Introduction to Security

Tufts University Department of Computer Science

Spring 2021, The Tenth Anniversary of the Course

Course Description

A holistic and broad perspective on cyber security. Attacking and defending networks, cryptography, vulnerabilities, reverse engineering, web security, static and dynamic analysis, malware, forensics. Principles illustrated through hands-on labs and projects, including Capture The Flag (CTF) games.


  1. COMP 116 (undergrads and grads): live sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 4:30 - 5:45 PM EST (Tuesdays via Zoom, Thursdays on Twitch)
  2. CSO 116 (Online Master's in Computer Science): live sessions on Wednesdays, 6:00 - 7:15 PM EST (via Zoom)



Hardware and Software for This Class (on your personal computer)

Absolute Requirements

Strongly Recommended, But Not Required

List of Security Tools That Will Be Used in Course

If you choose not to use a virtual machine, and is comfortable with installing software onto your own machine(s), the following is a list of security tools that will be used in the course. Reasons to not use a virtual machine include: a VM uses too much disk space, your computer does not support virtual machines (e.g., Chromebooks), you are skilled enough to spin your over virtual machines.

List of Security Tools That Will Be Mentioned, But Not Mandatory


Course Infrastructure


Topic 1, starts Tuesday, February 2nd
  • Course Introduction - By the end of this week, students will learn many of the fundamental Linux commands, an important skill for any good security practitioner, by playing Capture The Flags via OverTheWire. Students will remember the three principles of the CIA triad, critical to any organization’s security infrastructure.
  • Readings and Videos
Topic 2, starts Tuesday, February 9th
Topic 3, starts Tuesday, February 16th
  • Attacking Networks - By the end of this week, students will perform network reconnaissance and port scanning, and build a rudimentary Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) / intrusion detection system (IDS).
  • Readings and Videos
Topic 4, starts Tuesday, March 2nd
  • Cryptography - By the end of this week, students will be able to crack passwords on a Linux or Windows system, use one-way hash functions, and briefly describe how Transport Layer Security works.
  • Readings and Videos
Topic 5, starts Tuesday, March 9th
  • Quiz 1. Due Sunday, March 14th at 11:59 PM PDT.
Topic 6, starts Tuesday, March 16th
  • Web Security - By the end of this week, students will able to perform and defend against the following attacks: Cross-Site Scripting (XSS), SQL injection, Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF), session hijacking, cookie tampering, directory traversal, command injection, remote and local file inclusion. Students will also write a fuzzer to find any software vulnerabilities.
  • Readings and Videos
Topic 7, starting Thursday, March 25th at 4:30 PM Eastern Time
Topic 8, starts Tuesday, April 6th
  • Static and Dynamic Analysis - By the end of this week, students will be able to perform static analysis and dynamic analysis scans on software, write a technical risk analysis that is communicated to upper management.
  • Readings and Videos
Topic 9, starts Tuesday, April 13th
  • Malware - By the end of this week, students will be able to describe types of malware, see certain malware behaviors, scan and analyze malware, reverse engineer Android apps to determine if they are malicious.
  • Readings and Videos
Topic 10, starts Tuesday, April 20th
  • Forensics and Incident Handling - By the end of this week, students will be able to acquire data from a disk (e.g., USB drive) using dd, analyze image of disk from `dd` using forensics tools, and recover deleted files off a disk.
  • Readings and Videos
  • Quiz 2. Due Sunday, April 25th at 11:59 PM PDT.
Topic 11, starts Tuesday, April 27th
  • The Future: Nihilism or Hope? - By the end of this week, students shall debate and ponder the hard questions in security, and be able to argue multiple viewpoints.
  • Readings and Videos


No class on the following dates:

Thursdays on Twitch Live Schedule

  1. Thursday, February 4th: Using Kali Linux VM and Command Line
  2. Thursday, February 11th: Packet Analysis Using Wireshark
  3. Thursday, February 18th: Basic Reconnaissance using Nmap
  4. Thursday, February 25th: Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks and Scapy feat John Hammond
  5. Thursday, March 4th: Password Cracking with John the Ripper
  6. Thursday, March 11th: Vulnerability Scanning, Exploitation, Badness-O-Meter
  7. Thursday, March 18th: SQL Injection and Web Proxies
  8. Thursday, April 8th: Really, Really Bad Code and Static Analysis
  9. Thursday, April 15th: Malware, Backdoors, Using VirusTotal
  10. Thursday, April 22nd: Basic Forensics
  11. Thursday, April 29th: The Hard Problems in Security

Topics That Will Not Be Covered In This Course

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is there a textbook for this course?

