New to Cryptography? Here are the 5 Top Ways to Get Started

What is Cryptography?

Cryptography is a science dedicated to protecting information and communications through the use of mathematical methods, so that only those for whom the information is intended can read and process it.

Present-day cryptography most commonly refers to secure information and communication techniques derived from mathematical concepts and algorithms. These complicated mathematical functions are used to transform messages in ways that are incredibly difficult to decipher and are essential for important tools like cryptographic key generation, digital signing, identity verification, data privacy, internet browsing, and protecting confidential communications such as credit card transactions or common emails.

Cryptography is a highly technical field and a vital component of cybersecurity that forms the foundation of trust for any information-sensitive system. Therefore, cryptographers play an important role in today’s society as they can use their knowledge of coding and mathematics to help secure sensitive information and data both for large organizations and for the average internet user. If you have strong math, computer science, and engineering skills, learning how to become a cryptographer could be a valuable tool to add to your repertoire.

Top 5 Ways to Get Started in Cryptography:

1. Understand What a Cryptographer Does

The daily responsibilities of someone in this industry can vary depending on their employer. Cryptographers, both in the private sector and government positions, may also be tasked with discovering new, innovative methods to encrypt data and their secure communications. There are many ways to encrypt data, but attackers also learn new techniques to access it. This means that cryptographers often work on both sides of the problem, either researching new methods for fast and secure encryption or trying to crack these ciphers by breaking through the encryption and exposing an existing method’s shortcomings. 

There are other specific use-cases for cryptography skills, but here are some examples of potential responsibilities for a cryptographer:

  • managing cryptographic keys
  • solving security challenges
  • protecting vital information
  • identifying security system weaknesses
  • designing robust security systems
  • developing mathematical models
  • assessing the model's reliability
  • testing cryptography theories
  • implementing cryptographic schemes in a secure way

2. Get Hands on Practice:

Delve into the basics of cryptography on your own by implementing cryptographic algorithms in programming languages such as Python, C++, Rust, or Java. You can also explore popular frameworks like OpenSSL, or sign up for a cryptography challenge such as the TII McEliece Challenges!

You can also study via online courses and tutorials. Websites such as Coursera, Udemy and Khan Academy offer courses specifically designed for beginners and cover various aspects of cryptography. Then, enhance your knowledge by diving into books written by cryptography experts that will provide you with a deeper understanding of cryptography’s applications. 

Popular titles include:

3. Gain Experience

If you are looking for a job in cryptography, many companies can require cryptographers to have a graduate degree which can make it challenging to get experience in the field. An alternative approach is to find a cryptographer internship after pursuing your self-education. This allows you to gain experience in the field, which you can put onto your resume, and could lead to continuing your education with your employer’s support. Operating alongside experienced professionals is likely to teach you techniques that you might not study in a classroom. 

Note that cryptographers can also work for various businesses and industries that deal with sensitive data, and not only in positions of cryptographic research. For example, you can find work in a health care system to safeguard medical records or for a large restaurant chain to protect new recipes and intellectual property. You might also choose to work as a cryptography consultant, assisting small businesses with securing their most sensitive communication needs.

4. Earn a Relevant Degree

Many beginner and mid-level cryptographer positions require candidates to have a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity or another relevant subject. Furthermore, pursuing a master's degree may be required for more senior positions. 

If you still have the opportunity to pursue a future degree, some relevant subjects include:

  • computer engineering
  • computer science
  • data science
  • mathematics
  • computer programming
  • software engineering

5. Gain Applicable Certifications

Finally, depending on the employer, certain certificates may be necessary. Before enrolling in a certification program, check which one an employer requires. 

Some certification programs you can enroll in include:

We hope this article was helpful for you and maybe we'll see you take part in the TII McEliece Challenges!

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