How to Become a Cryptographer


If you want to become a cryptographer, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. If the following description sounds like you, then it might be a good fit!


• Are you fascinated by math, puzzles and technology?

• Do you have an interest in protecting people from hackers and identity thieves?

• Are you willing to earn an advanced degree in Math or Computer Science?

• Are you skilled in computer programming?

• Do you want to work in a rewarding and lucrative field?


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a cryptographer. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Cryptographer

Most employers will require that you have an advanced degree, such as a master's or a Ph.D., in mathematics, computer science or cryptography, although ideally, subject matter in all three areas would be covered within whichever program you choose to pursue.


Employers typically prefer advanced degrees in these areas because they demonstrate that the holder has gained advanced knowledge and skill in the mathematical and computer-related processes involved in writing security computer code.


Although an advanced university education is highly recommended, some employers may accept applicants for cryptographer jobs who are self-taught and lack substantial post-secondary education. These employers may instead place applicants through aptitude testing and training programs.


Pursuing or gaining expertise in the following areas will give you an excellent knowledge base for becoming a cryptographer:


• Algorithm design

• Statistics

• Abstract algebra

• Computational complexity

• Theory of computation

• Number theory





What is a Cryptographer?

A cryptographer is someone who draws on their expertise in mathematics and computer science in order to create electronic codes and ciphers for the purpose of protecting information from those who aren’t authorized to access it. Cryptographers are often confused with cryptologists; cryptographers create codes and ciphers, where cryptologists study codes and ciphers.



General Job Description

The job description, and specific responsibilities of cryptographers can vary significantly from one job to the next. In general however, cryptographers are responsible for using computer programs to author, improve or break complex security codes to ensure that only people with the proper authorization can view certain data. They mainly work in the areas of storing and transmitting data from online services, application servers, and databases.


Data Storage: When working to encrypt stored data, one of a cryptographer’s main goals is authentication, the process of proving the identity of one attempting to access a given piece of information. They are also concerned with privacy, which is to ensure that secured information reaches only authorized viewers.


Data Transmission: Cryptographers that work with message transmission, such as e-mails, must ensure that secured information is not altered between the sender and the receiver. They must be able to authenticate the identity of the sender so that one cannot send a message and claim it came from someone else.


Some companies also hire specialized experts (who may or may not be cryptographers) known as “white hat hackers” or “penetration testers” to attempt to break their cryptographic security systems and gain entry to secured information. These individuals are responsible for finding security flaws and recommending or creating security improvements in order to effectively protect the information from hackers. 



Typical Job Duties

• Apply mathematical theories to solve problems in various industries, such as engineering, business and science

• Develop statistical and mathematical models to analyze data

• Develop statistical and mathematical models to develop computational methods that solve security problems

• Test models for accuracy and reliability

• May identify issues that make software, applications and databases vulnerable to hacking

• Help design security systems, including encryption, to prevent vulnerabilities in security 



Who Employs Cryptographers?

Cryptographers are hired on a part-time, full-time or contractual basis by employers that have a need to create, test, improve or break digital securing coding for the purposes of protecting or retrieving information that is transmitted in digital messages, or stored in a database or application server. Organizations that employ cryptographers are typically those that must go to great lengths to ensure their information, or the information of their clients or users, is secure.


The following types of organizations employ cryptographers:


• Municipal, provincial/state and federal government departments

• The Armed Forces

• Government intelligence services

• Information security consulting firms

• IT Software developers producing encryption software

• Professional services firms providing technology security services

• Banks and financial institutions

• Electronic signature services

• Credit card companies

• Colleges and universities

• IT end-users where encrypted data is needed, e.g. finance companies

• IT consulting firms

• Telecommunications firms

• Broadcasting companies

• Online money transferring and payment services





Skills and Traits Needed

To be an effective and successful cryptographer, you need to posses a certain set of skills and personality traits. These skills and traits will allow you to perform your duties with competence, as well as take enjoyment from your job.


• A passion for working with numbers, puzzles and technology

• Great skills in solving complex puzzles

• A desire to help protect people from hackers and identity thieves

• Skills in problem-solving, analytical thinking, and arithmetical reasoning

• Skills in algorithm design, statistics, and abstract algebra

• Able to solve mathematical proofs

• Skills in writing computer program code



Why Are Cryptographers Important?

The majority of the world’s population uses digital storage or digital message transmission in some way. Cryptographers play an important role in protecting information on behalf of public organizations, private organizations, and individuals. Without appropriate security measures this information could be intercepted, copied, modified, or even deleted altogether. The computational models and security measures created by cryptographers have a multitude of applications in society, such as:


• Personal identification for credit cards

• Message authentication

• Protection of personal and commercial banking information

• Authentication of digital signatures

• Personal identification information protection

• Protecting military strategies

• Identify criminal activity

• Identify terrorist activity



Cryptography Job Opportunities

Our job board below has cryptography-related postings in your area (provided you're located in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom or Australia):




Average Salary Level

The salary level of cryptographers can vary depending on their personal qualifications, the size and type of their employer, the specific responsibilities of their job, and many other factors. Although there is no reliable salary data available specifically for Cryptographers, we can get a good idea of their salary level by looking at those of closely related professions.


Cryptographer Salary Canada (Alberta figures only): According to the 2018 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working as part of the Computer Programmers occupational group (which includes cryptographers by extension) earn an average of between $31.69 and $43.46 per hour. Those in the top 95th percentile earn an average of $70.85 per hour. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories.  


Cryptographer Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Mathematicians is $101,360 per year. The BLS also shows that Computer Programmers earn a median salary of $74,280 per year.



Similar Career Profiles in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to cryptographer, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Applications Programmer

Computer Scientist


Quantitative Analyst





Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a cryptographer.


Occupations in Alberta:Systems Security Analyst.” (March 31, 2018). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Computer and Information Technology:Information Security Analysts.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Articles: How to Become a Cryptographer.” Mary Kearl (October 28, 2019). website. Retrieved November 8, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Cryptographer

Scholarships in our database listed for majors that are relevant for becoming a cryptographer can be found on our Computer Science Scholarships and Mathematics Scholarships page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for getting into this line of work. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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