CS1660 (formerly called CS166) is a course on computer systems security through a balanced mixture of theory and practice.
We’ll start out with building the foundations of security through an exploration of cryptography. From there, we’ll move to more complex, multi-faceted systems such as web applications, operating systems, and networks. Along the way, we’ll explore complementary topics such as authentication, physical security, social engineering, privacy, anonymity, usability, and the security of emergent systems such as blockchains and machine learning.
By learning about security through these multiple domains, you’ll concretely learn how various classes of attacks appear in a vast variety of scenarios and how they work in practice. You’ll also learn how to evaluate systems adversarially, from writing precise security analyses about subtle issues in protocols to discovering and exploiting vulnerabilities in concrete technical systems for yourself.
Through all of these activities, you’ll ultimately work to develop a specific kind of intuition—a “security mindset”—that will give you the knowledge, vocabulary, and confidence to critically analyze and effectively defend the software and systems you approach as a computer scientist even after the course.
We encourage you to take additional half-credit “lab”, called CS1620 (for undergraduates) or CS2660 (for master’s and graduate students). Senior undergraduates may use the lab portion to count for their capstone requirement.
Students taking the lab have the opportunity to work on advanced challenges that will provide you with a greater appreciation of systems security and the “security mindset” as a whole:
CS1620/CS2660 provides students with a deeper understanding of the material by doing advanced versions of the CS1660’s projects and advanced questions on the written assignments. These advanced versions focus on real-world skills: performing attacks that are more difficult and rely on less serious vulnerabilities, performing attacks against systems with more real-world constraints, and creating attacks that achieve a higher standard of quality than a mere proof of concept.
CS1620 vs. CS2660: Due to credit-counting logistics, the lab portion of the course has two different course numbers: CS1620 and CS2660. Undergraduate students wishing to do the half-credit lab should sign up for CS1620 in addition to CS1660. CS2660 combines both CS1660 and CS1620 in one, 2000-level course. If you are a graduate student (or an ScB student who has applied for the concurrent CS master's program), and wish to earn 2000-level credit for this course, you should sign up for CS2660 only. What’s the difference? Both CS1620 and CS2660 share the same extra course content, but only CS2660 counts for 2000-level credit. In course materials, we will refer to the lab portion simply as CS1620–this includes both CS1620 and CS2660 students.
How much work is the lab?: In previous years, students taking the lab report spending approximately 8–20 extra hours on each project throughout the semester, though they also note that the additional components are more front-loaded so the second half of the semester is much more flexible. (We anticipate that this will be the same this year.) You do not need any additional experience beyond the base prerequsites of the course to succeed with the lab-—anyone who feels comfortable taking CS1660 should also feel comfortable taking CS1620/CS2660, so long as you are comfortable with the extra time requirement. Note that students taking CS2660 are committed to completing the requirements for both the lab and main portion of the course–after the add/drop period ends, it is not possible for a CS2660 student to drop the lab portion and still get credit for CS1660 in the same semester.
How do I sign up?: If you are interested in the lab portion, undergraduates should register for CS1660 and CS1620 on CAB. Senior undergraduates are eligible to capstone with CS1620—-email the HTA list if you intend to have the lab count for your capstone credit. If you intend to take CS2660, please fill out this form and request an override code on CAB.
Interested in taking the course? That’s great! The course commonly fills up during pre-registration—when this happens, please do the following:
Register for the waitlist by filling out this form. If you have any particular reasons you want to take the course, please let us know on the form. Please avoid sending us email about this (it will take longer!)–the form is designed to help us process your requests efficiently.
Add the course to your shopping cart. This will grant you access to EdStem and Gradescope, when they become available at the start of the semester.
Read about the lab component of the course, and consider if you want to take it. If you’re interested in taking the lab, make sure to note that in the waitlist form! (If you already submitted the form, don’t worry, you can visit the link again to edit your response!)
If possible, attend (in person or via Zoom) the first lecture on Thursday, January 25 or watch the recording as soon as is feasible.
How does the waitlist work? We will give priority to students who are unable to take the course at another time–otherwise, we admit students on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you have any strict program requirements or other constraints that limit when you can take the course, please indicate this in your form response. If you already responded and need to edit your response, you can do so by clicking on the form link again.
What are my chances? While we cannot officially guarantee that all students on the waitlist will be able to take the course, we have typically been able to accommodate all students by the end of shopping period.
If you don’t meet the official prerequisites but still want to take the course, please feel free to ask the instructors–we are happy to discuss your individual situation to determine if the course is right for you!
