I often encounter the phrase "I am not a cryptographer". Is there a generally accepted definition for who is a cryptographer? What qualifications would be expected?

For instance, should that person be expected to hold a relevant degree, or to have published $N$ papers?

Alternatively, would someone performing cryptanalysis or analysis of cryptographic protocols in a professional capacity be considered a "cryptographer", even without the academic background?

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    $\begingroup$ Why do people always want to draw lines everywhere? Isn't the world more fun without them? $\endgroup$ – Maarten Bodewes Sep 26 '15 at 2:21
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed :) Some context: a friend asked me whether it would be acceptable to claim in a professional context that he is a "cryptographer". I wasn't sure how to respond. $\endgroup$ – Tim McLean Sep 26 '15 at 4:32
  • $\begingroup$ (I phrased the question more generally so that it could also be helpful to others in the future) $\endgroup$ – Tim McLean Sep 26 '15 at 4:34
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    $\begingroup$ People who state "I am not a cryptographer" in a question here, probably don't imply anything, but that they would appreciate an answer that only requires basic prior knowledge of the subject. Possibly, it might also be an appeal to the ego of any expert prepared to answer. Flattery is the simplest form of manipulation. $\endgroup$ – Henrick Hellström Sep 26 '15 at 7:36

I had a similar conundrum myself when I accepted a position doing very crypto-specific engineering work in industry. They asked me what my title should be, and I didn't really know. I asked my undergrad advisor and he said, effectively, that someone who

  • builds cryptosystems, and
  • proves them secure in a precise way, using
  • modern proof techniques and security reductions

is a cryptographer. Cryptographers also publish attacks from time to time, but most people would call an attack-focused researcher a 'cryptanalyst'.

In my mind, the important difference between a cryptographer and someone who otherwise works in security is precision in definitions and arguments.

I should state, though, that this distinction is rarely useful in practice, because really good ideas can come from pretty much anywhere. Don't get hung up on terminology.

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