Syllabus | Intro to Usable Sec. and Priv. (Fall 2024)

CSCI 4533/6533 Introduction to Usable Security and Privacy


Meeting Times

Course Prerequisites

Course Description

Humans are often considered the weakest link in security. A provable secure system is only useful if it can actually be used by users, and system designers need to account for human behavior if they wish to have both security and usability. In this class, we will take a quick survey into active topics in usability of security and privacy research, which explores how computer systems interact with uses and how that affects users’ security and privacy.

Learning Objectives

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

Time Expectations:


The following textbook is required (available for free, online via GWU library):


(for detailed course schedule see the schedule)


Paper Responses

There are 10 paper responses due for topics covered in the class. On the reading list, for all additional readings* assigned in a given week, you should select one of the papers to read and provide a response with the following information.

Responses are due to Blackboard prior to the start of the following class in which the reading was assigned. Each response is worth 2% of your grade, totally 20%.

All paper responses should be done independently. It is never a group assignment.


There will be three homework assignments assigned throughout the class. Each are worth 10% of your grade.

All homework should be done independently. It is never a group assignment.

Attendance / Participation

As this is an interactive class, with discussion, it is important that you attend class regularly. There are 15 meetings of this class. You will receive 1% point for each class you attend until you reach 10%. However, coming to class is not sufficient to earn the 1%, you must also engage in the opening discussion where we review the additional readings from the prior meetings or the in-class activities as directed by the instructor.

That means you can miss up to 3 classes without penalty. After which, each missed class is a 1% reduction in your grade. There are no options to join classes online.

Requesting an Excused Absence

There is no reason to request an excused absence until you’ve missed more than 4 classes. Essentially, your first 4 absences are excused without any penalty. If you end up missing more than 4 classes, you should notify me as soon as you know you will miss class. The following are university policy for excused absences: documented family or medical emergency, varsity athletic competition, or a religious observation.

Note that in accordance with University policy, students should notify faculty during the first week of the semester of their intention to be absent from class on their day(s) of religious observance. For details and policy, see Religious Holidays on the Provost web page.

Research Project

Students will work on a semester long research project as part of this course that will require submitting a proposal, final report, and preparing a presentation to give in class.

Undergraduate students registered for section CSCI4533 can work in groups of two or individually. Graduate students registered for section CSCI6533 must work independently.

Late Policy

Assignments cannot be submitted late for credit without prior approval by the instructor. All assignments are due on the date posted on the website. If you are struggling to complete an assignment on time, you should consult with your instructor indicating the soonest date you can complete it. This date should typically be within a few days of the assigned due date (e.g., 2-4 days). If you are still unable to complete the assignment following an approved extension, there will not be additional extensions granted, and you will receive a zero for that assignment.

Academic Integrity

The George Washington University has a Code of Academic Integrity which we will follow in this class. Violations of the code, depending on severity, may lead to any (or all) of the following actions within this class:

Further action may occur, including referring the case to the Academic Integrity Council for further adjudication.

IMPORTANT: The use of AI assistants, such as ChatGPT, Gemni, etc., is strictly forbidden. Submitting AI assistants output as your own is plagiarism. You will receive a zero on that assignment, and if you do so multiple times after fair warning, you will be referred to the academic integrity board and receive a failing grade in the class. Please, please, please do not put me or you in a position where this may become necessary.

Ethical and Respectful Behavior

We expect all students to act in a 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 George Washington University community.

Disability Support Services (DSS)

Any student who may need accommodations based on the potential impact of a disability should contact Disability Support Services (or call 202-994-8250) to establish eligibility and to coordinate reasonable accommodations.


If any issue arises that may limit your ability to participate in class, for example, personal illness, family emergency, etc., please be sure to discuss these matters with your instructor as soon as possible and accommodations will be made available to you as appropriate.

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. GW 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: