How to Become a Cryptographer

Cryptography is intricately entwined with cybersecurity, as it involves the protection of confidential information online. Cryptographers, also known as cryptologists, use a sequence of complex puzzles to uncover and conceal messages. It is the modern-day equivalent of puzzle solving. Becoming a cryptographer can be a perfect goal for someone who has great analytical skills and likes to solve complicated mathematical problems.

Encryption codes, also known as ciphers, are written and cracked by cryptologists. These codes make the internet safer for everyone to use, whether it’s protecting data while sending a private email or shopping online. Cryptographers may be employed by a variety of entities, including, but not limited to, government agencies, the military, private sector companies, and academia.

Those with personalities best suited to becoming a cryptographer will be highly analytical problem solvers who enjoy solving complex puzzles. They should also be quite strong in mathematics. If you are entranced by the idea of creating and breaking ciphers, you might want to consider becoming a cryptographer. Here, we will discuss how you can set about doing so.

Education Required to Become a Cryptographer

Before you give serious thought to becoming a cryptographer, make sure that you enjoy math. Mathematics is the foundation of cryptography, and if you are not a math lover, you most likely will not like cryptography. Check out our Cybersecurity and Math Guide for more information.

In order to become a cryptographer, you will need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to start. Check out our Cybersecurity Bachelor’s Degree guide to find the perfect degree and school in your state or online. Your undergraduate degree should be in a field like computer science, computer engineering, mathematics, or a related field.

Ultimately, a graduate degree will ultimately be necessary to obtain a job as a cryptographer. Some examples of graduate-level degrees that are applicable to becoming a cryptographer include:

  • Master of Science in Information Technology –Privacy Engineering – Carnegie Mellon University, PA
  • Master of Science in Computer Science – Specialization in Cryptography and Data Security – Purdue University, online and IN
  • Master of Science in Computational and Mathematical Engineering – Stanford University –online and CA
  • Master of Science in Cybersecurity Engineering – University of Washington Bothell

Additionally, there is one industry certification that has been recommended for cryptographers—the Certified Encryption Specialist (ECES), offered by the EC-Council. This certification involves taking a course and passing an examination. Before you can take the training (which is offered both online and in-person), you must have at least one year of information security work experience. Topics covered in the training and certification examination include (but are not limited to):

  • Mono-alphabet substitution
  • Multi-alphabet substitution
  • Homophonic substitution
  • Null ciphers
  • Book ciphers
  • Rail fence ciphers
  • The Enigma machine
  • CrypTool
  • Symmetric cryptography
  • Binary math
  • Block cipher vs. stream cipher
  • Symmetric block cipher algorithms
  • Hash function
  • Asymmetric encryption
  • Basic number facts
  • Random number generator
  • Digital signature algorithm
  • Applications of cryptography
  • Cryptanalysis

Another industry certification that many cryptographers obtain is CompTIA Security+ certification. This is a basic cybersecurity certification recommended for most, if not all, who work in the information security field. Like most industry certifications, it is attainable through passing an examination.

Job Description & Skills Required for a Cryptographer

Cryptographers must put algorithms, ciphers and security systems into code. They must also protect those codes from cyber hackers. Cryptographers must also know how to crack such codes that have been written by others, through reverse engineering and decryption. Duties that a cryptographer may have as part of their job description will vary by employer but generally include:

  • Creating security systems that guard against exposure
  • Ensuring that critical information is protected from being edited, copied or deleted
  • Analyzing data to solve security issues, using mathematical codes
  • Testing systems for vulnerabilities and making sure they are reliable and accurate
  • Help in solving security issues for businesses or the government
  • Guarantee financial data is protected and only available to authorized account holders
  • Keep updated with current research and techniques for applications and coding
  • Using mathematical theories to solve advanced problems
  • Develop new data encryption methods
  • Decipher encrypted messages
  • Find new relationships between existing mathematical principles

Skills and know-how that are advantageous to aspiring cryptographers include:

  • Understanding the major programming languages (Java, Python, C, C++)
  • Strong mathematical skills, including discrete mathematics and linear/matrix algebra
  • Basic understanding of complexity theory, information theory and number theory
  • Knowledge of digital signatures, encryption and key exchange
  • Skills in algorithms and data structures
  • Good judgment and decision-making skills
  • Interest in solving problems and puzzles
  • Excellent critical thinking skills
  • Being very accepting of new challenges and flexible

Cryptographer Salary & Job Outlook

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not post average salaries for cryptographers, instead using the broader categorization of information security analysts to cover a plethora of cybersecurity-related positions, average salaries for cryptographers can be found in other places online. is one such website that publishes average salaries for cryptographers. As of 2020, this site notes, the average annual cryptographer salary in the U.S. is $145,356. The site also notes that salaries range from the 25th percentile ($127,500) to the 75th percentile ($159,500).

Examples of employers who are currently advertising for cryptographers across the U.S. include:

  • National Security Agency, Fort Meade, MD
  • Intel, Hillsboro, OR
  • ICF International, Inc., Arlington, VA
  • Topl, Houston, TX
  • Cyber Security Education, Seattle, WA
  • Taxara, Santa Clara, CA
  • JP Morgan Chase Bank, New York, NY
  • VeriSign, Reston, VA
  • General Dynamics Information Technology, Washington, DC
  • Activision Publishing, Inc., Santa Monica, CA

The job outlook for cryptographers is projected to be quite good for some time to come. The BLS notes that jobs for information security analysts (the category which includes cryptographers) are projected to grow by an astounding 31 percent from 2019 to 2029. This growth is much faster than the average projected growth for other occupations. Earning your education with the goal of becoming a cryptographer is a smart career move that should pay off for many years!