How to Become a Cryptanalyst
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If solving complex puzzles is your forte and you love mathematics and statistics, then it’s time to turn your passion into a profession. Cryptanalysts are experts in deciphering coded messages and information without having any knowledge about the key used by the coder. This is a very demanding and highly rewarding profession if you become an expert in the field.
The primary responsibility of a cryptanalyst is to develop mathematical formulas and codes that protect data from prying eyes including cybercriminals and computer hackers. Public and private sector organizations hire cryptanalyst to ensure that any information/ data shared through their network is completely secure and encrypted. Computational number schemes and number theories are majorly used for writing codes to encrypt data or information. In simple words, cryptanalysts are expert mathematicians who are able to design, develop, and evaluation algorithms that can be used to decipher various number theory problems. Moreover, the responsibility of a cryptanalyst involves writing new encryption codes to secure data if a hacker or cybercriminal manages to decipher the existing codes. The responsibilities on the shoulder of a cryptanalyst are huge as their organization’s image and financial stability depend on their expertise.
Generally, cryptanalysts have completed their undergraduate degrees in either mathematics or computer science and are said to possess excellent knowledge or math, economics, computer science, and English. However, to advance in the field and most cryptanalysts at senior positions have master’s degree or Ph.D. in mathematics or computer science.
Individuals who are passionate about research and development activities and wish to advance their careers in the field can opt to become a university teacher, but this career choice would require them to have Ph.D. in the field.
What is Cryptanalysis?
You came here with the wish to know how to become a cryptanalyst, so it would be unfair if we don’t dive into details about what cryptanalysis is in order to help you better understand what lies ahead – should you choose to become a cryptanalyst. It the science of decrypting coded data and turn it into plain text that is easy to understand. Cryptanalysis is usually the best way to transmit data over insecure networking channels. Cryptanalysis also entails encryption of data into codes so that unauthorized access to data can be prevented.
Should you choose to become a cryptanalyst, you will be expected by your employer to write or decipher secret codes, which cybercriminals and hackers cannot crack. Cryptanalysts are professionals with the ability to analyze and decode secret messages. Whereas, they are also expected (in case if they are working for a government agency) to design coding systems that are immune to any potential threat. A cryptanalyst role in a private organization is to ensure the security of data and systems while protecting the privacy of the organization and its clients.
Differences in Cryptanalyst, Cryptographer or Cryptologist?
These terms can confuse a beginner as they all appear to focus on encryption and decryption of communication. But, let us explain it to you in a way that their difference becomes visible to you. Cryptology is the art and science of creating algorithms to protect confidential information/ data, whereas cryptanalysis deals with breaking the cryptographic algorithms. The mixture of these two terms is known as cryptology.
So what’s the difference between a cryptographer, cryptanalyst, and cryptologists? This question may also pop up in your mind, thus to educate our readers about how to become a cryptanalyst, it is imperative to explain the differences of roles. A cryptographer is expected to design algorithms, develop encryption codes, and create impenetrable security systems so that confidential information that their employers wish to protect can be protected. Cryptologists are responsible for both i.e. creating codes and solving them. In layman terms, cryptography refers to the art and science of creating codes, whereas cryptanalysis is the art and science of breaking them and turning them into useful information.
Simply put, a cryptanalyst is required to perform analysis and decryption of the encrypted information. As a cryptanalyst, you may be required to decipher encrypted data in different cryptographic security systems.
Encrypted messages or data have two aspects one is internals and the other is externals. It is the responsibility of a cryptanalyst to identify the internals – a process of identifying how the message has been encrypted and this can be done by utilizing the externals of the message. A cryptanalyst is considered good if that person has the knowledge of applying analysis tools to identify externals, extract the key and subsequently decrypt the message. Once done with this process, the person should also be able to reconstruct the process of encryption applied to encrypt that message.
To become a cryptanalyst, you should have adequate knowledge about ciphers, cryptosystems, ciphertexts and should develop the capability to identify and enhance techniques that can be considered as vulnerabilities of the system. A cryptanalyst has to decode a message or decrypt the data without having prior knowledge of the encryption key, plain text or the algorithm used during the process of encryption. Moreover, a cryptanalyst has to get the job done by targeting digital signatures, cryptographic algorithms, and secure hashing.
Definitions of Common Cryptanalysis Terms
Plaintext: This term in cryptography refers to a message in its original form – before encryption and after decryption.
