Humans are often viewed as the weakest link in security. However, there is growing recognition that technology alone is insufficient to solve all security and privacy problems. Human factors play and essential role. A provably secure system is only as secure as the way users choose to use it, and system builders need to account for these user decisions if they wish to provide security and usability. In this class, we will cover a variety of usability and human interaction (HCI) problems of privacy and security. We will also cover common HCI methods that can be used to measure usability issues in security and privacy mechanisms. Students are expected to complete homeworks on the topic and complete a semester-long researh project designed to give students practical experience understanding and designing studies which evaluate usability issues in security and privacy systems.


There are no pre-requisites for this course. You are expected to have a technical background, understand computer science, and be able to complete minor programming assignments. You should also have reading/writing skills, as course papers and presentations are required.

Ethics and Respectful Behavior

We expect all students to act in an respectful and ethical way, both with respect to the treatment of their peers in the classroom during discussion but also in the design and execution of their course projects. Actions should meet the expectations of ethical research and follow the norms and proper behavior of the Tufts University community.

Learning Objectives

  • Read and write critical critiques of scientific papers in the are of security, privacy, and usability.
  • Understand and apply research methods in human factors in computing
  • Develop relevant hypothesis and research questions in the space of usable security and privacy
  • Design and deploy a research study and analyze the results
  • Describe, support, and effectively argue a result using the best practices of scientific writing
  • Understand ethical issues related to human factors research in security and privacy
  • Understanding of the major topics and themes of usable security and privacy

List of topics (tentative)

The following list of tentative lecture topics will vary depending on the pace of the class:

  • Experimental Design
  • Qualitative Research Methods
  • Empirical Research Methods
  • Ethics
  • Research with Non-Standard and Unique Groups
  • Phishing/Security Awareness Training
  • Cognitive Biases/Mental Models
  • Privacy/Online Tracking
  • Usable Encryption
  • Passwords
  • Permissions/Access control
  • Security Warnings
  • Breach and Compliance Notifications
  • Secure Development/Security Professionals


You are responsible for all material discussed in lecture and posted on the class web page, including announcements, deadlines, policies, etc.

Any request for reconsideration of any grading on coursework must be submitted within one week of when it is returned. Any coursework submitted for reconsideration may be regraded in its entirety, which could result in a lower score if warranted.

15% penalty for late assignments within 24 hrs. 30% penalty for late assignments between 24-48 hrs. 100% penalty for late assignments beyond 48 hrs. four free late days that can be used throughout the semester for homework and reading submissions.

Final course grades will be curved as necessary, based on each student's total numeric score for all coursework at the end of the semester. Important: Completing the homeworks is an essential part of the course. Therefore, we may fail any student who does not make a good-faith attempt on all course projects, regardless of the student's performance or scores on the other coursework.

Your final course grade will be determined by the following tentative percentages:

Project 40%
Homeworks 45%
Readings 10%
Meet Your Professor 5%

Writing Center

Tuft's StAAR Center offer writing support to cultivate confident writers in the University community by facilitating collaborative, critical, and inclusive conversations at all stages of the writing process. Working alongside peer mentors, writers develop strategies to write independently in academic and public settings. This resource will likely be most useful for the course project, but I recommend looking into their services to support you throughout the course and beyond.

Excused absences

You are expected to attend class regularly and complete course assignments on time. If you are unable to fulfill these requirements due to absence for a good reason, the instructor will excuse the absence and provide accommodation. Events that justify an excused absence include:

  • Religious observances
  • Mandatory military obligation
  • Illness of the student or illness of an immediate family member
  • Participation in university activities at the request of university authorities
  • Compelling circumstances beyond the student's control (e.g., death in the family, required court appearance, etc.)

It is your responsibility to inform the instructor in advance of intended religious observances. Notice must be provided immediately upon an assignment being announced or confirmed for an absence to be excused.

The policies for excused absences do not apply to the course project deadlines (excluding presentation dates) or homework submissions. Deadlines will be assigned with sufficient time to allow students to carry out the work even with other responsibilities. In cases of extremely serious documented illness of lengthy duration or other protracted, severe emergency situations, the instructor may consider extensions depending on the specific cirucmstances.

Absences stemming from job interviews, traffic or transportation problems, personal travel, and similar will not be excused.


