What is the Field of Cryptography?

The demand across all industries for increased computer security is growing, and cryptography is a subcategory within the career field of information security. Cryptologists employ codes to protect private or classified information from unauthorized viewing and use cryptographic knowledge and techniques to decode information that would otherwise remain hidden. The discipline is a very old one that has gained new and increasing importance with the proliferation of cybercrimes. Here are some of the job functions of cryptologists, the steps for entering the career and an overview of salary and expected job growth for the profession.

Cryptologists at the Heart of Information Technology Security

Companies operating in banking, financial services, telecommunications and health care require computing systems that utilize encryption technology that is developed by cryptologists. These cryptologists mostly specialize in computer network security, and they use mathematical algorithms and software tools to produce codes that are increasingly difficult to decipher without authorized decryption keys. The sensitive nature of the data associated with many of these industries require by law that organizations use data security methods like encryption. For example, the health care industry has adopted electronics record keeping as well as protective regulations like the Privacy and Security Rules under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Many cryptologists work for private and public agencies that help to safeguard classified information or identify threats to national security. For instance, cryptologists are often trained in signal intelligence within military or other government agencies, and they use their knowledge to create tighter communications networks for land, air and sea based systems. They are also trained to intercept, collect and analyze signals and communications from foreign sources to identify possible threats.

Becoming a Cryptologist

People who want to enter the career field of cryptography must first earn an undergraduate degree in computer science, mathematics or a related subject. These disciplines teach the logic, quantitative and technical skills needed to make and break complex computerized codes. Since many cryptologists support military defense systems that require interaction with foreign communication signals, students who want to become cryptologists should consider taking additional course work in linguistics or minor in a particular foreign language. Researched based, advanced degrees in information security or network engineering with specializations in cryptology are also beneficial for professional cryptologists. This type of academic background positions students to enter the field as cryptology practitioners who create more secure computing products or as cryptoanalysts who research new models and processes needed to build more secure computing systems. Cryptologists in both roles must maintain subject matter expertise through continuous learning. Exposure to leading edge concepts and top industry experts can be gained through membership in professional societies like the International Association for Cryptologic Research.

Salaries and Career Growth

Even though cryptologists now primarily serve under the area of information technology and security, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies these professionals as mathematicians. According to BLS reports, cryptologists made annual median salaries of $101,360 in 2012, and job growth through 2022 is projected to be at 23 percent which is much faster than the average rate of growth across all job categories.


Cryptologists play vital roles in both the public and private sectors, and career options are available to them worldwide. However, students who want to steer their cryptography careers toward jobs with the federal government should choose academic programs with schools that are recognized by security agencies as centers of excellence in information assurance and security.