A: No

Q: Are there teaching assistants (TAs) for this course?

A: No

Q: Is this course entirely online?

A: Yes

Q: Will videos of live sessions be recorded and made available for those studying remotely?

A: Yes

Q: What are the differences between COMP 116 and CSO 116 versions of this course?

A: The differences between the two versions are:

  1. A final project for CSO 116
  2. Different Canvas websites for grading purposes
  3. Different live meeting times

Everything else is the same: shared content, labs, quizzes, Piazza, and Discord.

Q: What is the workload of this course?

A: Here is a list of all the labs with estimated length and difficulty:

Q: Does this course count towards the M.S. in Cybersecurity and Public Policy?

A: Yes

Q: Does this course count towards the M.S. in Software Systems Development?

A: Yes. In fact, this is one of the four required courses for the M.S.

Q: Why is using a Kali virtual machine not mandatory for this class and thus strongly recommended?

A: The reasons:

  1. Accessibility. For students who are visually impaired, using a virtual machine can be very difficult.
  2. Not all students have a capable laptop. Sometimes due to financial reasons, some students use Chromebooks. The tools required for this course can be installed natively on macOS, Windows, and Linux.
  3. Performance. Sometimes, using a VM can be very slow. A VM also do not use native drivers (e.g., for networking).

Q: Is Piazza used in this course?

In summer 2020, I returned to using Piazza again. In spring 2020, I decided not to use Piazza because (1) I felt it was a nuisance for students to use multiple websites and services for one course, and (2) at times, it was underutilized. However, I noticed a drop-off in the discussions, and the Discussions interface on Canvas isn't as nice as Piazza's. Also, students can chime in anonymously on Piazza but not on Canvas. Finally, because most Computer Science courses use Piazza, it has been an expectation for students. Thus, I brought it back.

Q: Why is there a course website and a course Canvas? If you say "it is a nuisance for students to use multiple websites and services for one course", what gives?

This course website serves a few critical purposes. Years ago, I made a decision to make all the readings, slide decks, and most of the labs publicly available. The reasons: (1) to show that Tufts is serious and is working on Cyber Security matters, (2) to provide learning material to the public on Cyber Security as the Cyber Security education problem is very dire, (3) for recordkeeping on what is taught and not taught in this Security class --this comes up often when we speak to industry and organizations who want to work with Tufts on Cyber Security-related matters. The Canvas site for this course isn't made publicly available. Even if Canvas site was made publicly available, content is behind a walled garden, and (4) for redundancy if Canvas goes down.

Q: I have not taken a course on Networks (COMP 112), Operating Systems (COMP 111), or Computer Architecture (COMP 40) yet. Is that a problem?

No. Cyber Security is a very broad field and it is impossible for anyone, even professionals, to know everything. What is important for you is to start thinking about Security.

Q: If I am taking this course for professional purpose, can I have a tuition reimbursement letter or certificate?

A: Absolutely! It's a nice tuition reimbursement letter, hand signed!

Q: Will this course use ProctorU?

A: Absolutely not!

Q: Will there be guest speakers?

A: You can bet at least one.

Course Policies


Accessibility Statement

Tufts is committed to providing equal access and support to all qualified students through the provision of reasonable accommodations so that each student may fully participate in the Tufts experience. If you have a disability that requires accommodations, please contact the StAAR Center (formerly SAS) [email protected] or 617-627-4539 to make an appointment to determine appropriate accommodations. Please be aware that accommodations cannot be enacted retroactively, making timeliness a critical aspect for their provision. You can learn more about the StAAR Center at

Expectations and Structure of This Online Course

This course will be a fun one for sure. A few notes on the expectations and structure of this course:

1. What this course will NOT have and what I will NOT do:

2. You are responsible for your own learning.

A very important point: if you want everything gone over in lecture or in notes, then this is not the course for you. More importantly, that's not how things work in real life.

3. You will learn by doing.

Each week, there will be at most three labs to hone your skills and to aim at the crux of the matter for the week. Here's an analogy: you don't learn how to cook simply by just reading cookbooks and watching YouTube videos. You learn by making, using your hands, and making mistakes.

4. You will learn by asking questions.

It is your responsibility to ask questions early and to ask for help...

5. ...and I expect discussions online to be very active and civil.

Share thoughts and respond to other people's questions. I will be online constantly. It is no secret that I respond very quickly unless I need to be away.

There is a very good post published by Northeastern University: "How To Be a Successful Online Learner." Link: