Why a cryptographer can be your org’s secret weapon

12 Oct 2023

Image: © siraanamwong/Stock.adobe.com

Jeremy Bradley, COO at Zama, explains the diverse skills required to become a cryptographer and the value these professionals add to any digital organisation.

There is a paradox when it comes to cryptography. Most people have come to know cryptographers through representations of real-life events and fiction: you went to the movies to see Alan Turing defeating the Enigma machine, read about Sherlock Holmes cracking codes to solve cases and cheered for hackers using their skills for a good cause.

These portrayals present cryptography as a cool game of cat and mouse, solving enigmas and deciphering secret communications. Though this is all true and accurate, these depictions don’t explore the full extent of what cryptography is nor how important it has become in our digital lives.

Cracking the right profile

Cryptographers are indeed experts in unveiling secret codes and solving enigmas, but more than anything they are professionals trained to identify and forecast potential threats and devise tailored preventive solutions.

They must have specific skills and characteristics, such as having a strong background in and knowledge of mathematical sciences as well as good implementing skills. Most of these skills would have been acquired through their studies, with a math or computer science degree being essential – a background in engineering might also help and a PhD would further support someone looking to become a cryptographer or cryptanalyst.

Less predictable skills, but still extremely valuable, can also contribute to shaping a well-rounded professional in the field. Good intuition and communication skills can be extremely helpful when working in a team to solve complex problems, and, obviously, a real passion for privacy and a commitment to delivering solutions in the field.

Cryptography, the ‘science of security’, has come a long way over the last two decades or so, from public-key systems, such as RSA and elliptic curve cryptography (ECC), focusing on data transmission, to multiparty computation (MPC) and fully homomorphic encryption (FHE), which enables data to be processed without having to decrypt it.

With new and improved forms of cryptographic techniques being developed constantly, cryptographers also need to be open-minded and flexible to adapt to different problems and solutions as demands arise.

Who needs a cryptographer?

When looking below the surface, it becomes clear that cryptographers are much more complex figures than you might think. What is still too frequently overlooked is the importance of their role in businesses and organisations across different industries, applying their particular expertise and abilities to add value to services and products.

Here are some of businesses that should employ cryptographers and what this role could bring to the table.

Financial services

Banks and providers dealing with online payments require strong protection to deliver secure transactions. Sensitive data are held (account numbers, personal information, access and PIN codes) to allow the movement of money between customers and the institution.

Cryptographers ensure that encryption measures are in place to keep transactions and information private and authentic when operating remotely. Cryptography is also at the very heart of blockchain and decentralised finance (DeFi).

Market research and statistics

Market analysis and forecasts usually focus on evaluations, profits and investments, but when the information gathered is sensitive data then there is a clear need for privacy and protection.

Organisations that collect personal identifiable information (PII) for statistical purposes (names, addresses, contacts and so on) can employ cryptographers to make sure that the statistical data are stored while guaranteeing that nobody can access or modify the original information.

Software companies

Cryptographers are problem-solvers thanks to their maths training, and, thanks to their computer training, they are developers: their mindset is to try and anticipate the potential attacks and then create the appropriate defensive measures.

Companies developing software for applications, systems or drivers need cryptographers to protect their intellectual property and know-how. Cryptographers also ensure that whatever data and information that is processed by the end product will be private and authenticated.


With the rise in popularity of home and online gaming, big game developers have found themselves facing new and evolving threats to their creations.

Digital rights management (DRM) has become a priority, necessary to protect games from being copied or distributed through unauthorised channels.

When you provide a device to people, piracy becomes more likely. Your user is now also a potential attacker. However, if you involve cryptographers from the early stages of game development, you will ensure all the right protections are in place.

Cloud services

Protecting cloud communication and data storage requires a combination of different elements: tackling personal activities, monitoring server users, accessing browsers and apps, and protecting communication between users and providers.

With so much data in the cloud, you need to make sure this can’t be seen or hijacked, stolen or misused.

Many of the measures already in place have been developed by cryptographers using a plethora of techniques, which include different forms of encryption, secure channels, digital signatures and two-factor authentication. This ensure that anything exchanged cannot be exploited and that users are indeed accountable for their actions.

Focus on privacy

Cryptographers are highly skilled and well-placed to educate people about the importance of privacy and work on developing the field.

The research and teaching field is not one to overlook: this is where the culture for privacy is cultivated, where the science of security keeps growing and evolving, and where new generations of cryptographers are trained to face the challenges that will be brought on by the continued advancements in technology.

The constant evolution of technologies and ways to collect, store and share information highlights why businesses and organisations should add cryptographers to their workforce. Their contribution goes beyond simple cybersecurity or IT infrastructure. In fighting threats and securing the latest privacy standards are met and challenges overcome, cryptographers can be your organisation’s secret weapon.

By Jeremy Bradley

Jeremy Bradley is the chief operating officer at Zama. He is a cross-functional and highly tactical leader who has worked with many organisations to shape strategy, drive communications and partnerships, and lead policy and process.

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