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Learn about ciphers with online courses and programs

Ciphers help to protect sensitive data by scrambling information so that it appears to be random to anyone without the corresponding decryption key. Learn how they work and explore encryption algorithms in online courses delivered through edX.

What is a cipher?

A cipher is a way of using a coded key to disguise written communication. Ciphers are used for encrypting and decrypting data through the application of mathematical equations or algorithms. Professionals who work to protect sensitive data can use ciphers in conjunction with corresponding keys to turn plaintext into ciphertext and back.

Modern encryption methods rely on the conversion of the original data into a ciphertext message while in transit. In this form, anyone who intercepts the data without proper authorization would need to find a way to translate the encryption. Without the key, all they will see is incoherent ciphertext, thereby preventing them from obtaining classified or sensitive information.

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Cipher course curriculum

Ciphers play a large role in cybersecurity. If you’re planning to start or advance your career in the field, your educational path may cover various types of ciphers and how to implement them. If you’re new to the topic, an encryption tutorial can help you to learn important foundational concepts. 

Topics you can expect to cover as you learn about this field include:

  • Types of ciphers: These could be split into the broad categories of substitutional and transpositional before the study of subtypes like block ciphers. A simple cipher code translator might help solidify concepts with hands-on practice.

  • Types of encryption algorithms: These may explore and compare symmetric and asymmetric encryption methods, discuss how they work, examine their pros and cons, and explain when to apply them.

  • Encryption protocols: These may expand on encryption algorithms, including the levels of security they both offer. In these units, you may also learn about key sizes and how they correlate to overall security.

Are you interested in advancing your knowledge of cybersecurity? edX offers online courses that allow learners to study a variety of topics. Sign up for an accelerated boot camp or enroll in a full degree program and start working toward a bachelor’s degree or (for more advanced learners) a master’s degree in a relevant subject. You can also explore executive education programs specifically designed for busy professionals.

Explore jobs that use ciphers

Learning about encryption and how ciphers work can help to open up career opportunities when paired with other relevant skills. Some of the roles that may use ciphers include:

  • Cybersecurity analyst: Integrates encryption into digital security initiatives to keep all channels secure.Footnote 1

  • Developer: Uses ciphers to design secure server-side architectures as a back-end or full-stack developer.Footnote 2

  • System engineer: Builds and manages systems that use encryption at all supported levels.Footnote 3

  • Cloud development engineer: Secures data as it moves between cloud platforms to protect users’ sensitive information.

  • Research scientist: Studies and develops technologies that enable stronger encryption when using ciphers.Footnote 4

In addition to technical skills, many encryption jobs can benefit from critical thinking, problem-solving, and strong communication. As you navigate your educational path, you can explore ways to build your soft skills through collaboration and hands-on coursework. One way to build both technical and soft skills is through a cybersecurity boot camp offered through edX. 

How to become a developer using ciphers

With a solid grasp of software engineering and ciphers, you can implement various advanced encryption techniques into your products. Organizations in the financial, healthcare, and entertainment media industries rely on encryption to protect transactions, sensitive information, and user data.Footnote 5 As a back-end or full-stack developer, you can build server-side tools that keep data safe as it travels across your systems. Similarly, as an IT security engineer, you can also develop tools like backdoors to circumvent encryption, or tools that fight against them.

Moreover, with the rapid advancements in quantum computing, encryption methods are in a state of evolution and advancement.Footnote 6 Completing an encryption course can enable you to work with both established and newer techniques as they emerge.

For example, you might work on tools whose brute force attacks can beat low- to mid-level cipher systems. Conversely, you could work on the development of more advanced encryption methods that can enhance digital security.