Homeland Security Careers for Ciphers and Cryptologists

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A cryptologist or a cipher is a professional skilled in deciphering codes or puzzles or developing them as to protect classified or private information. These professionals, who are most often used in federal agencies and in the military, are also called upon to create codes (generally computer codes) used for communicating government, military, medical or other private information and secrets.

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Cryptologists and ciphers are also referred to as:

  • Cryptanalysts
  • Cryptographers
  • Cryptologic Technicians
  • Cryptologic Linguists
  • Symbolists
  • Decipherers

Given the focus on the nation’s homeland security following the events of 9/11, cryptologists are frequently being employed to decipher messages and codes in foreign languages and to find patterns in intelligence data as to identify potential domestic and international terror threats. They often work alongside such federal agencies as the FBI and the CIA, and the military remains one of the largest employers of cryptologists.

The Jobs Duties of Ciphers and Cryptologists

Cryptologists and ciphers are highly skilled in a number of systems related to this profession, including: electronic equipment; optical interfaces and data systems; information operations; information warfare systems; auxiliary equipment; personal computers; physical security systems; cryptologic networks; and information assurance operations.

Although ciphers and cryptologists in different fields have a number of job-specific duties, in general these professionals are tasked with:

  • Creating, modifying, and testing codes and script that allow computer applications to run
  • Analyzing, reviewing and rewriting programs to ensure operational efficiency
  • Analyzing encrypted electronic communications

This highly specialized field involves keeping classified information concealed, while at the same time exposing, or deciphering, the secret information of others for national security purposes. In short, cryptologists and ciphers must, at all times, maintain situational awareness by collecting, analyzing, and reporting on signals and information found across a number of domains, including cyberspace, air, surface, and space communications and control systems.

Cryptologists often specialize in a number of areas, including:

  • Interpretive cryptology: Experts in linguists and deciphering information in other languages
  • Technical cryptology: Experts in airborne, ship-borne and land-based radar signals
  • Network cryptology: Experts in communication network defense and forensics
  • Maintenance cryptology: Experts in the preventative and corrective maintenance of cryptologic equipment
  • Collection: Experts in intercepting signals using computers and computer-assisted communications equipment

How to Become a Cipher or Cryptologist

Ciphers and cryptologists must be experts in mathematics, as these professionals often rely on mathematical formulas to create, refine, and solve algorithms and mathematical instructions for computers. Because much of their work is done with computer programs, these professionals must also be skilled computer technicians.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of cryptologists are required to possess, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree in mathematics or a related field. For many positions, however, a master’s or PhD is required.

Salary Statistics for Ciphers and Cryptologists

Cryptologists and ciphers, who fall under the category of mathematicians with the BLS, earned a median annual salary of $99,380 in May 2010, with the top 10 percent earning $153,620.

Mathematicians in scientific research and development services earned a median annual salary of $108,230 in May 2010, followed by federal government cryptologists and cyphers, who earned a median annual salary of $106,370, and cryptologists and ciphers in management, scientific, and technical consulting services, who earned a median annual salary of $100,890, during the same time.

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