Systems Security Thorsten Holz



Lecture and tutorial formats

This year's lecture format will be hybrid, i.e., we will have in-person lectures in the CISPA lecture hall (0.05), which are also streamed through a Zoom webinar. You can find the Zoom link and other information at ... Read more

This year's lecture format will be hybrid, i.e., we will have in-person lectures in the CISPA lecture hall (0.05), which are also streamed through a Zoom webinar. You can find the Zoom link and other information at The tutorial will be online, we will provide more information in the first lecture.

In-person meetings include mask mandates and students have to register through the Staysio app for each lecture. Should you not wish to use the app, you have to bring in the "alternative sheet" ( to the lectures, which we then have to collect. Beyond that, we recommend usage of the Corona Warn App.


About the course

In this course, important theoretical and practical aspects from the area of systems security are presented and discussed. The focus is on various aspects of software security and different attack and defense techniques are presented. More specifically, important attack methods (e.g., buffer overflows, race conditions, microarchitectural attacks, etc.) as well as defense strategies (e.g., non-executable memory, Address Space Layout Randomization, memory tagging, etc.) are discussed. Other topics of the lecture are fuzzing, obfuscation, and similar aspects of systems security. 

At the end of the course, students should be able to analyze security aspects of various types of software systems, detect vulnerabilities in the design and implementation, and independently develop security mechanisms. In addition, other aspects from the area of systems security, such as privacy and anonymity, will be discussed. An important part of the course are exercises, which illustrate and deepen the material with practical examples.

At the end of the class, the students know important theoretical and practical aspects of security mechanisms of modern software systems. They are able to independently analyze the security of a given program, detect vulnerabilities in the design, and independently develop possible solutions and protective mechanisms. In addition, they have become familiar with basic terms from the field of systems security. They are able to create new security models themselves and defend them argumentatively. 


There are no formal prerequisites for this course. However, if you want to participate, please take the following aspects into account:

  • You should have experience in systems-oriented programming. In addition, it helps if you have experience in the C programming language to understand some of the topics, Python is helpful as well.
  • You should have a basic understanding of operating systems (e.g., memory management, scheduling, etc.).
  • You should be familiar with Linux, as the exercises are based on a remote exercise framework that is accessible via SSH.

Background in security is also an advantage (e.g., prior participation in the Foundations of Cybersecurity lecture or Security core lecture). However, we will also cover several relevant aspects as part of the lectures.

Time and Location

The lecture will take place every Wednesday from 12:15-13:45 o'clock, starting on October 20, 2021. The lecture will be offered in a hybrid format: we will have regular lectures in the CISPA lecture hall (0.05) and also record the lectures. The tutorial will be offered via Zoom on Monday at 12:00 o'clock, you can find more information on the page "Access to lectures".


For passing the course, you need to obtain at least 50% of the points from the final exam. For admission to the exam, you need to obtain at least 50% of the points from the exercises (120 points). The final grade is based on your exam results only. More details can be found below:


During the semester, there will be seven assignments with a total of 240 points. You need at least 50% in total (120 points) to be admitted to the exam. The assignments cover the topics discussed in the lectures and aim to deepen your knowledge of the topics. We encourage you to solve these assignments because this helps to understand the topics covered in the lectures.

Assignments have to be submitted individually, no group work is allowed. A submission typically consists out of a theoretical and practical part. Submit solutions to all theoretical tasks (e.g., questions, charts to fill out, etc.) in a single PDF file. For all practical tasks, we have prepared a remote environment equipped with all necessary tools and materials. Practical tasks are solved and submitted directly within this environment. Check the Remote Exercise Framework (REF) PDF for more information. These practical exercises are designed like CTF challenges. You will typically be tasked to exploit a vulnerable program to extract a secret flag.

  • Strict no cheating policy
    You can discuss the assignments with other students, but you are not allowed to collaborate on the solution with anyone. Your solution should be original and not be an existing solution (e.g., from someone else or from the Internet). All submissions will be automatically checked for plagiarism, we have a strict no-cheating policy. If we detect a case of plagiarism, we will assign zero points. If you are stuck at some point, you may ask questions in the forum or join the digital consultation-hours. We invite you to help fellow students that asked questions but avoid giving away the solution. Nobody likes spoilers :)
  • Solutions
    We will upload solutions for all assignments but the concise nature of solutions can be insufficient to answer all your questions. We recommend you use the forum or join the digital consultation-hour if you have questions.
  • Writing Assignments
    To simplify grading assignments, we only accept digital not handwritten solutions. We recommend using LateX for these tasks. An example template can be found here. If you need an introduction to Latex, the overleaf documentation is a good starting point.


Written Exam

At the end of the semester, there will be a written exam. The exact date and time will be announced once the information is available. Note that physical presence is required for the exam. The exam consists of both theoretical questions and practical questions. Theoretical questions are based on the theoretic parts and concepts of the slides and possibly additional content presented in the lecture, which is not part of the slides. Practical questions are, in principle, similar to the practical assignments. However, the complexity of the questions is of course scaled to make them adequate for the time available during an exam (e.g., you are not expected to implement a longer piece of assembler code). If you have at least 50% of the points, you will pass the class.

All questions of the exam are in English. Answers can be given either in English or in German, at the student’s discretion.

No lecture notes or any other materials are allowed during the exam. All materials required to solve the practical questions are provided at the exam.



Register for the course here in the CISPA CMS. Registration will open on September 15, 2021. 

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