CS 378: System Security - Spring 2016

Faculty Lead: Professor Calvin Lin and Professor Mohit Tiwari.
Research Educator: Ashay Rane.
Teaching Assistant: Chris Sun.
Class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30am to 11am in GDC 6.202.

Other Instances

Spring 2015 course webpage.
Fall 2015 course webpage.
Fall 2016 course webpage.

Office Hours

Calvin LinMon, Wed: 3:30-4:30pmGDC 5.512
Mohit TiwariTue: 3-4pmPOB 6.240
Ashay RaneMon, Wed: 1:30-2:30pmGDC 5.440
Chris SunWed: 12:30-1:30pm
Fri: 1:30-2:30pm
GDC 5.440

Course Overview

This course will explore a series of core security principles and concepts from the perspective of both the attacker and the defender, as students are exposed to tools and techniques used in modern attacks and defenses. Students will develop a variety of research skills, as they learn to read research papers critically, to communicate technical ideas clearly, and to conduct experiments thoughtfully.

Pre-requisite: Students are required to have taken CS 314 (or CS 314H) before enrolling in this class.

Course Structure

While we will study topics in computer security, amassing vast technical knowledge in computer security is not the primary objective of this course. Instead, the primary objective of this course is to develop research skills (thinking critically, communicating purposefully, discussing technical ideas, delivering effective presentations, and working collaboratively). As a result, this course will require you to regularly read research papers in security, critique research ideas and implementations, participate actively in in-class discussions, learn new material on your own, and work hard towards solving challenging problems.

We will read and discuss one research paper every week. Often, we will brainstorm ideas prior to reading papers. Students are required to write a review for each such research paper. Occasionally, students will re-write the review after combining the best ideas and techniques from others' reviews. Students will also be given 3-4 homework assignments. These assignments will generally involve learning new material on your own.

Reading Material

Assorted technical papers, roughly one per week (there is no textbook).

Reading Assignments

We will read, review, and discuss a number of papers in this class. Links to papers and the review deadline will be posted on Canvas. Reviews of assigned papers are due at 5pm on the day before class. Of course, you need not wait until 5pm to turn in your reviews.

These responses do not have to be long (though sometimes they may be), but they should be thoughtfully prepared. In particular, the responses can contain many different types of remarks:

Homework Assignments and Projects

We have a series of exciting homework assignments, which will typically be due one or two weeks after they are available. Unlike typical homework assignments, these will be often under-specified to somewhat mimic research tasks. Students will often have to pose questions and/or learn on their own to complete these assignments.

In true CS tradition, the assignment and project reports will be PDF files created using LaTeX. You may use this template file for your responses. Comments in the file should guide you to the portions that you would have to modify. To produce a PDF file, use the following command:
pdflatex report-template.tex && bibtex report-template && pdflatex report-template.tex && pdflatex report-template.tex


With the objective of enhancing technical communication skills, students will be required to deliver occasional presentations. Research papers read and discussed in class will be used as topics for the presentations.

Grading Policy

Class participation and readings: 40%.
Assignments: 35%.
Presentations: 25%.

Late submission policy: 10% reduction in the grade per day.

Attendance will not count towards your grade. The overall course grade will be a letter grade, as per the standard UT grade scale.


Use of Piazza for class discussions is highly encouraged, and if you haven't signed up already, please sign up here. Important updates will be delivered via Piazza. Using Piazza also helps the instructors in answering questions that may be of interest to more than one student, without individually replying to each email. Please note that by default, everything you post on Piazza will be visible to the other students as well. This is desirable in many cases but not all the time. If you want to discuss your solution (or anything that may give a hint of the solution) with the instructors, please ensure that you select “Instructors” in the Post to section.

Student Code of Conduct

UTCS lists the code of conduct here, which lists the department's expectations from you and what you can expect from the department. If you have any questions or concerns, please ask!

Religious Holiday Accommodations

By UT Austin policy, you must notify the instructors of your pending absence at least fourteen days prior to the date of observance of a religious holy day. If you must miss an assignment in order to observe a religious holy day, you will be given an opportunity to have a deadline extension.

Students with Disabilities

The University of Texas at Austin provides upon request appropriate academic accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. For more information, contact the Office of the Dean of Students at (512) 471-6259.