Introduction to Computer Security Winter 2020

This course introduces the principles and practice of computer security. It aims to teach you how to model threats to computer systems and how to think like an attacker and a defender. It presents standard cryptographic functions and protocols and gives an overview of threats and defenses for software, host systems, networks, and the Web. It also touches on some of the legal, policy, and ethical issues surrounding computer security in areas such as privacy, surveillance, and the disclosure of security vulnerabilities. The goal of this course is to provide a foundation for further study in computer security and to help you better understand how to design, build, and use computer systems more securely. See the schedule for details.


Blase Ur
JCL 363
Office hours:
Wednesdays 1:00p-2:00p in JCL 363 or by appointment

David Cash
JCL 353
Office hours:
Tuesdays 1:00p-2:00p in JCL 353 or by appointment


Alex Hoover
JCL 391
Office hours:
Thursdays 11:00a-12:00p in JCL 236 or by appointment

Rohan Kumar
JCL 391
Office hours:
Mondays 4:00p-5:00p in JCL 257 or by appointment

Valerie Zhao
JCL 391
Office hours:
Wednesday 3:00p-4:00p in JCL 356 or by appointment

Course Information


Prerequisites CMSC 15400 or equivalent
Lectures Lectures will be held 11:30a–12:20p Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in Stuart Hall 105.
Textbook We will be using Computer Security and the Internet: Tools and Jewels by Paul van Oorschot. Free PDFs of the book, which is forthcoming in print, are available from that link.
Coursework The coursework for all students consists of nine assignments (mostly CTF-style), ten short responses to readings (about 2 or 3 paragraphs each), and a closed-book final exam.

In addition, students enrolled in CMSC 33250 must complete a research project and submit reactions to assigned reseach papers. All assignments must be done individually.
Communication We will update the course schedule regularly throughout the course. Assignments will be both distributed and collected on Canvas.

We'll use Campuswire for general discussion and questions about course material and assignments, as well as submission of course requirements that pertain only to 33250 students.

Please try to keep all course-related communication to Campuswire rather than email. If you need to reach out to the instructors (e.g., pertaining to an illness or other events that might be impacting your performance in class), please make a post on Campuswire visible only to the instructors.
Submission of assignments The nine assignments and ten reading responses will be collected via Canvas. The closed-book final exam will be held in person during the final exam period on the date the registrar specifies. For CMSC 33250 students, reactions to research papers and all project-related deliverables must be submitted on Campuswire. Be sure to post these 33250-only submissions as visible only to the instructors.

Reactions to research papers (only 33250 students) will generally be due 11:59pm on Monday evenings. Reading responses (for all students) will generally be due 11:59pm on Tuesday evenings. Assignments (for all students) will generally be due at 11:59pm on Thursday evenings.
Late policy We will accept the nine assignments and ten reading responses up to 24 hours late with a 15 point grade penalty. Assignments more than a day late will not be accepted without a previously approved extension. We will not accept late submissions of reactions to research papers or project-related deliverables (both applicable only to CMSC 33250 students).

Of course, in exceptional circumstances related to personal emergencies, serious illness, wellness concerns, family emergencies, and similar, please make the course staff aware of your situation and we will do our best to find a mutually agreeable solution. We do not consider job interviews or non-emergency travel to be exceptional circumstances.


Your course grade will be calculated as follows:
Undergraduate (CMSC 23200) Graduate (CMSC 33250)
Assignment 1 4% 3%
Assignments 2-9 72% (9% each) 44% (5.5% each)
Final Exam 11% 10%
Attendance/Participation 3% 3%
Research Project --- 30%
Reading Responses (10) 10% (1% each) 5% (0.5% each)
Research Paper Reactions --- 5%

Academic Integrity Policies

The University of Chicago has formal policies related to academic honesty and plagiarism, as described by the university broadly and the college specifically. We abide by these standards in this course. Depending on the severity of the offense, you risk being dismissed altogether from the course. All cases will be referred to the Dean of Students office, which may impose further penalties, including suspension and expulsion. If you have any question about whether some activity would constitute cheating, please feel free to ask. In addition, we expect all students to treat everyone else in the course with respect, following the norms of proper behavior by members of the University of Chicago community.

Student interactions are an important and useful means to master course material. We recommend that you discuss the material in this class with other students. While it is acceptable to discuss assignments in general terms, it is not acceptable to turn in someone else's writing or code (or fragments thereof) as your own. When the time comes to write down your answer, you should write it down yourself from your own understanding. Moreover, you should cite any material discussions or written sources, e.g., "Note: I discussed this exercise with Jane Smith." If one student "helps" another by giving them a copy of their assignment, only to have that other student copy it and turn it in, both students are culpable. If you have any questions about what is or is not proper academic conduct, please ask an instructor. (This description of academic honesty is derived in part from those of Stuart Kurtz and John Reppy).


If a personal emergency comes up that might impact your work in the class, please let the instructors know in a Campuswire post visible only to the instructors so that the course staff can make appropriate arrangements. University environments can sometimes be very overwhelming, and all of us benefit from support during times of struggle. You are not alone. There are many helpful resources available on campus and an important part of the college experience is learning how to ask for help. Asking for support sooner rather than later is often helpful. If you or anyone you know experiences any academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings like anxiety or depression, we strongly encourage you to seek support. The University of Chicago's counseling services are here to support you. Consider also reaching out to a friend, faculty or family member you trust for help getting connected to the support that can help.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or in danger of self-harm, call someone immediately, day or night:
• Student Counseling Urgent Care: (773)702-9800 or in person.
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255