algorithms. 

  • Encryption: It’s helpful to have an understanding of the various methods of encryption, including symmetric and asymmetric encryption.

  • Data structures: Knowing how data is structured plays a key role in decoding encrypted data.

4. Consider a certification.

While cryptography has been around for thousands of years, a few certifications are specific to the field. Earning a cybersecurity certification that covers cryptanalysis topics can still help you develop new skills and validate those skills to future employers. Here are a few with relevance to cryptanalysts:

  • EC-Council Certified Encryption Specialist (ECES)

  • GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN)

  • CompTIA PenTest+

  • EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

Get started in cybersecurity

If you’re ready to get started in a cybersecurity career, consider enrolling in the Google Cybersecurity Professional Certificate on Coursera. Learn how to use job essential tools like Splunk, Chronicle, playbook, and more. This program is designed ​​to help individuals with no previous experience find their first job in the field of cybersecurity, all at their own pace. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Article sources


Payscale. "Average Cryptographer with Cryptography Skills Salary in India, https://www.payscale.com/research/IN/Job=Cryptographer/Salary/ca9e0397/Cryptography." Accessed July 7, 2023.

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