Ciphertext: This term refers to a message that has been encrypted via a code. Ciphertext in simple words is the coded message or the result you get after encryption. However, cipher has been used interchangeably with the term ciphertext, which is inaccurate as it refers to the encryption process, not the encrypted message.
Hashing: It is another common term you would encounter if you wish to become a cryptanalyst, which basically refers to the process of changing of a string of characters into a fixed-length key, which becomes the representation of an actual string.
What does a Cryptanalyst do?
Having covered the basics of cryptanalysis, let’s discuss what the responsibilities of cryptanalysts are. They are generally expected to develop mathematical models and write encryption codes to protect data from cybercriminals. They are also tasked to decipher codes and decrypt encrypted data for companies or government agencies. The job requirements of a cryptanalyst vary from employer to employer, but the basic responsibilities of encrypting and decrypting data remain the same. In a data-driven business environment, data protection has become one of the major concerns of government agencies and private corporations, hence they hire cryptanalysts to ensure that their networks, computer systems, and data remain safe and secure.
A cryptanalyst is needed by almost every company in every industry including retail, telecom, banks, e-commerce, government agencies, and others. Cryptanalyst can decide to develop expertise for any specific industry as well to further their career. For instance, in the banking industry, a cryptanalyst can develop expertise in securing the entire banking operations including automatic teller machines (ATMs), emails, credit cards, online banking, and consumer data. In the banking industry, cryptanalysts use ciphers to protect all the sensitive data including bank account numbers and credit card numbers. Cryptanalysts are also required by certain organizations to write codes and develop programs that secure communication channels and protect the network from any unauthorized access.
Computational number theories and number schemes are mainly used to write most of the encryption codes. Cryptanalysts are expected to have excellent command over mathematics since they have to solve a variety of problems using their expertise in mathematics.
The responsibilities mentioned above make it clear that the job of a cryptanalyst entails computer science and mathematics. Cryptanalysts mostly have a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, computer science or mathematics. However, some also have a master’s degree in these fields as well.
When it comes to mathematics expertise required to become a cryptanalyst, the list is quite an extensive one and covers everything from linear algebra, elementary number theory, Calculus (I, II, & III), differential equations, mathematical cryptography, and methods of complex analysis among others.
Cryptanalysts have to rely on mathematics to fulfill a number of responsibilities including:
- Examine & test concepts as well as alternative theories
- Write encryption codes and encrypt data, databases, and systems
- Do cryptic computation and utilize numerical analysis methods
- Follow mathematical modules, formulas, and theorems
Although no system is ever 100 percent protected, the ability for differentiating between typical network traffic as well as potentially harmful malware is considered crucial and provides the focus of this associate-level certification path. Also, if you wish to acquire this certification, you should gain the PMI ACP Dumps, which are being offered at the ExamClubs.
There are a number of responsibilities that cryptanalysts have to fulfill using computer engineering or computer science including:
- Design and develop robust computer systems that hackers cannot penetrate
- Recommend security protocols that the company should follow to protect its data
- Prepare data charts, tables, & graphs
To be considered by an organization for the post of cryptanalyst, you have to have a degree in computer science, computer engineering, mathematics, or other related subjects. However, you can also become a cryptanalyst by doing some online certifications training available at QuickStart.
However, you don’t need any technical degree or certification if you have a degree in mathematics, computer engineering or computer science along with necessary experience and training, since this is what employers seek when considering someone for the position of cryptanalyst. Moreover, there are companies and government agencies who would consider your profile as a cryptanalyst even if you don’t have a technical or non-technical degree, since they only need skills, knowledge, and expertise. However, some organizations would prefer only graduates with over 5 years of experience to handle the privacy and security of their sensitive data. To be considered for an entry-level position, you may be required to demonstrate skills and expertise only along with a bachelor’s or master’s degree, needless to say, that you may have to compromise on your expected salary figures initially. If you wish to apply for a mid-level role, you may need to acquire at least 3 years of experience, otherwise, your profile won’t be considered. Simply put, where you land a job depends on your hard work 90% of the times and luck has only 10% shares in it.
