Building Skills in Information Security: How to Learn Cryptography
Online retailers such as Amazon and eBay pushed e-commerce sales over $360 billion in the United States in 2016, according to Statista, a statistics resource. Through mobile apps and websites, users can easily purchase items with their credit cards. These transactions are secured using mathematical algorithms that prevent cybercriminals from accessing personal information. The science of creating and implementing these algorithms is known as cryptography, which embodies mathematics, computer science, and information security.
Professionals who are interested in these fields might want to learn cryptography and pursue a career protecting online confidential information. Recent graduates pursuing a career as a cryptographer can earn an average annual salary of $104,500 depending on the organization and job location, according to ZipRecruiter. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies cryptographers as mathematicians and statisticians. Professionals following this career trajectory have many opportunities, with a projected employment growth of 33 percent between 2016 and 2026, compared with the national average of 7 percent.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CRYPTOGRAPHY
Cryptography is the use of a series of complex puzzles to conceal and uncover messages. Equations and computer coding convert plain, readable data into a format that only an authorized system or person can read. This allows the information to remain secure and enables parties to send and receive complex messages. The authorized party has a cipher, commonly known as a key, which decodes the unreadable data so it appears in its original form.
Cryptography has been in practice for centuries, according to Inquiries Journal. Early examples of cryptography include the U.S. military utilizing the tool to send encrypted messages, and a resurgence of cryptography during the computer and digital revolution. As the access to information grew in the computer age, so did the need to protect that information, with many industries utilizing cryptography to keep their data and other digital materials secure. Cryptography can be applied and incorporated into any industry and field of business where the sending and receiving of secure data is a necessity: Financial organizations can utilize cryptography to complete secure monetary transactions, and journalists and media organizations can have their sources submit necessary information via encryption to ensure that information remains secure. As digital communications continue to expand and evolve, with more individuals utilizing digital platforms to send messages and information to one another, the need for cryptography to ensure these messages and data remain secure will continue to grow.
While early forms of cryptography relied on using the alphabet or imagery to relay and decipher information, it has recently grown with the rise of the Internet to incorporate complex mathematical formulas to encrypt data. Students beginning to learn about cryptography will discover there are two primary methods to encrypt data: symmetric and asymmetric. In symmetric cryptography, the sender and the recipient of the data both use the same key to encrypt and decrypt the information. In asymmetric cryptography, there are two keys: one public key and one private key. The private key is unique to the recipient of the message and confirms to the sender that he or she has sent the message to the correct person.
While cryptography professionals often spend time creating secure systems to keep information confidential, including credit card numbers, financial statements, and health records, it is important that they are prepared to address new challenges in the field, like criminals developing their own tools to access data, or new legal restrictions that may hinder the progress of implementing effective cryptographic solutions, according to the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security. Being prepared to meet these challenges will help cryptographers excel in the field and be able to develop solutions that keep an individual or an organization’s information secure.
REQUIRED SKILLS FOR CRYPTOGRAPHY
Cryptology professionals require a specific set of skills to create layered algorithms and solve complicated mathematical problems. To learn cryptography, professionals need to possess the following skills.
- Analytical Skills Cryptography professionals need to have a strong understanding of mathematical principles, such as linear algebra, number theory, and combinatorics. Professionals apply these principles when they are designing and deciphering strong encryption systems.
- Technical Abilities Writing and creating complex algorithms requires professionals to use programming languages, such as Java and Python. Cryptographers need to understand how these languages are organized and how to write code to carry out tasks.
- Effective Communication Cryptographers must be able to write and verbally communicate with their teams effectively. Identifying problems and solutions with clear language ensures there are no errors in implementing security systems. Cryptography professionals can also benefit from speaking another language to understand threats from abroad, according to an article by the Information Security Media Group.
THE NECESSARY SKILLS
Learning about cryptography is the first step toward becoming a cryptographer. Many professionals start their careers by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science, mathematics, or a related field. While job requirements differ by employer, many available positions require professionals to have a master’s degree in computer science or cybersecurity, such as a Master of Professional Studies in Cybersecurity Management.
The curriculum for a cybersecurity management master’s program provides students with the foundational knowledge required to understand and apply cryptography techniques. The coursework ties this foundational knowledge to real-world applications of cryptography and protecting confidential business information. Courses on topics such as security and cyber threats for IT managers help prepare students to face current and future cybersecurity threats.
WORKING IN THE CRYPTOGRAPHY FIELD
Cryptographers are responsible for building algorithms and their corresponding keys to encrypt data. Many cryptography professionals face the challenge of attacks from outside sources. According to Statista, the “average cost to businesses affected by a data breach in the United States amounted to $7.91 million” in 2018. To prevent these costly data breaches, cryptographers continually build new mathematical formulas to prevent outside attackers from deciphering and gaining access to confidential information.
Many cryptographers work in the military, the government, and large private companies. However, the prevalence of cybercrime has created opportunities for cryptographers to work in small and medium organizations. These organizations seek computer science professionals who can understand, analyze, and create secure systems to prevent unauthorized access to their data.
The primary job duty of cryptography professionals is to analyze current security systems for any vulnerabilities that may be targeted by outside attackers. As cryptographers identify weaknesses, they apply mathematics and computer coding to strengthen the encryption.
Cryptographers also help identify and test new technologies, such as cryptocurrencies, that may fit in their organizations. If an encryption technology fits, the cryptographer can implement the new technology and evaluate the implementation, reviewing and identifying weaknesses.