Feelings of being overwhelmed are unfortunately quite common in the University environment and something we have all dealt with. You are not alone, and there are a number of resources available to provide support in those moments. Learning to ask for help is an import part of the university of experience, and if you or anyone you know experiences any academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings of anxiety or depression, we strongly encourage you to seek support. Tufts offers counseling services, and also consider reaching out to a friend, faculty or family member you trust for help getting connected to the support that can help.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or in danger of self-harm, call someone immediately, day or night:

  • Tufts Counselor-on-Call : 617-627-3030
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Academic integrity

The university's Academic Integrity Policy will be strictly enforced.

For learning the course concepts, students are welcome to study together or to receive help from anyone else. You may discuss with others the project requirements, the general features of research methods used, what was discussed in class and in the class web forum, and general syntax errors.

Examples of questions that would be allowed are "Where can I find validated anchors for Likert questions?" or "What does a 'object cannot be coerced to type ‘double’' error indicate?", because they convey no information about the contents of a project.

Examples of questions you may not ask others might be "What questions did you include in your survey?" or "Please look at my code and help me find my stupid syntax error!".

Students are welcome and encouraged to study and compare or discuss assignments with any others after they are graded, provided that all of the students in question have received nonzero scores for that assignment, and if that assignment will not be extended upon in a later project assignment.

Violations of the Code of Academic Integrity may include, but are not limited to collaboration with other students beyond the following:


You may discuss the homeworks with your instructor and fellow students; however, unauthorized assistance must be limited to discussion of the problem, general sketches of approaches. You may never share code or solutions, or consulting another students solution is not permitted and constitutes an integrity violation.

If a problem within a homework allows group work, you may work together towards a solution; however, each student must submit their own copy of the homework with descriptions in their own words.


You may discuss any readings with any classmate, but your reading response form should be your own work in your own words. Copying a reading response form constitutes an integrity violation.


You are expect to cite and reference all sources used in your project write-up. You should clearly cite any idea that is not your own.

If you have any question about whether some activity would constitute cheating, please feel free to ask. Should you have difficulty with an assignment you should see the instructional staff in office hours, and not solicit help from anyone else in violation of these rules.

Simply stated, feel free to discuss problems with each other, but do not cheat. It is not worth it, and you will get caught.

Class Recordings

Course lectures may be audio/video recorded and made available to other students in this course. As part of your participation in this course, you may be recorded. If you do not wish to be recorded, please contact your instructor the first week of class (or as soon as you enroll in the course, whichever is latest) to discuss alternative arrangements.

Use of Electronic Course Materials and Class Recordings

Students are encouraged to use electronic course materials, including recorded class sessions, for private personal use in connection with their academic program of study. Electronic course materials and recorded class sessions should not be shared or used for non-course related purposes unless express permission has been granted by the instructor. Please contact the instructor if you have questions regarding what constitutes permissible or impermissible use of electronic course materials and/or recorded class sessions. Please contact Student Accessibility Services if you have questions or need assistance in accessing electronic course materials.

Students with disabilities

Tufts University values the diversity of our students, staff, and faculty, recognizing the important contribution each student makes to our unique community. 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 reasonable accommodations, please contact the Student Accessibility Services office to make an appointment with an SAS representative to determine appropriate accommodations. Please be aware that accommodations cannot be enacted retroactively, making timeliness a critical aspect for their provision.

Please also contact the instructor to discuss any necessary accommodations.

Course evaluations

If you have a suggestion for improving this class, don't hesitate to tell the instructor dring the semester! At the end of the semester, there will also be an opportunity for end-of-course feedback. Your comments will help make this class better!

Right to change information

Although every effort has been made to be complete and accurate, unforeseen circumstances arising during the semester could require the adjustment of any material given here. Consequently, given due notice to students, the instructor reserves the right to change any information on this syllabus or in other course materials.

Diversity and Inclusion Statement

We strive to create a learning environment for our students that supports a diversity of thoughts, perspectives, and experiences, and honors your identities. Please let us know of any accomodation that makes you feel more comfortable simply existing in the space or communcating with others in the class.

We are all still learning both technically and socially; if something occurs in class that makes you feel uncomfortable, please talk to us about it (after class, in office hours, anonymously via the department admins, etc.). If you prefer to speak with someone outside of the course, Tufts' Office of Equal Opportunity or the Student Affairs / Student Life Review Committee would be great resources for you to find someone to talk to.


If you have any questions throughout the course or have any dispute regarding policies or grading that cannot be posted to the Piazza page, please either come to the instructor's office hours after class or email him directly. He will make every effort to respond to emails within 24 hours on weekdays or 48 hours on weekends.

Web Accessibility