If you wish to pursue a degree in computer science or computer engineering, then your focus should be on the following subjects, should you choose to start your career as a cryptanalyst:
- C, Python, C++, Java or similar languages
- Computer Algorithms
- Computer Architecture
- Computer Data structures
To add attraction to your CV, QuickStart offers a number of information security courses & training that may further your knowledge about encryption, decryption, data security and others. Explore the courses available to see which skill you need the most. There are training and courses for everyone – so whether you are just a beginner or a professional, you’ll find a course/ training that suits your needs. As a beginner, you may need to strengthen your knowledge about basic cryptographic algorithms, computational number theories, programming languages and more. If you successfully finish any of the course or training then the certificate you’ll receive for it can be presented as a proof of acquired skills and may increase the probability of you getting your dream job. These specialized courses equip you with the knowledge you may need to work with a particular employer and may get the understanding to design and develop systems that are beneficial for the organization.
QuickStart is one of the leading platforms for getting reliable online certifications and knowledge to expand your area of expertise.
The earning potential of a cryptanalyst is difficult to determine and may vary on the basis of experience, degree, and technical expertise. Moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has also clubbed the salaries of cryptanalyst, mathematician, and cryptographer.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following is the average earning potential of cryptanalyst at different levels:
Entry Level Salary: $38,930
Average Salary: $76,470
Maximum Salary: $112,780
Moreover, this is a growing field and cryptanalysts have an average growth at the rate of 33% in terms of demand and job opening. This is a high growth rate, much faster than other domains in the field of cybersecurity.
Cryptanalyst Career Paths
Cryptanalyst can decide their career path on the basis of their passion and interest. However, if you have graduated recently and looked for a job, then joining any company as a junior cryptanalyst should be your priority as you’ll need experience and proven track record of securing data to grow further. Moreover, after acquiring good exposure say like five years or a doctorate degree, then you can choose to become:
- Financial Consultant
- Security Consultant
- University Professor
Similar Job Roles
It is not necessary that you’ll be referred to as a cryptanalyst because there are other common names to refer a cryptanalyst including:
- Data Decoder
- Encryption Expert
- Message Decoder
- Signals Analyst
There are three pillars on which cryptanalysis is built including computer engineering, applied mathematics, and computer science. If you’re a beginner who’s just looking out for a job make sure that you have the following technical skills and expertise:
- Algorithms, data structure, and computer architecture
- Discreet mathematics, linear algebra, and matrix algebra
- Number theory, complexity theory, information theory, and probability theory
- Java, Python, C, C++ and other programming languages
- Principles of asymmetric and asymmetric cryptography including message authentication codes, hash functions, asymmetric encryption, symmetric encryption, digital signatures etc.
A cryptanalyst should have strong analytical skills, excellent problem-solving attitude, and creative mindset. In the world of code breakers, any person who is ready to take on complex mathematical challenges can become great coders. The passion for solving complex puzzles and strong ethical core are mandatory.
Since cryptanalysts are tasked to handle sensitive information, thus they must be trustworthy. This is one of the most important soft skills that employers look into a person when considering that person for the position of cryptanalyst.
Certifications for Cryptanalysts
Cryptanalysis is a relatively new field and thus there are very few courses are available that can help you become a cryptanalyst. However, to diversify your skillset you can opt for cybersecurity and encryption related courses available online. One such platform to get reliable certificate courses is QuickStart.
Sample Resume of a CryptAnalyst
Address: | E: | M
To work for a progressive company that values its human resource while assisting the company in securing its data and communication channels.
Data Consultants Inc.
Junior Cryptanalyst 2014 – Current
Roles and Responsibilities
1) Analysis of various coding systems and decoding messages to be used by our clients in the defense department.
2) Conducting regular analysis of the network and communication channels to ensure that there are no bugs or vulnerabilities
3) Analysis of messages and other information using different techniques including mathematical formulas, code books, and common coding keys etc.
4) Recommend encryption protocols to clients after assessing their needs.
5) Develop new coding systems.
University of California
Bachelor’s in Mathematics 05/2010 – 09/2014
University of Berkley
Master’s in Computer Science 01/2016 – 09/2018
References will be provided upon request
Common Interview Questions for Cryptanalysts
- How do you react to instructions and criticism?
- Which subject did you enjoy the most during your study?
- What would you recommend for a company who just experienced a cyber-attack?
- How would you decrypt a message, encrypted using 256-bit encryption?
An interviewer may ask you these and many other similar questions depending on the post you applied for. However, if you wish to become a successful cryptanalyst, you should prepare first before appearing for an interview.
About The Author
Account Manager (SMB) at QuickStart
Jasper is a passionate performer in the IT training space. With over 5 years of experience in sales, customer support and business development, he has helped a number of businesses meet their IT training needs through e-learning. When he is not working or studying, he likes to spend his time at the gym. You can find more of his blog posts here at QuickStart.
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