CS 116: Introduction to Security

Tufts University Department of Computer Science, Spring 2024

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. In-person, undergrads and grads: Tuesdays, 4:30 - 5:45 PM EST in Cummings Center Room 270; Thursdays on Twitch, 4:30 - 5:45 PM EST
  2. Online Master's in Computer Science: live sessions on Wednesdays, 5:30 - 7:00 PM EST (via Zoom)



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

Absolute Requirements

List of Security Tools That Will Be Used in Course

The following is a list of security tools that will be used in the course. All of these tools are platform-independent.


Course Infrastructure


Topic 1, starting Wednesday, January 17th
  • 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 Tuesday, January 23rd
Topic 3, starting Tuesday, January 30th
Topic 4, starting Tuesday, February 13th
Topic 5, starting Tuesday, February 20th
  • Quiz 1 due Sunday, March 3rd at 11:59 PDT
Topic 6, starting Tuesday, February 27th
  • 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
  • Thursday, February 29th: SQL Injection and Web Proxies
  • Thursday, March 7th: The Mistakes You Can't Make
Topic 7, starting Monday, March 25th (after Spring Break)
  • 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 Tuesday, April 2nd
Topic 9, starting Tuesday, April 9th
Topic 10, starts Tuesday, April 16th
  • Quiz 2 due Sunday, April 21st at 11:59 PDT
Topic 11, starts Tuesday, April 23rd
  • 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. Lessons Not Learned: We Can't Even Get the Basics Right
  • Readings and Videos
  • Thursday, April 25th: Opportunities, Where Do You Go From Here

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 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: Did you remove information on using Kali virtual machine for this class? If so, why?

A: Yes. After all these years, it was more trouble than it was worth. Further 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).
  4. Hard disk space requirement: at least 10 GB necessary.
  5. Apple M1 Macs cannot run most Intel x86 virtual machines.

Q: Is Piazza used in this course?

Yes, quite a lot

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 (CS 112), Operating Systems (CS 111), or Computer Architecture (CS 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!

If you have read this far, send me an email (ming.chow AT tufts DOT edu) with the subject "It doesn't hurt me" to earn a reward.

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) staarcenter@tufts.edu 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 https://students.tufts.edu/student-accessibility-services.

Expectations and Structure of This Course

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

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. You will learn by asking questions.

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

4. ...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.