Careers in Cybersecurity: Cryptography vs. Encryption

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Businesses are increasingly taking advantage of modern technology to make their operations more organized and efficient. One example is the transmission of data online — for instance, customer identification and payment details. While convenient for businesses and consumers alike, such online data is subject to threats. Cybersecurity is the discipline focused on keeping such information secure.

The repercussions of a security breach have major implications for everyday people as well as companies. Consider the consumer credit reporting agency Equifax, which in 2017 suffered a major breach that compromised the personal data of 148 million people. Many were left vulnerable to identity theft as a result. The incident took a toll not only on consumers but also on Equifax: Because the breach could’ve been prevented with appropriate cybersecurity measures, the credit ratings agency Moody’s downgraded Equifax’s outlook from stable to negative. The agency was also subject to regulatory fines and class action lawsuits — not to mention a black mark on its reputation.

Individuals working in cybersecurity must constantly keep up with evolving threats. Businesses of all types, from corporations to nonprofits to government agencies, require top-notch cybersecurity teams to stay safe. Two practices that security professionals rely on to help companies to protect their customers and themselves are cryptography and encryption.

An information security analyst reviews encryption protocols.

What Is Cryptography?

Cryptography refers to the technique or practice of securing data and communications. While today it’s used almost exclusively in a technological context, the practice of cryptography dates back well before the digital age. The Navajo code talkers developed a code using the Navajo language to send secret messages during World War II. Today, cryptography is used to keep sensitive material, such as private passwords, secure online. Cybersecurity experts use cryptography to design algorithms, ciphers, and other security measures that codify and protect company and customer data.

To work in cryptography, individuals must possess the following:

  • Programming skills. Cryptography requires professionals to work with various operating systems as well as coding languages like C++, Java, and Python. Programming makes up the primary task of a cryptographer’s job.
  • Advanced mathematics knowledge. Designing security programs requires strong math skills. Aspiring cryptographers should complete coursework in linear algebra, matrix algebra, discrete mathematics, and number theory, among other areas.
  • Education. When companies look for prospective cybersecurity hires, they look for individuals who’ve completed at least a bachelor’s in mathematics, computer science, or engineering. A master’s degree is considered a considerable advantage.

What Is Encryption?

Encryption is the process through which cryptographers transform secure data into code. Early cryptographers used simple methods like substitution (letter A is read as B, B is read as C, and so forth). Today’s encryption techniques are much more complicated, requiring the aid of complex computer technology to create and decipher. One way data is encrypted is to convert it into a scrambled code of letters and numbers. Only those who possess the key can decipher the encrypted message.

While today’s cryptographers may also turn to other methods for this purpose — algorithms, for instance — encryption is a common practice in cybersecurity. Almost every modern website makes use of encryption; Wired reports that more than half of internet traffic today is encrypted. Diverse industries rely on cybersecurity experts who are adept in cryptography and encryption. Banks need such security measures to protect client information like bank account numbers, names, and home addresses. Social media companies like Facebook rely on encryption to protect users’ posts and messages. Even government agencies use encryption to protect the vast stores of sensitive data in their databases.

Career Prospects in Cybersecurity

Given the ubiquity of cryptography and encryption in the modern world, there’s a growing need for professionals who understand how to design, interpret, and fortify cybersecurity systems. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that jobs in cybersecurity will grow by 32% between 2018 and 2028, much faster than the anticipated national average rate. Not only will there be plenty of stimulating opportunities, but they’ll also be potentially lucrative: According to the BLS, information security analysts earned a median annual salary of $98,350 in 2018.

How a Master of Science in Cybersecurity Prepares You for Your Career

Those interested in working with cryptography and encryption can prepare for their careers with Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Cyber Security. The curriculum includes courses like Cryptography and Network Security as well as Designing and Implementing Cloud Security, which expose students to current trends in cybersecurity, and Incident Handling and Breaches, which gives them practical skills they’ll use in the workplace. Students gain hands-on experience and learn from real-world case studies, further enabling them to hone relevant skills like critical thinking and problem solving. Maryville’s comprehensive program will leave graduates well prepared to enter the world of cybersecurity.

Recommended Readings:
Computer Science Careers

Master’s in Cyber Security Careers

The Internet of the Future Will Be Bigger, Faster, Safer, and More Private

CNBC, “Two Years After Huge Equifax Breach Was Revealed, Consumers Are Still Too Vulnerable to Identity Theft”

Forbes, “Equifax Becomes First Firm to See Its Outlook Downgraded Due to a Cyber-Attack”

Security Today, “Why Cybersecurity Has Never Been More Important”

Quotium, The Importance of Cryptography

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Information Security Analysts”

Wired, “Half the Web Is Now Encrypted. That Makes Everyone Safer”