Thursday, March 27, 2008

Teaching Computer Security

I am very fortunate in that I will be teaching an undergraduate-level
class on computer security this fall. This is a class for computer
science students with a technical interest, and not so much a business

When I was a student in college, I avoided many classes because of a
number of reasons. Some of them were simply way too early (what student
can pay attention at 7.45am?!), and others were on topics that I did
not find all that interesting. However, the biggest turn-off was when a
teacher opened the first class of the semester with a statement similar
to "There is nothing I am going to tell you in the lectures that is not
also in your books". Great. Why am I sitting through hours of boring
agony when all that material is also in a book that I can study when it
suits me best? More often than not, questions that might arise during
lectures of this type are not answered sufficiently anyway. In my
opinion, a lecture that merely summarizes a book's content, without
adding insights to it or without enriching the "learning experience"
should be made illegal.

Now that I have the chance to design a class and teach a whole semester myself, I am
really excited. I want to offer material that is interesting and
relevant to students, in a way that captures their attention and
challenges their intellectual capabilities. That does not mean that
I'll be giving them an easy ride. People who have taken classes from me
(or from my former group) know that we are not easily pleased and
require a high quality of work. Yet, when the work is (mostly)
interesting, I hope that the students will respond appropriately.

My constraints are simple: I have fifteen weeks and two 75-minute
classes per week to teach the students about what computer/network
security is about, why we do it, and what common themes are. Assuming
that the students are undergraduate computer science students with with
a basic understanding of networking, programming, and databases, what
should I teach them? I have some ideas about a course layout, which I
will be sharing here when they take on some more substance. Until then,
I'm looking forward to any ideas that you might have. Please send me
email at, or post
comments here if you want to share your thoughts.

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