Course Description Class Logistics & Grading Topics Important Dates
Instructor: Prateek Saxena (dcsprs at nus dot edu dot sg)
TAs Shruti Tople (cs5231.ta at
Room & Timings: i3-Aud, Friday 6:30 - 8:30 pm
IVLE Page: CS5231
Semester: AY 2015/2016 Semester 1


Course Description

Security breaches cost billions of dollars worth of damage to the computing industry. Today, cybercriminals control armies consisting of several millions of compromised machines. Attacks are increasingly being perpetrated towards enterprises, individuals, critical infrastructure and even governments. At the same time, our computer systems and platforms are fast evolving to meet the demands of the industry. Increasing use of personalized devices, and our growing dependence on legacy computer systems that weren't designed with security in mind is a challenge ahead. Have you thought about how computer systems can be designed to secure against the practical challenges for the next 10 years and beyond?

In this course, we will study the design of existing and next-generation systems software from a security perspective.This course introduces you to the field of systems security: that is, how to analyze and develop secure systems. The course covers fundamental concepts of systems design, low-level vulnerability exploitation, design flaws in design of operating systems and languages, and a few advanced research topics.

The goal of this class is to enable students to:

  • Critically audit systems code for security flaws.
  • Design and implement exploits for real security bugs.
  • Develop secure applications.
  • Be able to design defense solutions & outline their limitations.

Schedule & Syllabus

The table below lists the schedule of topics.

WeekDateTopic ReadingsAnnouncements
1 14 Aug Introduction to Computer Security Lecture Videos  
2 21 Aug Memory Corruption Vulnerabilities

Smashing The Stack For Fun And Profit

Exploiting Format String Vulnerabilities


3 28 Aug Exploits I: Code Injection, Control-flow Hijacking

SoK: Eternal War in Memory

Code injection attacks on harvard-architecture devices

Assgt. 1 out
4 4 Sep

Exploits II: Code Reuse (ROP), Data-oriented Attacks

Return-oriented programming without returns

Automatic Generation of Data-Oriented Exploits

5 11 Sep

Defenses I: Binary Hardening Primitives (Inline & External Reference Monitors)

Control-flow integrity

Efficient software-based fault isolation

6 18 Sep Defenses II: Safe Languages (Memory Safety, Type Safety, Information Flow Safety)

CETS: Compiler-Enforced Temporal Safety for C

CCured: Type-Safe Retrofitting of Legacy Code

Taint-Enhanced Policy Enforcement: A Practical Approach to Defeat a Wide Range of Attacks

Assgt 1 due on 27th Sept
7 2 Oct

Defenses III: Virtualization & Trusted Computing

Terra: A Virtual Machine-Based Platform for Trusted Computing

Flicker: An Execution Infrastructure for TCB Minimization

8 9 Oct

Midterm --- In Class

9 16 Oct Guest Lecture --- Recent Advances in Virtualization & Trusted Computing

Overshadow: A Virtualization-Based Approach to Retrofitting Protection in Commodity Operating Systems

SGX - Innovative Instructions and Software Model for Isolated Execution


23 Oct

Sandboxing & Privelege Separation

Ostia: A Delegating Architecture for Secure System Call Interposition

The Security Architecture of the Chromium Browser

Preventing Privilege Escalation

Assgt 2 out

30 Oct

Malware & OS Security

HookFinder: Identifying and Understanding Malware Hooking Behaviors

On the Limits of Information Flow Techniques for Malware Analysis and Containment

12 6 Nov

Bug- Finding : Static Analysis, Fuzzing, Taint-tracking, Symbolic Execution

Automatic Predicate Abstraction of C Programs

KLEE: Unassisted and Automatic Generation of High-Coverage Tests for Complex Systems Programs


13 Nov

Advanced Topics: Android Security / Bitcoin / Systems Crypto (Implementation Errors)

Public versus Private Blockchains: Permissioned Blockchains

Public versus Private Blockchains : Permissionless Blockchains

Assgt 2 due on 22nd Nov


Class Logistics & Grading

This class is relatively heavy and requires hands-on programming and experimentation. I will explain the detailed logistics of the course in the first lecture. There will be no final exam, labs or tutorials for the course.

Grade distribution is as follows:

  • Assignment : Exploits! (35%)
  • Midterm (40%)
  • Bug-finding Project (25%)

Both the assignments will be done in groups of 3. In each project, the team members are expected to individually implement certain parts and declare their collaborative contributions explicitly. The midterm is in-class and open-book.

Each student is expected to have access to his own laptop / desktop. All project assignments are distributed as VirtualBox VMs; you are expected to be able to setup and run these VMs. If you do not have access to your own laptop / desktop, you should approach the instructor within the first week of the course.


Who should take this class?

This is a graduate-level class for students interested in security, both conceptually and operationally. The class is designed to be somewhat self-paced and self-taught; all graded assignments are done at home. Lectures will only cover topics at a conceptual level. Being a graduate class, you are expected to pick-up and learn new things on your own with help from your friends / teammates and from the web. The IVLE forum is your best friend --- if you get stuck, ask questions and exchange ideas freely on the forum or consult the web. The instructor and TAs will *not* help debug your code, or tell you how to overcome technical difficulties. There is no restriction on your communication with your colleagues, so be prepared to ask around and pick things up on your own.


The prerequisite is good undergraduate level understanding of computer science and having taken a undergraduate or graduate course in security. Exceptions to prerequisite requirements are allowed with the permission of the graduate office and the instructor.

Note on Ethics

In this class, you will be exposed to several powerful attack techniques. This class is not an invitation exploit vulnerabilities in the wild without informed consent of all involved parties. Attacking someone else's computer system is an offence; you are expected to use your knowledge with discretion.

For all readings and assignments, please feel free to discuss with your peers and use the Internet. All students must comply with NUS academic honesty policies.