How to Become a Cryptanalyst: A Complete Career Guide

cryptography

The Greek terms krypto, which means secret, and graphene, which means writing, are said to have inspired the term cryptography. The earliest known uses of encryption are thought to date back at least 2,500 years, and some say they can be found in 4,000-year-old hieroglyphs.

Cryptography as it is used today is clearly several orders of magnitude different from what was used even a century ago. Using much more involved and sophisticated methods, the research is now being used to secure much more complicated data.

Many who find cryptography interesting, if not inspiring, should learn more about its fascinating past. The Codebreakers, a 1996 book by David Kahn, offers a reasonably detailed history from ancient times to the internet age. The Codes and Ciphers Heritage Trust is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the history of cryptography.

In the twenty-first century, cryptography integrates mathematics, computer science, and engineering to design, create, and analyse methods for concealing sensitive digital information and ensuring security.

To decode the codes, cryptoanalysts must have a deep understanding in all three disciplines, as well as a comprehensive and advanced understanding of current encryption techniques. They are today’s codebreakers.

Cryptanalyst vs. Cryptographer

While the terms cryptanalyst and cryptographer are often interchanged, there is a distinction in the cryptography community.

Cryptographers are code builders, while cryptanalysts are code breakers. In several organisations, positions with the title cryptographer are charged with both creating and breaking codes. The distinction between the two occupations is often blurred, if not entirely erased. However, the distinction is important due to the two types of employers that typically use their services.

Cryptographers can be hired by almost any company that wants to go above and beyond in terms of data security. Cryptographers don’t only stop hackers from breaking into the company’s databases and networks; they also keep hackers from being able to use or understand the data once they’ve gotten into them. They “make” or “build” encryption codes to protect confidential information.

Cryptanalysts, on the other hand, are often used by law enforcement and intelligence services to decrypt encryption codes used by criminals and nefarious government actors. Cryptoanalysts are used by the FBI, NSA, DHS, and CIA to sift through data sent around the world by proven or suspected criminal organisations. Cryptanalysts must be up to date with the most recent cryptographer methods and codes. To “break” these codes, cryptanalysts sift through bits of data and programming code, revealing the cypher keys and restoring the data to its original format.

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Four Steps to becoming a Cryptoanalyst

1. Educate yourself It’s always a good idea to begin taking advantage of whatever educational opportunities are available as soon as possible. Outside of college, there are a few options for introductory and intermediate cryptography education and training. For example, the InfoSec Institute’s website includes an introduction to cryptography. Mathematics, computer science, computer engineering, and computer programming are among the best college degrees for careers in cryptography. Where appropriate, coursework should concentrate on different aspects of cybersecurity. Employers who need graduate degrees from cryptographer job applicants are not uncommon, so after a few years of work experience, consider pursuing a master’s degree. A Ph.D. would also be needed by a large number of employers.

2. Training/certifications Despite the fact that cryptography is the oldest method of information security in human history, technical certifications are few and far between. These are the only ones available right now.

3. Career path Cryptography is an extremely specialised field. While it is often mistakenly classified as part of mathematics or computer science rather than cybersecurity, the end aim is to keep data secure. Because of the technological difficulties of becoming a cryptographer or cryptanalyst, it usually takes a few years of work experience to break into the positions, although there are some openings for exceptional college graduates. Additionally, because of the expertise needed to master cryptography, there are several career opportunities outside of cybersecurity. However, cryptanalysts are already more technically advanced than most other disciplines inside the cybersecurity umbrella, so lateral choices may be restricted. Cryptanalysts who invest in a master’s degree, or even a doctorate, can see a significant improvement in their career value. Advanced degrees would require other career changes such as security consultant, college professor, research cryptology scientist, and information security systems engineer, in addition to achieving more senior levels in cryptography.

4. Staying current In almost every area of cybersecurity, staying current on technologies, skills, and expertise is critical to success. The nature of information security is evolving at such a rapid pace that practitioners who do not keep up will quickly become dinosaurs. Trade unions are a perfect way to stay on top of things. These organisations usually have some of the most up-to-date analysis as well as many opportunities to network with other professionals. There are many trade groups open to cryptoanalysts, which is fortunate.

    • International Association of Cryptologic Research (IACR)
    • International Financial Cryptography Association (IFCA)
    • American Crypto Association (ACA)
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What is a Cryptanalyst?

