Cryptography Job Description

by Julie Davoren

Cryptographers are researchers who look for weaknesses in systems and computer codes. They help companies address these weaknesses and thus protect sensitive information from unauthorized users. Their work helps unravel criminal intent, threats and security issues. Cryptographers work in the telecommunications industry, financial sector, government agencies and the military, helping decode, analyze and translate encrypted data.

Primary Tasks

Cryptographers primarily write algorithms to mask information. Common details that they mask include bank card information, e-commerce data, security codes, transactional passwords, text messages and e-mail communications. They protect data from illegal hackers and cyber-terrorists. They use high-level encryption software that encrypts and decrypts secure codes. Cryptographers set up secure systems using a set of procedures and protocols provided by the owner of the data. They also decode data by using mathematical theories and analyzing various computer-generated models.

Secondary Tasks

Cryptographers also set up tamper-proof digital signatures, which are used in Internet-dependent communications. Cryptanalysis is another extension of the cryptographer's job. In this role, cryptographers study the secret-code systems to decipher the readable text. Frequently used by law enforcement, cryptanalysis can be used to trace forgotten passwords, to reveal links that are encrypted and to revive lost information. Cryptographers also encrypt databases, files and disks that are often shared across open networks.

Desired Skills

Cryptographers must be adept at finding loopholes in a system or procedure. They must think like hackers because finding ways to break a system is often the road to discovering that system's vulnerabilities. Knowledge of complex information technology science and a high level of mathematical ability are essential for this job. A penchant for questioning, coupled with stellar problem-solving abilities and good communication skills are the keys to success in this career. A high level of integrity and willingness to work in highly stressful environments are of paramount importance.

Other Information

Cryptographers usually have at least a bachelor's degree in mathematics or a related field. While some jobs may require a doctorate, those interested in these positions may be able to substitute experience for an advanced degree. The National Security Agency often scouts and engages the services of talented cryptographers. They also may work for large corporations such as Microsoft and IBM. Many are consultants and work for multiple organizations. Those who work for the government must past a security background check and a polygraph test, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which groups cryptographers with mathematicians. Mathematicians earned a median annual salary of $99,380 in 2010, according to the BLS.

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