Your willingness to challenge yourself is perhaps the most important prerequsite for the course. Security can be frustrating at times, but the rewards are great. In exchange for engaging with some difficult intellectual challenges, you’ll have the opportunity to gain concrete insights about systems and security and become a better computer scientist along the way!
We will have live lecture on Tuesdays and Thursdays @ 2:30pm - 3:50pm ET in person at CIT 368 and on Zoom via this link. All lectures will be recorded and will be posted on Panopto following the lecture.
NOTE: We are encountering an issue with the recording for the first lecture. An update will be posted on Ed soon.
Attendance: Students are encouraged to attend lecture in-person or synchronously via Zoom, though this is not required. Attendance does not impact your course grade. Lecture may use TopHat questions to poll students during class–these are optional and are only used to gauge your understanding during class. TopHat responses have no impact on your course grade.
Asking Questions:: We encourage students to ask questions in class, either by raising your hand (either in person, or as a reaction or chat message in Zoom). If you are participating remotely, we will ask you to unmute and ask your question.
Recordings:: All lectures will be recorded. Recordings and any notes/slides from lecture will be made available within 24 hours of the lecture date in Panopto.
During shopping period, students who are not officially registered should have CSCI1660 in your primary cart on CAB in order to have access to Panopto.
We are happy to work with you in office hours to help with understanding any course concept or homework/project work. We are happy to help with planning how to approach problems, working with tools, figuring out how to debug your work, or reviewing concepts from lectures/homework assignments.
In order to make office hours accessible to as many students as possible, we are holding hours in two formats:
Collaborative hours (hybrid or fully-remote): Most hours will be collaborative hours. In this format, simply come to the designated room and members of the course staff will circulate and take questions. Students participating remotely can join a zoom link (available on the Hours platform)–a dedicated staff member will talk with everyone on Zoom in parallel with in-person discussion.
In collaborative hours, you are welcome to stay and work and ask questions as they come up–this is meant to create a space where you can meet and collaborate with your peers, while course staff is available to help you get “unstuck”, or explain a concept to a group if you encounter a problem. We can provide all forms of help during this time, including debugging or help with concepts. Some projects (notably Flag and Handin) may have certain restrictions on what can be discussed during collaborative hours–more information will be provided when these assignments are released.
Individual, queue-managed (remote): This is the standard format at Brown. When the hour begins, a queue will appear on the Hours platform designated for our course. Whether you are in-person or remote, simply join the queue! When your turn comes up, you will receive a Zoom link to talk with a member of the course staff. Course staff may limit the amount of time one person may spend with a TA (i.e. ~15 minutes), especially during peak times.
Depending on which assignments are out at a given time, we will hold specific hours sections to help with homeworks or projects. These sections will use slightly different formats:
As the semester progresses, we may make adjustments to the balance of remote/in-person/hybrid hours or the mechanics of the different formats based on student and TA feedback. If you have thoughts on your experience in hours, please fill out our Anonymous Feedback Form!
Students are have five late passes to use on homeworks and projects, though no more than two late passes may be applied to any deadline. Each late pass extends the deadline by one day.
Weekends and University holidays (long weekend, spring break, etc.) do not count towards lateness or use of late passes–in other words, an assignment due on Friday and submitted on Monday is considered one day late for the purposes of grading and use of late passes.
If you have no more late passes, each day a project or homework is submitted late will subtract 25% from that assignment’s grade.
Project 4 is a partner project that contains multiple deadlines. Late passes may not be applied to the intermediate deadlines of Project 4. On the final deadline, your group will be allowed to use the minimum of you and your partner’s remaining late days (up to a maximum of two, as for all assignments).
Late passes and penalties are automatically applied at the end of the semester in an optimal fashion; that is, we will apply late passes in such a way that gives you the highest grade.
CS1620 and CS2660 students receive two additional late passes (seven total). However, students who drop CS1620 lose the additional passes and receive late penalties under the default CS1660 policy.
Extenuating circumstances: If there are extenuating circumstances preventing you from completing an assignment on time (e.g., illness), you may use to request an extension (without using late days), most preferably before the assignment is due. In these situations, please contact the instructors as soon as it is feasible for you to do so using this form. This form is not meant to be impersonal–we simply want to make sure we can keep track of any requests!