Cryptoanalysts must be familiar with and understand the systems and networks they are working with in order to decrypt encrypted data. They must also have a thorough understanding of the programming languages and encryption methods used to encrypt the data, as well as the ability to scan code and data bit by bit in order to break the cypher key and reveal the true underlying data. Law enforcement, hacking, and military cybersecurity operations are all clear uses for cryptanalysis. As technology and the skills of those attempting to protect sensitive data, namely cryptographers, evolve at a rapid pace, the cryptanalyst must evolve as well.

Cryptanalyst Skills and Experience

Candidates for cryptoanalysts are often expected to have many years of experience in a related area, such as computer programming or advanced mathematics. Some outstanding college graduates may be able to enter the sector right away after graduation. There are self-contained training programmes for cryptanalysts inside government agencies like the FBI and NSA that take them from total novices to experts in around three years. These FBI and NSA recruitment videos give you a good idea of what the job entails and how these skills are put to use in law enforcement. Given the three-year time frame for intensive training, cryptanalysis is clearly a time-consuming, challenging, and technical ability.

Cryptanalysts deal with confidential information by nature. As a result, many employers will need either a current security clearance or a security investigation, probably including a polygraph test, before hiring anyone.

Other possible conditions for new cryptanalyst hires are listed below.

    • Exceptional mathematical skills
    • Computer science knowledge, especially network and systems analysis
    • Knowledge of a variety of programming languages, including C++, C, Java, and Python, as well as homomorphic encryption and other well-known encryption techniques
    • Study of algorithm resource requirements

The following are examples of soft skills that are frequently sought:

    • Communication skills that are both written and spoken are important.
    • Motivated by oneself
    • Ingenious
    • Dedicated and enthusiastic

What do Cryptanalysts do?

Cybersecurity as a whole is a multi-pronged strategy for preventing outside powers from accessing, obtaining, and exploiting confidential digital data. One part of the security mechanism is cryptography. Even if network or device attacks are successful, confidential or proprietary data that is safely encrypted is useless to whoever obtains it. It’s basically a jumbled, incomprehensible mess.

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However, since technology and hackers are continually evolving, a cryptographer’s role requires them to stay on top of all technological capabilities. A cryptographer’s skill set must include computer programming, advanced mathematics, network device software and hardware, and communication protocols.

It’s a never-ending challenge to come up with new methods for data encryption and to keep track of how well those methods are working. Cryptographic solutions must take into account the current architecture and operating environment, as well as potential features and improvements.

Cryptanalyst Job Description

The goals for cryptanalysts in law enforcement, the military, espionage agencies, and other government agencies vary, but the objective is essentially the same. To convert encrypted data back to plain data, crack the encryption codes. Some of the more popular job functions associated with a cryptography specialist are mentioned below.

Outlook for Cryptanalysts

Staffing shortages in the cybersecurity industry are well-known, and cryptoanalysis is no exception. Being a cryptanalyst has a certain spy world appeal that attracts new mathematicians and computer scientists on a regular basis. However, the rapid proliferation of digital methods used in law enforcement and espionage, as well as the relentless evolution and development of computer sciences, is generating new demand for cryptanalysts. And this is unlikely to change in the near future.

There are no job openings for cryptanalysts if you do a basic job scan. This is due to the fact that cryptanalysts in the private sector are often working under different work titles. Cryptanalyst roles are often performed by cryptographers as part of their responsibilities. Job vacancies for cryptanalysts in the public sector, that is, those hired by different government agencies, are seldom advertised on traditional job boards. Since almost all government cryptanalyst positions need high-level security clearances, this is the case. Clearancejobs.com is one website that lists work openings that need a security clearance. To even log into the website, you must have a security clearance. Applying directly to government agencies such as the FBI, CIA, DHS, NSA, and others is probably your best bet for breaking into cryptanalysis.

How Much do Cryptanalysts Make?

For the reasons mentioned above, researching earning data on cryptanalysts is difficult. Federalpay.org, on the other hand, publishes unclassified government job info. In 2018, the FBI hired 18 cryptanalysts, with an average annual salary of over $125,000, according to that site. According to SalaryExpert.com, the average annual salary of cryptanalysts is about $75,000.

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