Welcome to the Autumn 2021 Advanced Computer Security (COMP70004/COMP97109/COMP97110) course. At the end of the course, you will have an in-depth understanding of the themes and challenges of host-level native, web, mobile, and cyber-physical systems security and privacy. Many of the skills learned in this module will directly influence your ability to create secure software and systems. You will also develop abilities to analyse and critique foundational and state of the art research papers in this space.


To do well in this course, you should ideally have maturity in both the mathematics of computer science and in the engineering of computer systems. This means that you should: have a good understanding of data structures and algorithms; be comfortable writing programs from scratch in C, Java, and a scripting language like Python or JavaScript; be comfortable writing and debugging assembly code; and be reasonably comfortable in a command-line Unix development environment (gdb, gcc, etc). You should also have a good understanding of computer architecture, operating systems, and computer networks. It would also help to know a bit about programming languages and compilers. It would also be helpful to be comfortable with web technologies such as HTML and JavaScript. Recommended (not required) prerequisites are CO331 (Web and network security) • CO211 Operating systems • CO212 Networks and Communications Related courses: • CO408H Privacy Enhancing Techniques • CO409 Cryptography• CO440 Software Reliability • CO470 Program Analysis.

Don't panic

Do not be scared if the list above seems a bit daunting: it is not likely that many of the enrolled students will have the "perfect" background in all of these topics. If you are missing a few of these skills, you should be able to learn them quickly, possibly with the assistance of our helpful TAs. You will need to learn things as you encounter them; this is a feature, not a bug. Most importantly, you should be eager to challenge yourself and learn!


This year, there will be only one required textbook for this course: Foundations of Security, Daswani, Kern, and Kesavan, ISBN 1-59059-784-2. This book should be available from the University bookstore and other retailers. Note, however, that there will be other handouts and supplementary reading materials that will be posted on the class schedule. You will need to read these before each class. These articles will often have a research focus, which frequently means that you will need to spend more some time on each, perhaps marking them up as you read. Please refer to these helpful guides on how to read research papers critically: link-1, link-2, link-3. Through these readings, you will be exposed to some topics that are "off the beaten path" and get more exposure to bleeding-edge research in computer security.

Course Staff


  • Part A Live Online Time (from 11th of October to 1st of November): Monday 16:00--18:00, Friday 16:00--18:00
  • Part B Live Online Time (from 8th of November to 29th of November): Monday 17:00--18:00, Friday 16:00--17:00
  • Room:: Online (Teams)

Class schedule

This schedule is subject to modification; please check back often...

# Date Description Reading Assessment
October 11, 2021
October 15, 2021
October 18, 2021
October 22, 2021
October 25, 2021
October 29, 2021
November 1, 2021
November 5, 2021
November 8, 2021
November 12, 2021
November 15, 2021
November 19, 2021
November 22, 2021
November 26, 2021
November 29, 2021


Paper summaries:

As part of the course, you'll be expected to submit three paper summaries for the papers -- you'll get to pick which papers you want to write the reviews for. This should be individual work. Check the schedule for the paper review submission date. To help you with this, we provide a paper summary template, which you should fill out.

Assignment Type: Individual assignment. You can use EdStem to discuss papers.

Marks: The assignment is worth 10% of your grade.

Programming assignment:

We will ask you to put a black hat on to work on a hands-on coursework assignment. This aims to help you practice with reverse engineering Android apps and developing malware for Android. Reverse engineering is a useful technique for application analysis; understanding how malware work helps you better design defense systems (REMEMBER: a defense system is as strong as its adversary model). The coursework has a tutorial section to help you understand the Android app development tools, and a discovery-based section where you will use your creativity to demonstrate how a strong adversary can compromise Android users' privacy.

Assignment Type: Programming assignment with a report component. Undertaken in groups of up to 3 people.

Marks: The assignment is worth 10% of your grade.

Best hacker awards

First Place: Salim Al-Wahaibi, Maxim Fishman, Marcos-Antonios Charalambous
The hackers managed to gain privileged knowledge about what was going on in the phone by walking the `proc` filesystem, and even managed to take pictures without the phone user noticing. I guess stickers in phone cameras will have to become a thing now as well!
Second Place: Pranav Mangal, Hasan Mohsin, Bogdan Surdu
The hackers accessed the user's SMS, and managed to dump their contents in plain text. Very fancy end-to-end encryption, but then all messages get leaked from the very same phone!
Third place: Luke Texon, Andrew Beggs, Viraj Shah
In addition to a variety of other personal data, the hackers leaked the user's very own phone number. This is a very impressive technique to pick up phone numbers rather than asking for them!


You will be provided with sample questions to help you prepare for the exam. The final exam will be held on December 17th at 10:00am - 12:00pm.

Your mark

  • 20% Coursework (including paper summaries)
  • 80% Final exam

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