COMP 116: Introduction to Security

Tufts University Department of Computer Science, Summer Session 2020 ONLINE

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.



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

Absolute Requirements

Strongly Recommended Requirements


Course Infrastructure


Each topic begins on a Wednesday.

Topic 1, starting Wednesday, May 20th
  • 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, starting Wednesday, May 27th
Topic 3, starting Wednesday, June 3rd
  • 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, starting Wednesday, June 17th
  • 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, starting Wednesday, June 24th
  • Quiz 1
Topic 6, starting Wednesday, July 1st
  • 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 Wednesday, July 15th
  • The Capture The Flags (CTF) Game Played Online - By the end of this week, students will be able to find and take advantage of a number of vulnerabilities on a live web application.
  • Readings and Videos
Topic 8, starting Wednesday, July 22nd
  • 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
  • Lab 10: Technical Risk Analysis
Topic 9, starting Wednesday, July 29th
  • 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

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: What are the differences between the online version and the classroom version of this course?

A: The only differences between the two versions are (1) the Capture The Flags game is played in teams in the classroom version of the course while it is played individually in the online version, and (2) one additional lab in the online course. Everything else is the same: content, labs, assessment, etc.

Q: What is the workload of this course?

A: Here is a list of all the labs with expected 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 will use 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'm bringing 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: Is there an archive of a previous course website available?

A: Sure, here is the public course website for spring 2020 semester.

Course Policies


All labs for a given topic are due on the Wednesday of the next topic at 11:59 PDT. Late labs are not accepted.

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:

There are many good reasons why I will not do any of the above items:

Adding constraints and extra burden to your lives especially during the summer will not fit well with anyone. Extra constraints and burden also defeat the purpose of an online course. Thus, you will probably not see me at all this summer.

2. You are on your own pace.

You can choose to:

  1. Pace yourself during the week
  2. Do everything during the weekend
  3. Do everything during the last minute
  4. Don't do any of the work

Your choice, but the latter three choices are not wise.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. You will learn by asking questions.

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

6. ...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, thus the idea of set office hours almost becomes moot point. 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: