CRYPTANALYST: What They Do & How To Become One

CRYPTANALYST
Photo by Christina Morillo

Cryptology is the study and practice of creating and deciphering codes. Cryptology is a crucial component of cyber security in today’s digital world—encrypting sensitive information can help secure it from various cyber-attacks. However, cyber thieves can employ The same tactics to commit cybercrime, which is where cryptanalysts come in. This article will go over what it’s like to be a cryptanalyst. Learn more about the skills and experience required for the job, as well as how to gain that expertise.

Who is a Cryptanalyst?

A cryptanalyst is a cryptography expert who specializes in analyzing cryptographic systems and breaking codes to decipher encrypted data. Cryptanalysts employ a variety of methodologies to analyze the flaws and vulnerabilities of encryption schemes, such as mathematical analysis, statistical methods, and computer algorithms. Without prior knowledge of the encryption technology, their ultimate goal is to decipher the plaintext or encryption key from the ciphertext.

Cryptanalysts play a critical role in assuring the security of cryptographic systems by discovering potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses that attackers could exploit. They use a mix of mathematical reasoning, logical deduction, pattern recognition, and computer power to do a thorough study of cryptographic algorithms and protocols.

What Does a Cryptanalyst Do?

As a cryptanalyst, you’ll research ciphers, codes, and encryption systems to figure out how they function and obtain access to data that would otherwise be impossible to decipher.

Responsibilities and Tasks

The specific responsibilities you undertake as a cryptanalyst will differ based on the industry and organization for which you work. The following are some cryptanalyst jobs and responsibilities taken from real job listings:

  • Gather, process, and analyze intelligence data
  • Examine jumbled intercepts
  • Use encrypted materials
  • Debug software applications
  • Identify flaws in cryptographic algorithms
  • Create new cryptanalysis tools.
  • Create strategies for exploiting computer network flaws.

How Much Does a Cryptanalyst Make?

For the reasons stated above, it is difficult to find earning data on cryptanalysts. However, according to SalaryExpert.com, cryptanalysts earn between $58,270 and $100,852, with an annual average of $81,592 as of 2023.

Job Prospects of a Cryptanalyst

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth in information security occupations is expected to be 32% between 2022 and 2032, substantially faster than the national average.

Cryptographer vs. Cryptanalyst

The phrases cryptanalyst and cryptographer are sometimes used interchangeably; however, there is a distinction in the cryptography community. In technical terms, cryptographers create the codes, while cryptanalysts decipher them.

In many organizations, positions with the title of cryptographer are entrusted with both creating and breaking codes. The distinction between the two jobs is frequently blurred if not totally eliminated. However, the distinction is important because of the two types of employers who typically use their services.

Almost any organization that wants to go above and beyond to secure its data can hire cryptographers. Instead of only preventing hackers from entering its systems and networks, cryptographers additionally block hackers who are able to access the systems and obtain data from using or comprehending that data. They “create,” or “make,” the encryption codes used to secure sensitive data.

On the other hand, law enforcement and intelligence organizations frequently use cryptanalysts to break encryption algorithms used by criminals and malicious government actors. To sift through data sent around the world by known or suspected criminal organizations, the FBI, NSA, DHS, and CIA all use cryptanalysis.

Cryptanalysts must be up-to-date on the latest cryptographer techniques and codes. To “break” these codes, cryptanalysts exchange bits of data and programming code in order to decipher the cipher keys and return the data to its original format.

How To Become a Cryptanalyst?

Working in cryptanalysis frequently entails first establishing a solid foundation in cybersecurity. However, there are other paths to this career. Here are some things you can do to get a job as a cryptanalyst.

#1. Consider a degree in mathematics or computer science.

The majority of cryptanalysis positions require a bachelor’s degree in computer science or cybersecurity. Some positions may require a master’s degree or even a doctorate. If you want to work in cryptanalytic research, you’ll almost certainly require a doctorate in a related discipline.

While a bachelor’s degree in a technical or math-related discipline can help you build a solid basis for cryptanalysis, you can also get started with a non-technical degree if you have the proper skills (more on that later).

The National Security Agency, for example, has a full-time, compensated Cryptanalysis Development Program for entry-level professionals who want to improve their security skills. There is no specific major requirement.

#2. Begin with a low-level cybersecurity job.

Cryptanalysts are considered to have more advanced roles in cybersecurity. This implies you might begin your career as a cybersecurity analyst. Mid-level positions such as penetration tester or digital forensic analyst might help you hone your cryptography skills. You could potentially find a job right out of university if you have the correct degree and skill set.

#3. Improve your cryptographic skills.

Working in cryptanalysis requires a variety of technical skills. Practicing these skills while in school or as you prepare to change careers will help you improve your CV and make you more productive on the job.

  • Advanced arithmetic: Cryptanalysts decipher ciphers using linear algebra, number theory, algorithms, and discrete mathematics.
  • Languages for programming: Coding languages such as Java, Python, C, and C++ aid cryptanalysts in the creation of complicated algorithms.
  • Encryption: Understanding the various encryption algorithms, including symmetric and asymmetric encryption, is beneficial.
  • Data Structures: Understanding how data is formatted is essential for deciphering encrypted data.

You do not need to attend university to begin developing these skills. Websites such as The Cryptopals Crypto Challenges present you with puzzles to tackle based on real-world flaws. Completing the challenges also serves as an excellent opportunity to practice a new programming language.
If you want to enhance a certain ability, consider taking an online class or completing a short guided project. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Specialization in Applied Cryptography Introduction
  • Cryptography and Number Theory
  • Algorithms and data structures Specialisation
  • Everyone Can Programme (Getting Started with Python)
  • C++ Encryption and Decryption

#4. Think about getting certified.

Even though cryptography has been around for thousands of years, there are few credentials available in the discipline. Earning a cybersecurity certification that covers cryptanalysis topics might still assist you in developing new skills and validating those skills with potential employers. Here are a handful that are pertinent to cryptanalysts:

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
  • EC-Council Certified Encryption Specialist (ECES)
  • GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN)
  • CompTIA PenTest+
  • EC-Council-Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

Types of Cryptanalysts

Cryptanalysis comprises a wide range of techniques and approaches for cracking codes and interpreting encrypted data. As a result, several sorts of cryptanalysts exist, each specializing in a specific field or method.

#1. Classical Cryptanalysts

Cryptanalysts who specialize in ancient encryption methods and ciphers, such as Caesar ciphers, Vigenère ciphers, or substitution ciphers, are known as classical cryptanalysts. To decipher messages encrypted using traditional methods, they use techniques such as frequency analysis, letter patterns, and language analysis.

#2. Modern Era Cryptanalysts

Modern cryptanalysts specialize in breaking modern encryption algorithms and protocols utilized in modern cryptographic systems. They examine algorithms such as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), RSA, elliptic curve cryptography (ECC), and hash functions to uncover flaws and devise countermeasures.

#3. Brute-Force Cryptanalysts

To break codes, cryptanalysts use extensive search methods. They attempt every possible key or combination until they discover the right one. Brute-force attacks are computationally demanding, but they can be effective against encryption keys that are weak or short.

#4. Mathematical Cryptanalysts

These cryptanalysts study the mathematical components of cryptography. To breach cryptographic systems, they employ mathematical analysis, algebraic techniques, number theory, and computational algorithms. They frequently analyze the mathematical features of encryption algorithms to identify flaws in their design.

#5. Side-Channel Attack Analysts

Side-channel attack analysts specialize in exploiting inadvertent information breaches while cryptographic algorithms are being executed. They extract hidden information or encryption keys by analyzing parameters such as power usage, electromagnetic radiation, timing information, or auditory emissions.

#6. Differential Cryptanalysts

Differential cryptanalysts analyze and exploit discrepancies in encryption scheme input-output pairings. By looking at how cryptographic functions work with different inputs, they use statistical methods to get information about encryption keys or other secret parameters.

#7. Chosen-Plaintext and Known-Plaintext Attack Analysts

These cryptographers are experts in cases where the attacker has access to known or pre-selected pairs of plaintext and ciphertext. They analyze the encryption process, derive relationships between plaintext and ciphertext, and deduce information about the encryption key or system weaknesses using this knowledge.

#8. Cryptographic Protocol Analysts

Cryptographic protocol analysts study the security of complicated cryptographic protocols, such as secure communication protocols and authentication methods. They evaluate the protocol’s design, discover potential flaws or vulnerabilities, and then devise attacks or exploit these flaws to breach the protocol’s security.

Where Can a Cryptanalyst Work?

A cryptanalyst’s workplace may differ based on the industry and organization for which they work. Here are some examples of frequent work environments for cryptanalysts:

#1. Government Organizations

Many cryptanalysts work for government organizations such as intelligence agencies, military organizations, or national security organizations. These organizations are in charge of safeguarding classified information, interpreting intercepted communications, and undertaking cryptographic analysis for intelligence gathering. Cryptanalysts at government agencies frequently work in secure facilities alongside other security specialists.

#2. Cryptography Research Institutions

Research organizations or cryptographic laboratories that are devoted to the development of the field of cryptography may hire cryptanalysts. These organizations carry out research, create new cryptographic algorithms, and assess the security of current systems. In research settings, cryptanalysts frequently engage in theoretical analysis, algorithm design, and collaborative research projects.

#3. Cybersecurity Firms

Many cryptanalysts work for cybersecurity firms that offer services such as vulnerability assessments, penetration testing, and security consulting. These firms assist organizations in assessing the security of their cryptographic implementations and the vulnerabilities of their systems. Cryptanalysts in cybersecurity firms may work on a wide range of projects, partnering with clients to identify flaws in cryptographic systems and devise effective responses.

#4. Financial Institutions

Cryptanalysts can also work in the financial sector, namely in organizations that deal with safe transactions and cryptographic protocols. These institutions use strong encryption algorithms to safeguard private financial information and guarantee safe online transactions. Financial institution cryptanalysts may be involved in analyzing and evaluating the security of cryptographic protocols used in banking, payment systems, or digital currencies.

#5. Tech Companies

Cryptanalysts may find work in technology firms that create cryptographic products, software, or cryptographic libraries. They help to design, implement, and analyze encryption algorithms and cryptographic systems that are utilized in software applications, network security, and data protection. To ensure the effectiveness and security of cryptographic implementations, cryptoanalysts in technology organizations frequently collaborate closely with software engineers and security teams.

#6. Academic Institutions

Cryptanalysts may work in academic institutions such as universities or colleges as researchers or professors. They contribute to the field of cryptography through research projects, cryptography courses, student mentoring, and the publication of research articles. Academic cryptanalysts frequently cooperate with other scholars, stay current on cryptographic advances, and contribute to the academic community.

Is Math Required in Cryptography?

Yes, both cryptography and cryptanalysis are mathematical fields. Consider taking classes in linear algebra, number theory, and discrete mathematics if you want to work in cryptology.

What is the Difference Between a Hacker and a Cryptanalyst?

An ethical hacker conducts targeted, lawful attacks on computer systems and networks to identify vulnerabilities before malicious hackers do. Cryptanalysts specialize in interpreting encrypted messages without the use of a key. Some ethical hackers may employ cryptanalysis in their work.

What is the Difference Between Cryptanalysis and Brute-force Attacks?

A brute force attack is a cryptanalytic technique that includes testing each possible password or encryption key combination one by one. As a cryptanalyst, you will employ different approaches to interpret encrypted data to limit the possible keys, potentially making brute-force attacks faster and more effective.

References

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