Cryptographer

By Sullivan, Megan | The Science Teacher, November 2005 | Go to article overview

Cryptographer


Sullivan, Megan, The Science Teacher


For the general public, the field of cryptography has recently become famous as the method used to uncover secrets in Dan Brown's fictional bestseller, The Da Vinci Code. But the science of cryptography has been popular for centuries--secret hieroglyphics discovered in Egypt suggest that code-making dates back almost 4,000 years.

In today's society, cryptographers such as Bruce Schneier provide security systems for computers and networks. When an item is purchased over the internet, for instance, cryptography is applied to encrypt credit card numbers so that the information cannot be detected by hackers. Government agencies use the science to safely send messages around the world. Schneier has designed and broken encryption algorithms and cryptographic systems for hundreds of commercial products and companies.

Describe your field

Traditionally, cryptography is used to send secret messages between two points. A sender uses a key to transform an original message into a code (encryption) and a receiver must use that same key to break the code (decryption). During wartime, particularly World War II, cryptographers designed codes to encrypt and decrypt confidential text messages. But with the rise of computers and the internet, cryptography has become so much more. Modern methods of cryptography use mathematics and computer programming, with keys based on complicated algorithms, to design and analyze mathematical security systems. In addition to secrecy, cryptography provides authentication, data integrity, fairness, and a whole slew of other security solutions.

A cryptologist might work as a professor in a university, a consultant for a large company, or for the government (e.g., the National Security Agency). Personally, I have done most of my cryptography work as a consultant. I have designed and analyzed security systems for internet commerce, computer games, electronic gambling, e-mail, electronic voting, the authentication of digital images, web surfing, electronic identity cards, and fax machines. I have also done some work for the government.

What background is needed?

Cryptography is just about the most fun that one can possibly have with mathematics, and in addition, it touches some of the most basic and important problems involving the internet and society. …

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