A cryptographer is responsible for creating systems that have the ability to encrypt sensitive and private information. They write the encryption code needed for data security and use exceptionally complex and advanced encryption algorithms that keep cybercriminals at bay. What does a cryptographer do?
Cryptography in Cybersecurity and Network Security
Cryptographers in IT security are professionals who deal with methods for encrypting signals, data and messages in information processing, cyber and network security systems. They make use of these complex cryptographic methods to encrypt them.
What does cryptography mean?
Cryptography refers to secure information and communication methods that allow only the sender and recipient to view the contents of a message.
The aim here is to make the areas of secrecy, authenticity, integrity and reliability as comprehensive as possible. It is thus the role of a cryptographer to ensure transmission security, integrity and reliability to prevent counterfeiting.
In cryptography, cryptographers choose and implement an appropriate cryptosystem (aka cryptographic systems). This makes active and passive attack options as difficult as possible or extremely complex.
They test systems using cryptanalysis – a method used to crack developed algorithms and protocols – and carry out tests from the point of view of possible attackers.
In this article, we will focus on the role of the cryptographer and the use of cryptography in computer security.
The difference between Cryptography and Cryptanalysis
Cryptography = Defence
Cryptography is a branch of mathematics that aims to encrypt and decrypt information in order to protect it. It is used to protect the information in two states: in transit and at rest. This means that sensitive data can be protected when it is in storage (e.g. when it is in a repository) or in transit (e.g. in a bank transaction).
To encrypt information, cryptographers develop cryptographic systems or cryptosystems. These systems process the information to ‘mask’ it, using algorithms that convert it into unreadable code.
A well-known example that applies cryptography is WhatsApp, which encrypts messages exchanged by users.
Cryptanalysis = Offense
Cryptanalysis analyses encrypted messages to discover weaknesses, and problems and even decrypt the protected information without knowing the key or how the encryption works.
A cryptographer is in charge of identifying any weaknesses in cryptography, cyber, and network security systems. Though the duties of a cryptographer may vary according to the organisation they work for, they are mainly responsible for preventing data from being intercepted or modified (in any way) by unauthorised users.
They ensure the confidentiality, integrity and authentication of the company’s information. To achieve this, he designs and develops the organisation’s cryptosystems.
To do so, the cryptographer uses HSM (Hardware Security Module) devices, a hardware-based solution for managing the lifecycle of keys. Thanks to HSMs, the keys of cryptosystems are protected and the company’s information is protected.
Cryptographers test cryptography theories and techniques in practice according to the needs of the organisation they work for. They also design robust data security systems that are near impossible to hack.
These IT professionals are also tasked with breaking down ciphers to gain access to encrypted information.
They create and maintain an organisation’s encryption technology and assist cryptanalysts in going over any security gaps. Lastly, these professionals develop prototype solutions for a company and train staff to handle sensitive information.
What do cryptographers do daily?
- Create encryption systems and codes, using cryptographic tools, to secure sensitive data
- Identify any weaknesses in cryptography, cyber, and/or network security systems
- Prevent data from being intercepted or modified
- Test cryptography theories and techniques in practice
- Design robust data security systems that are impossible to break into
- Manage the lifecycle of the company’s keys through cryptosystems and HSMs
- Implementing cryptographic solutions, including digital signatures, distributed key generation, threshold schemes and zero-knowledge protocols
- Break down ciphers to gain access to encrypted information
- Create and maintain an organisation’s encryption technology
- Contribute to the definition of IT security and communications policies, standards and protocols
- Assist cryptanalysts in going over any security gaps
- Manage bulk encryption processes
- Participate in risk management and IT security committees
- Train staff to handle sensitive information
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Cryptographers have extensive knowledge of cryptography techniques and principles and are fluent in programming languages such as Java, .NET, C#, and Python – the programming language of reference within cryptography. Python helps them create crack codes and ciphers.
Since Cryptography is a branch of mathematics, mathematical and statistical proficiency is fundamental to their work.
They possess strong public and private key encryption knowledge. In addition, they also have experience using operating systems such as MS Windows and UNIX/Linux.
The handling of risk management and IT security standards are also very important for cryptographers. This is because the work of cryptographers is done in collaboration with cybersecurity experts, within the framework of company-specific IT architecture and processes.
It is also logical that in many cases cyber security experts complement their knowledge with cryptography and cryptanalysis. These skills and techniques are essential for the protection of sensitive company information.
In addition to professionally handling HSM devices, the cryptography expert must master various encryption software such as IBM Guardium, VeraCrypt, Micro Focus Voltage, BitDefender Gravity Zone, BitLocker, among others.
These cybersecurity professionals also have a strong working knowledge of IT and have a basic understanding of topics like network architecture and project management.
Finally, cryptography is a field in constant evolution. It is therefore essential to understand cryptography trends such as:
- Blockchain uses for encryption
- HSMs supported in the cloud
- Flexibility of HSMs
- Contactless payment methods
- Service-oriented architecture
In terms of soft skills, cryptographers have strong communication and organisational skills and possess the ability to think analytically and logically. They also have the ability to work well with others and in high-stress environments.
What skills do you need to be a cryptographer?
- Experience in the application of classical cryptography
- Extensive knowledge of cryptography techniques and principles, such as post-quantum cryptography, homomorphic encryption and lightweight symmetric cryptography
- Knowledge of programming languages such as Python, Java and/or .NET
- Strong public and private key encryption knowledge
- Exceptional mathematical and statistical skills
- Experience working with HSM (Hardware Security Module)
- Experience using operating systems such as MS Windows and UNIX/Linux
- Proficiency with encryption software (BitLocker, AxCrypt, etc.)
- Experience in the configuration under encryption protocols such as Kerberos
- Basic understanding of topics like network architecture and project management
- Notions of risk management and cybersecurity models
- Passion for creating effective and practical cryptographic schemes
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Background for a career in Cryptography
To work as a cryptographer, you will need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree. This should be in Computer Science, IT, Mathematics, Statistics, or a related field. Advanced Master’s degrees are also something you should consider because they can give you an edge in obtaining better jobs.
Likewise, previous experience working in the science of cryptology is highly valued. Cryptography experts with practical experience in the use of state-of-the-art software and hardware tend to have better opportunities.
You can also obtain online certifications that will help you improve your technical and logical skills needed to decipher codes and algorithms. Check out options for these down below:
- Information Security – Authentication and Access Control
- Network Security – Protocols
- Mathematical Foundations for Cryptography
- Cryptography and Hashing Fundamentals in Python and Java
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How much does a Cryptographer earn?
The salary of a cryptographer starts at around $47,500 per year for junior professionals and can go as high as $201,500 per year. The national average salary is $150,000 per annual year.
In Germany, the salary range for these professionals is €69,300 – €124,000 whereas in the UK, the range is £50,000 – £89,600.
Michael Page’s 2022 remuneration study reported that the salary of a cryptography expert is between 25,000 and 80,000 euros per year in Spain.
The amount of money cryptographers make is purely dependent on which industry they work in and what manner of skills they possess.
|US||$47,500 – $150,000|
|Germany||€69,300 – €124,000|
|UK||£50,000 – £89,600|
|Spain||€25,000 – €80,000|
How much do freelance cryptographers earn?
|Average rate Cryptographers (2022)||$79/hr|
According to freelancermap’s price and rate index in September 2022, freelance Cryptographers charge $79/hour on average.
Freelance rates in Cryptography range between $40 and $101 for the majority of freelancers.
Considering a freelance rate of $79/hour, a freelancer would charge $632/day for an 8-hour working day.
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