Please note that only the instructors are authorized to grant extensions for the course. The Head TAs and UTAs cannot comment on the likelihood of or approve extension requests.
|Homework 0||Jan 26||Jan 31|
|Homework 1||Feb 14||Feb 23|| Solutions |
|Homework 3||Apr 6||Apr 14|| Solutions |
|Homework 4||Apr 21||Apr 28|| Solutions |
Notes on Tor
|Project 0: Setup||Feb 2||Feb 7|
|Project 1: Cryptography||Feb 4||Feb 14|| Gearup notes |
|Project 2: Flag||Feb 28||Mar 13|| Setup guide |
|Project 3: Handin||Mar 17||Apr 5|| Setup guide |
Autograder source code
Gearup recording (no slides)
|Project 4: Dropbox||Apr 6||May 8|| Setup guide |
Team matching form
Gearup I slides
Gearup I recording
Cloud security notes
Gearup II recording
| Logistics: Lectures take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2:30pm ET in person at CIT 368 and on Zoom. Lecture recordings are on Panopto. For lectures after spring break, better recordings might be available in this folder. Lectures, readings, and demos are subject to change, so check the lecture schedule once the slides are posted. |
|Jan 26|| Course Intro: Logistics, Security Principles |
Textbook chapters: 1.1, 1.3.1, 1.3.3, 1.3.4, 1.4
|Jan 31||Cryptography I: Symmetric Crypto, OTP, Hash Functions||w/ Bernardo|
|Feb 2|| Cryptography II: Block / Stream Ciphers, Public Key Crypto, Signatures |
Textbook chapters: 1.3.2, 1.3.5, 8.2.1, 8.2.2, 8.4 (except 8.4.2), 7.1.2
|Feb 7|| Cryptography III: Digital Signatures, MACs, IND-CPA, AAA |
Textbook chapters: 1.4.2
|Feb 9|| Cryptography IV: Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting |
Textbook chapters: 7.1, 7.2.3
|Feb 14||Web Security I: Web Security Models, Browser Security, Web Technologies and Protocols||w/ Bernardo|
|Feb 23|| Web Security III: Cross-Site Request Forgery SQL Injection and XSS |
Textbook chapters: 7.2.6, 7.3.3
|Feb 28|| Web Security IV: Injection Mitigations, XSS, Web Frameworks |
Textbook chapter: 3.3.2
|Mar 2||Web Security IV: SQLI, XSS||w/ Nick|
|Mar 7||Web Security V: XSS Mitigations, Web Frameworks||w/ Nick|
|Mar 9||Operating Systems Security I||w/ Nick|
|Mar 14|| OS Security II, Passwords |
(Same slides as Lec 14, slides on passwords at end)
|Mar 16|| OS Security III, More on Passwords |
(Same slides as Lec 13, slides on passwords at end)
|Mar 21||OS Isolation and Malware||w/ Nick|
|Mar 23|| OS Privileges, Malware |
Textbook chapter: 6.1
|Apr 4||Storage Encryption, Cloud Security||w/ Bernardo|
|Apr 6||Networks I||w/ TBA|
|Apr 11|| Networks II |
Textbook chapter: 9.7
|Apr 13|| Networks III |
In-class demo: Pentesting, Heartbleed
|Apr 18|| Networks IV: DNS, DDoS, Transport |
In-class demo: CDNs
|Apr 20|| Networks V: TLS, Certificates |
In-class demo: CDNs
|Apr 25||Networks VI: Firewalls, Scanning, Tor||w/ Nick|
|Apr 27|| Physical Security |
“In-class demo: Lockpicking, USB Rubber Ducky”
All students are responsible for the contents of the following documents and registering for the following external services used in the course:
Textbook: The textbook for the course is Introduction to Computer Security by Michael T. Goodrich and Roberto Tamassia, 1st Edition. The lecture schedule includes supplementary readings from the textbook, which is available in the Brown University Library. Students are not required to purchase this textbook to participate in the course.
Gradescope: We use Gradescope for collecting certain assignments and grade distribution. We add students to our Gradescope page manually based course registration—if you’re trying to hand in but aren’t able to access the page, please email the HTA list.
Edstem: Join our Edstem board to ask questions about course content (see the Collaboration Policy for question guidelines). The course staff will also post announcements and assignment clarifications to this board. All Edstem questions must be posted privately by default, though the course staff will make posts public when necessary.
Extension Requests: If there are extenuating circumstances preventing you from completing an assignment on time (e.g., illness), you may use this form to request an extension (without using late days), most preferably before the assignment is due.
Anonymous Feedback: If you have feedback that you’d wish to share anonymously, you can use this form. Emails are tracked on this form, but these email addresses cannot be viewed by the course staff (including the professor) and are only viewable by Thomas Doeppner (Director of Undergraduate Studies).
