CMSC456 is the introduction course to cryptography course here at UMD. Cryptography is, “the study and practice of techniques for safeguarding communication in the presence of third parties called adversaries,” as defined by Wikipedia. In short, you’ll learn ways to communicate via secret code and decrypt messages sent to you. How cool is that? Here are 5 reasons why you should totally take CMSC456 at UMD.

1. You can send secret messages to your friends


Taking this course will certainly put you up there with the people in Pythagorean Society in Ancient Greece. Those people also had a secret language based on math. You’ll learn about the Caesar Cipher for instance, a very simple cipher where each letter is shifted down a certain number of spaces so that ‘A’ becomes ‘C’ and ‘B’ becomes ‘D’ for example. If your friend also has the key, decoding the message will be a snap. The best part is, your enemies will think you’ve lost your mind because the test just looks like a bunch of gibberish!

2. You get taught by Jonathan Katz


Dr. Katz is a world renowned cryptographer who also has teaching positions at UCLA, the IBM Watson Research Center, and the Ecole Normale Superieure. He got his PhD in Computer Science from Columbia in 2002 where his doctoral thesis was on designing protocols to secure against man-in-the-middle attacks. Katz is also an editor of the Journal of Cryptography, the premier journal in the field. He also co-wrote a textbook on modern cryptography which is used in many universities around the world.

3. It’s a fun departure from traditional classes


Who said classes had to be boring? CMSC456 certainly isn’t! Whereas in other CS courses you’ll be spending hours doing projects just to learn a certain concept. In this cryptography course, you’ll actually enjoy doing your homework! Most of the homework assigned consists of deciphering text or encoding it. The programming projects seek to teach you ways to help encode your messages more securely than simply with pen and paper. You will have to learn new languages on the fly, but it’s actually an enjoyable experience.

4. It is not taught every semester


Because the class is so awesome and only a few professors are qualified to teach it, the class isn’t offered every semester. It is also not a core course which means it is not required for graduation (it is one of the elective CS courses that you have the option of taking. You do have to take the required number of elective courses to graduate though). Because the course is not taught every semester, you might only have one or two chances to take it during your study at UMD. It is therefore highly recommended to take the course whenever you get the chance.

5. Cyber security and cryptography related jobs are in demand


Cyber security jobs are projected to grow 18% in the next 10 years. Using what you’ve learned in this course can prove extremely valuable when it comes time to look for your first job. Are you interested in code breaking? How about ways to stop hackers? Then the NSA wants you! You will be paid handsomely if you manage to land a job as a security analyst at the NSA. These jobs fill up quickly though so if you think you have even the slightest chance, do apply.


If you’re looking to take an interesting Computer Science elective next semester, why not take CMSC456 at the University of Maryland? It is taught by an amazing professor with years of actual experience in the field and the qualifications needed to make the class a success. You’ll never feel bored in class or that the class is a waste of time because everything you learn is so interesting. And when you graduate in a few years, this class might just be why you get into that cyber security job.



Computer Science student at the University of Maryland. Bibliophile and enjoys trying new things and hanging out with friends.

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