Software Vulnerabilities and Security Spring 2024

Software Vulnerabilities and Security is a graduate course covering common software programming, configuration, and design mistakes, and how to avoid them. The goals of the course are the following:

  • Examine major vulnerability classes introduced in various software domains and levels of the software stack
  • Understand effective techniques for defending against exploitation in situ
  • Understand approaches for detecting the presence of vulnerabilities during development and deployment
  • Gain hands-on experience in attacking and defending vulnerable software

Examples of topics covered by this course include:

  • Memory corruption
  • Reverse engineering and binary analysis
  • Static and dynamic vulnerability discovery
  • Malware analysis and triage
  • Web security

Meetings

  • Class is held Tuesdays and Fridays 9:50–11:30 in BK 320
  • Office hours are TBD
  • TA hours are TDB

Grading

Grades will be assigned based on the completion of assignments, labs, quizzes, and in-class participation. Final grades may be subject to a curve.

Assignments will consist of programming a particular software vulnerability class. Students will have ~1-2 weeks to complete each assignment. Late assignments will be accepted, with the caveat that grading will be penalized by a full letter grade for each 24-hour period following the submission deadline that an assignment is late. Re-grades of assignments may be permitted, with an associated penalty. The assignment with the lowest score will be dropped from the final grade calculation. All work must be completed individually.

Labs will be completed in class in the same groups as for assignments. The lab with the lowest score will be dropped from the final grade calculation.

Grades posted in Canvas are intended for feedback, but do not necessarily represent your final grade.

Component Contribution
Assignments 50%
Labs 30%
Quizzes 15%
Participation 5%

Prerequisites

This course requires programming maturity. You can expect that the assignments will involve non-trivial programming, in some cases using low-level OS or library APIs. If you don’t satisfy this prerequisite, you should only take this class after you have done so.

Some assignments will require access to an x86/x86_64 system. If you do not directly have access to such a system, it is your responsibility to acquire this access. Mainstream clouds such as AWS or GCE offer low-cost or free tiers that are suitable for this purpose.

In addition, practical familiarity with the following or the ability to refer to other references and documentation for the following is also required:

  • Programming languages: Shell scripting (Bash), a systems language (C, C++, Rust), a scripting language (Python, Ruby), JavaScript
  • Container stacks (OCI, Docker)

If you aren’t familiar with these technologies or are uncomfortable referring to available documentation on your own, you will likely have significant difficulty with this course.

Policies

Cheating. Work submitted for grading must represent your own effort. Group work is not allowed unless specifically stated otherwise. Similarly, use of third-party content (for code, whether as a library, service, or in source form) is only permissible in the context of the allowances explicitly made as part of a problem statement. “Use” in this context refers not only to copying in the cut-and-paste sense, but any content derived from third-party work. A non-exhaustive list of plagiarism examples include:

  • Copying third-party code verbatim that was published in an online source code repository, forum, or other reference site such as GitHub, GitLab, Stack Overflow, Wikipedia, or similar
  • Adapting an algorithm found in third-party code published online
  • Collaborating on code with other students, such as adapting code written by another student or working together on a shared code base at any point

While referring to third-party code can be helpful in devising your own solution, it is also extremely dangerous as it is all too easy to plagiarize without realizing it. (It is for exactly this reason that viewing source code published online that may be relevant to a product is almost always strictly forbidden in corporate settings due to intellectual property concerns.) While discussing course material with other students is encouraged, it is strongly recommended that students refrain from viewing any third-party source code.

Cheating damages the reputation of the university as well as the grades of students who participate in the course in good faith. As such, there will be zero tolerance for cheating in this course. Students that participate in this course must acknowledge that they have read and understood the University Academic Integrity Policy. All cheating cases will be brought to the CCIS Academic Integrity Committee and to OSCCR on the first offense. Finally, all students found to be cheating will receive a failing grade on the first offense.

Reference Material. There is no official textbook for this course. Instead, we will rely on lectures and readings. If you need to brush up on background material on algorithms, architecture, systems, or networks, strongly reconsider whether you satisfy the course prerequisites.

Due to the fast pace of the field, much information is only available online and thus referring to third-party online sources is encouraged. However, keep in mind that referring to third-party source code is permissible only within the constraints of the class and university academic integrity policies.

Online Discussion. Online discussion and questions relevant to the course will be handled through Canvas. For private questions only, feel free to contact me via email. A best effort attempt will be made to respond to messages within 24 hours on weekdays during normal working hours. To ensure a timely response, do not wait to ask questions until the night before a submission deadline.

Ethics. This course covers sensitive material that includes information on how to exploit vulnerable software. Attack-oriented work must be restricted to the computing resources provided. Alternatively, students can perform this work using personal resources so long as other computing resources are not affected.

In particular, attacks performed against University resources or the open Internet are expressly prohibited. Students should also be familiar with the University Appropriate Use policy.

Schedule

Note: This schedule is preliminary and subject to change
Date Module Topic
Tue Jan 09 Introduction Course Overview
Fri Jan 12 Spatial Memory Safety Stack Overflows
Tue Jan 16 Spatial Memory Safety Code Reuse
Fri Jan 19 Spatial Memory Safety Stack Protectors
Tue Jan 23 Temporal Memory Safety Heap Overflows
Fri Jan 26 Temporal Memory Safety Use After Free
Tue Jan 30 Temporal Memory Safety Use After Free
Fri Feb 02 Temporal Memory Safety Use After Free
Tue Feb 06 Concurrency Data Races
Fri Feb 09 Concurrency Data Races
Tue Feb 13 Hardening Memory Layout Randomization
Fri Feb 16 Hardening Memory Layout Randomization
Tue Feb 20 Hardening Control-Flow Integrity
Fri Feb 23 Hardening Control-Flow Integrity
Tue Feb 27 Hardening Compartmentalization
Fri Mar 01 Hardening Compartmentalization
Tue Mar 05 Spring Break
Fri Mar 08 Spring Break
Tue Mar 12 Hardening Sandboxing
Fri Mar 15 Hardening Sandboxing
Tue Mar 19 Vulnerability Discovery Fuzz Testing
Fri Mar 22 Vulnerability Discovery Fuzz Testing
Tue Mar 26 Vulnerability Discovery Fuzz Testing
Fri Mar 29 Vulnerability Discovery Fuzz Testing
Tue Apr 02 Vulnerability Discovery Reverse Engineering
Fri Apr 05 Vulnerability Discovery Reverse Engineering
Tue Apr 09 Malware Sandbox Analysis
Fri Apr 12 Malware Sandbox Analysis
Tue Apr 16 Malware Command and Control

Labs

Name Submission Deadline

Assignments

Name Submission Deadline
Crash Me Tue Jan 16 18:00 EST
Stack Overflow Fri Feb 02 18:00 EST
vptr Overwrite Fri Feb 23 18:00 EST

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