Students who are interested in cryptology can earn a graduate certificate in the field. They may also learn about the subject as part of a master's degree program in information security or a Ph.D. program in electrical and computer engineering. These programs use courses, laboratory work and projects to teach students how to protect information from cyber threats. Courses may cover computer hacking, network security and computer forensics. Most programs require an on-campus presence, but some courses may be available through online study.
Graduate certificate programs in cryptography require just a few courses, while master's degree programs may take up to two years to complete. In the master's program, students may explore cryptology techniques such as mathematical algorithms and substitution ciphers. Ph.D. programs are more focused on research, and students generally can create customized programs of study suited to their interests. They can work on various projects such as developing ways to promote data security and prevent cyber attacks.
Applicants to these programs are expected to have at least a bachelor's degree, preferably in a related field such as math or information technology. Some doctoral programs also require students to have a master's degree or to have a bachelor's degree and meet a minimum GPA requirement.
Graduate Certificates in Cryptology
Students in graduate certificate programs learn to protect information from cyber threats by using biometrics, anonymization techniques and digital forensics. These 1- or 2-semester information assurance programs prepare students for stressful situations in information security by requiring laboratory work, projects and participation in cyber-war games.
Because medical, legal, financial and other sensitive information is digitally stored in data centers and individual computers, businesses and government agencies are increasingly protective over digital information. In addition to learning about the ethical implications and policy issues of hacking on behalf of the national government as well as topics like information obfuscation, students learn about:
- Computer viruses
- Data scrambling
- Information warfare
- Network security
- Semantic web technology
Master of Science in Information Security
In Master of Science in Information Security programs, the goals is to train students to use increasingly sophisticated encryption and security features to avoid allowing social engineering or computer viruses to exploit system vulnerabilities. Motivations for hackers have included a desire to download entertainment - free of charge - or to infiltrate world governments for proof of extraterrestrial technologies. Coursework applies cryptology to national defense in the form of safeguarding utility companies or power plants from cyber attacks. Programs take 18-24 months to complete; distance-learning options are available. Students can also expect to learn about encryption, which is one of the tools to help ensure public confidence in bank transactions and national security applications, like intelligence agency communication. Relevant security-related coursework at the graduate level includes:
- Computer forensics
- Cryptography analysis
- Information security systems
- Mathematical algorithms
- Substitution ciphers
Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering
Doctoral scholars are expected to tailor their coursework to prepare them for the research and writing of a thesis. Research may involve attempts to make computer networks more resilient by designing computers with individual configurations that mimic the genetic differences of related but distinct human beings. These programs take 5-6 years to complete for students entering with no higher training than a relevant bachelor's degree. Programs prepare graduates for careers in academia and research.
While much of the coursework in these programs is not specifically tailored to cryptography, students are able to join university-sponsored laboratories that focus on information security and cryptology concerns. Courses in cryptology offer training in:
- Authentication methods
- Data security
- Number theory
- Physical attacks on computer systems
Professional positions may be offered through Internet service providers, information technology consultancies or any business with an internal information technology department. Job titles open to graduate-certificate holders include:
- Computer systems analyst
- Database administrator
- Software engineer
- Systems designer
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The May 2015 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports showed that computer and information systems managers earned a median annual wage of $131,600 (www.bls.gov). The same reports showed that network and computer systems administrators took home a median annual salary of $77,810. Database administrators received a median annual wage of $81,710. Mathematicians took home a median annual salary of $111,110 according to the same BLS report.
The BLS employment projections for 2014-2024 anticipated a 15% rise in job opportunities for computer and information systems managers. The network systems and communications analyst field is expected to experience 21% employment growth, which is much faster than average. Network and computer systems administrators and database administrators were anticipated to experience 8% and 11% increases in job opportunities, respectively. Mathematicians were forecast to see a 21% increase in employment opportunities from 2014-2024.
While specific programs in cryptology are only offered as graduate certificates, there are master's and Ph.D. programs that cover the topic. Students in these programs gain the technology expertise they need to protect computer systems from the growing threat of cyber crime.