Some of projects have stencils provided in Go, which is a systems programming language that students report is relatively easy to pick up in a class setting. Learning Go is not required for this class, but, if you’re interested, this may be a good opportunity to pick it up! Here are our favorite resources about Go:
A Tour of Go is an interactive, concise introduction to the Go programming language. We highly recommend it for new (and inexperienced) learners of Go; it provides an overview of all of its major language features, including the unique concurrency model.
Go By Example is a hands-on introduction to Go with annotated example programs, with nice snippets of idiomatic Go code implementing various different programming constructs, from file I/O to channel synchronization.
The Go blog provides more in-depth articles on specific features within Go. We recommend it if you want to learn certain aspects of Go more in-depth; for example, we found the blogs on slices, errors, and project organization quite helpful.
This repository provides some examples of a “standard” package layout (note that many people, including the Go tech lead, object to this structure; we provide it here simply for inspiration). Another package layout resource is this blog post.
Undergraduate Missive: The Computer Science department’s Undergraduate Missive contains lots of helpful information regarding asking for help from TAs, Sunlab Consultants, and more. (Some information is useful for graduate students as well.)
Diversity and Inclusion: In addition to the following resources, you can email the Student Advocates for Diversity & Inclusion at
Health and Wellness: In addition to the following resources, you can email the Student Advocates for Health & Wellness at
Student Groups: The department sponsors or is affiliated with several student groups:
Writing Center: The Writing Center offers free consultations for students who would like to improve the quality of their writing; this is relevant in CS1660 since the written components of the course involve communicating complex technical ideas clearly, concisely, and precisely. Appointments can be scheduled on the Writing Center website or by emailing
CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services): If you feel yourself falling behind, needing to talk to someone about personal problems, or, in general, want a supportive ear, you may find CAPS helpful—they provide a range of mental health services to the Brown community. The office can be reached at 401-863-3476 or
SAS (Student Accessibility Services): Brown University is committed to full inclusion of all students. Students who, by nature of a documented disability, require academic accommodations should contact the professor. The staff of the SAS office can be reached at 401-863-9588 or
firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss the process for requesting accomodations.
Ombudsperson Office: The Ombuds Office provides a safe, informal, and confidential service independent from the University administration for students involved in a University-related problem (academic or administrative), acting as a neutral complaint resolver and not as an advocate for any of the parties involved in a dispute. The Ombudsperson can provide information on policies and procedures affecting students, facilitate students’ contact with services able to assist in resolving the problem, and assist students navitgate conflicts concerning improper application of University policies or procedures. All matters referred to this office are held in strict confidence (with the exception of cases where there appears to be imminent threat of serious harm).
Student Support Services: Student Support Services assists students with a wide-range of issues and concerns that might arise during their time at Brown. The Student Support Services Deans provide 24-hour crisis services for undergraduate, graduate, and medical students with personal or family emergencies, and are available by appointment to consult with individual students about their personal questions/concerns, thus allowing students to succeed and thrive in their academic pursuits.
Administrator on Call: The Student Support Services office manages Brown’s Administrator On Call (AOC) system which provides a mechanism for Brown students to seek assistance in emergency situations after business hours. An AOC is able to respond to students, connect them with resources and referrals, consult with colleagues as needed, and gather information for additional follow-up during business hours. To reach the AOC, call 401-863-3322 and ask to speak to the Administrator-On-Call.
Each of these courses cover relatively disjoint material, and you’ll learn completely different things in all of them. (If you haven’t taken any of them—great! CS1660 is a great introduction to the field, and you’ll learn a lot through this course. If you have taken a subset of these courses—also great! A lot of CS1660’s material will still be new to you, and all of these courses are useful in terms of honing your security mindset for the long-term.)
If you’re a 7th semester (or greater) undergraduate, then you can use CS1660 as a capstone by completing the lab. To do this, you must register for CS1620 or CS2660, and you need to email the HTA list to indicate that you want to use this course for your capstone requirement.
If you’re a graduate student, or an ScB student who has applied for the concurrent master’s program in CS, you can obtain 2000-level credit by completing the lab. To do this, you must register for CS2660: CS1620 does not count for 2000-level credit.
One caveat: note that if you are taking CS2660, you must complete both the lab and main portion of the course in order to receive a grade–after the add/drop period ends, it is not possible for a CS2660 student to drop the lab portion and still get credit for CS1660.
Please read the Lecture Policy. If you are looking to request Simultaneous Enrollment Permission on ASK to register for another class in the same timeslot as CS1660, please email the instructor—we will approve such requests, but please note that lecture attendance and class participation in CS1660 can help your final grade in borderline cases.