Research Projects Track

Students may choose either the Research Projects track or the Mini-Projects track to earn points for the “Projects” portion of the course grade. This page describes the Research Projects track.

Project track decisions must be made by February 15, 2021 (which is the day both Milestone 1 and Mini-Project 1 are due).

Overview

The research project requires that students execute research in {systems or network} {security or privacy}. By completing the research project, students will learn to think critically about security problems and solutions. All solutions have limitations, and understanding the ramification of these limitations is critical to understanding the security and privacy of an environment.

The research project track milestones mimic the steps required to create a conference-quality paper submission. Be realistic about what can be accomplished in a single semester. However, the work should reflect real thought and effort - projects executed in the closing days of the semester are unlikely to be well received. The grade will be based on the following factors: novelty, depth, correctness, clarity of presentation, and effort. There is no specific rubric, because some factors (e.g., novetly) can out weigh other factors (e.g., effort). The final written project will be assessed similar to how papers are reviewed for conferences.

Project teams may include groups of up to two students; however, groups of greater size will be expected to make greater progress. I will advise each team/individual independently as needed. The project grade will be a combination of grades received for a number of milestone artifacts, a presentation, and a final written paper.

See the class schedule for milestone due dates.

Project Grading

The research project track is out of 400 points distributed as follows:

Milestone 1: Project proposal (25 points)

Due: Mon Feb 15

Milestone 1 is possibly the hardest milestone of the research project, so do not be discouraged. The purpose of this milestone is to settle on 1) a project idea/area, and 2) a project team. While the specific project may change slightly during the course of the semester in response to the related work survey and implementation/experiment findings, it is important to have a strong direction. Projects can be in any area of systems security, but must be approved by the instructor. Example project areas include:

For ideas, students are encouraged to browse the last several years proceedings of USENIX Security, ACM CCS, IEEE Security and Privacy (Oakland), and NDSS.

Note: You might also find this blog post by Zhiyun Qian very helpful.

The qualities of a good research project, at a minimum, include the following (this is my own subjective view):

There are many things not in this list. For example, nowhere does it say it has to be difficult. I admire tenacity, and much excellent research requires tremendous effort, but that is neither necessary nor sufficient.

In addition to the above qualities, you should consider the following questions when choosing a research topic, at least for this course:

What to turn in: Each student should turn in a PDF document that includes at least five unique project ideas (not slight variations). If an idea is to conduct an empirical study, the project idea should include: (a) title, (b) research question, (c) proposed methodology, (d) expected findings. If the idea is more along the lines of building a solution for a problem, the project idea should include: (a) title, (b) problem, (c) solution idea, (d) solution approach, (e) expected findings. After the project proposal is submitted, you must meet with the instructor to determine the final project.

Note: You are encouraged to meet also with the instructor before turning in the project proposal to discuss project ideas. Meet during office hours, or email the instructor for an appointment.

Examples: I’ve provided several example project proposals. You may download the .tex for this example here.

Due: Mon Mar 08

One of the most critical and often overlooked portions of a research project is a sufficient investigation of related work. For this milestone, you will write a related work section. A good related work section is not simply a laundry list of papers and corresponding summaries. Rather, a good related work tells a story of how technology and research has advanced to address problems and topics related to that considered by the paper. It is also critical to contrast your paper with the prior work, not just state what the prior work does. While your research is not yet complete, you should have enough of a grasp on the idea to contrast it with the prior work. You may also revise your related work for the final written paper. Finally, during your related work investigation, take note of how the related work section of those papers is written. Many papers have poorly written related work sections. Identify what makes a good and bad related work section.

When formatting your related work, use the provided template. Include your title and an abstract on the first page. Do not change the font size, margins, or any other formatting.

To receive 40 of the 50 points, the related work must be at least two full columns of text (using the provided template) and contain at least 30 citations. Websites (i.e., not academic work) count as one-half a citation. The remaining 10 points will be based on the quality of the document, including the writing, quality of citations, number of missing well known citations, etc. Going well beyond the minimum 30 citations will help achieve the full 50 points for this milestone.

What to turn in: PDF of the related work (lastname-relwork.pdf) using the provided template.

Note about files: Only .pdf files generated from the provided template using LaTeX may be submitted. Failure to comply with any of these file format and naming requirements will result in an automatic ten point deduction from the milestone grade.

Milestone 3: Research Plan (75 points)

Due: Mon Mar 22

At this point, you have identified a problem and have at least a vague idea of your solution or approach to answer an empirical research question. An idea is of little value if it is not evaluated. For this milestone, you will report on how you plan to evaluate your idea. You must describe the following:

What to turn in: PDF of the research plan (lastname-plan.pdf) using the provided template.

Note about files: Only .pdf files generated from the provided template using LaTeX may be submitted. Failure to comply with any of these file format and naming requirements will result in an automatic ten point deduction from the milestone grade.

Milestone 4: Abstract/Intro (25 points)

Due: Wed Apr 07

The abstract and introduction are crucial to a paper. This is where you motivate and pitch your idea and present the high-level results. If you fail to get the reviewer’s interest in the abstract and introduction, it is hard to recover. Furthermore, the abstract and introduction are the most-read parts of published paper.

Abstracts should be relatively short: one paragraph, around 200 words. A wandering and off topic abstract can confuse the reader. Consider the following template for writing an abstract (approximately one sentence per point):

An introduction is a longer version of this same outline, often dedicating about a paragraph per point. A good outline for your introduction follows (approximately one paragraph per point):

The abstract/intro document should be between 1 and 1.5 pages using this format, including the title and author block.

What to turn in: PDF of the abstract and intro (lastname-intro.pdf). Use the final paper template, commenting out the \input commands for the other sections in the skeleton file.

Note about files: Only .pdf files generated from the provided template using LaTeX may be submitted. Failure to comply with any of these file format and naming requirements will result in an automatic five point deduction from the milestone grade.

Milestone 5: Presentation (25 points)

Due: Wed Apr 28

During the last class of the semester, students electing the research track will present their work to the class. The duration of the presentation will depend on the total number of projects. The presentation should use slides (e.g., via PowerPoint, Keynote, Beamer). The presentation may also be required to include a demo (confirm with the instructor). While live demos are nice, recorded demos are more reliable.

What to turn in: PDF of the presentation slides (lastname-presentation.pdf).

Milestone 6: Final Written Paper (200 points)

Due: Fri May 07

The written version of the final project is a conference-quality report, consisting of 8–10 pages (not including references), 1-inch margins, two column, 10-pt font. Use the provided LaTeX template. Suggested outline:

What to turn in: PDF of the final paper (lastname-paper.pdf) using the provided template.

Note about files: Only .pdf files generated from the provided template using LaTeX may be submitted. Failure to comply with any of these file format and naming requirements will result in an automatic 20 point deduction from the milestone grade.