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Build tomorrow’s hacker-proof computer systems

PDCS: Top Master in Computer Security

Address the most pressing, ambitious, and deeply technical challenges in computer security

Our programme is unique in the Netherlands and one of the few of its kind in the world. It builds on a solid computer systems foundation, with the design, implementation, and evaluation of complex systems, and then specializes in the security issues of modern systems in both hardware and software. The emphasis is on experimental computer science rather than theory. As such, most of the courses in the curriculum are very hands-on, which means you will get extensive practical and research-oriented experience in computer systems and security.

You will study the inner workings of modern computer systems and understand how they have become increasingly complex to meet the challenges of Clouds, Big Data the, Internet of Things, etc. and the ever-growing demand for better performance. You will learn how such sheer complexity comes at a nontrivial security cost, with each layer of the modern hardware and software stack plagued by critical security vulnerabilities.

From Heartbleed to Rowhammer, from Spectre to Meltdown, Foreshadow, and RIDL, you will learn how the different classes of security vulnerabilities can lead to increasingly sophisticated attacks and exploitation techniques. To defend against such attacks, you will study state-of-the-art defensive techniques such as secure system design, software hardening, verification, etc. You will also learn how to use state-of-the-art techniques and tools to assist security analysis, i.e., hardware/software reverse engineering, vulnerability analysis, malware analysis, etc.

In a nutshell, you will learn how to use experimental and empirical approaches to understand and address today’s systems security issues towards tomorrow’s hacker-proof computer systems. What’s more, you will design, implement, and evaluate complex systems and security solutions. To this end, you will often work in small teams to learn valuable collaborative research skills.

First year

Our Computer Security Master(*) is a two-year programme that offers you a great balance between classroom and applied work. 

The curriculum is made up of compulsory core courses, elective courses, and a Master’s thesis. The emphasis shifts gradually from classroom lectures to independent, research-oriented study with practical work, seminars, and the identification of open research questions.  

Compulsory courses include a systems core, with courses such as Storage Systems, Parallel Programming, and Distributed Systems, and a security core with courses such as Software Security, Network Security, and Binary and Malware Analysis.

Elective courses you can choose include Security Experiments and Measurements, Coding and Cryptography, Advanced Computer Networks, Web Data Processing Systems, Data Mining Techniques, and literally dozens of others – the possibilities are endless. You’ll also have the opportunity to test your knowledge in at least one large project before your final thesis.

See also the study guide for a complete overview of the study programme. Or download the year schedule directly. 

(*)Note: this Master is still listed under its old name (PDCS: Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems) in the study guide. In order to better match the name of the programme with the content, a name change (Computer Security) is underway and expected to be effective by September 2022. 

Also note that to reflect the stronger security focus, the Master curriculum currently specified in the study guide has been updated with additional security content. In particular, in the first year, there is a new compulsory course (“Binary and Malware Analysis”) and four new elective courses (not yet in the study guide, see below).

New elective courses

  • Network Security, where you’ll learn about modern network and web security vulnerabilities, attacks, and defenses.
  • Verification for Security, where you’ll learn how to formally reason about and prove that a program is correct and secure.
  • Security and Machine Learning, where you’ll learn about "security for machine learning", with topics such as adversarial machine learning and privacy-preserving federated learning as well as about "machine learning for security", with topics such as intrusion detection systems.
  • Security Experiments and Measurements, where you’ll learn the research methodology to design experiments and conduct security measurements.

Second year

In the second year of our Computer Security Master(*), you’ll take additional core courses such as Advanced Operating Systems and Hardware Security as well as additional electives. The final semester is dedicated to the Master’s thesis, which usually involves conducting research together with one or more members of the academic staff. Many Master’s thesis results get published in top international venues in computer security. You can find some examples here

See also the study guide for a complete overview of the study programme. Or download the year schedule directly. 

(*)Note: this Master is still listed under its old name (PDCS: Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems) in the study guide. In order to better match the name of the programme with the content, a name change (Computer Security) is underway and expected to be effective by September 2022. Also note that to reflect the stronger security focus, the Master curriculum currently specified in the study guide has been updated with additional security content. In particular, in the second year, there is a new compulsory course: Hardware Security.

An outstanding Master ran by outstanding researchers at VU Amsterdam

Our Master has been established by VUSec, the Systems and Network Security Group at VU Amsterdam. VUSec is one of the leading research groups in computer security worldwide, with high-impact research regularly published in top venues and covered by the international press. VUSec has also won multiple prestigious grants (ERC, VICI, multiple VENIs), a VMware Early Career Faculty Award, a Dennis M. Ritchie PhD Award, five Roger Needham PhD Awards, three Pwnie Awards, and other awards from academia and industry. For more information, visit the VUSec website.

The VUSec group runs the programme in collaboration with the brand new group in Foundational and Experimental Security and the other researchers from the Computer Systems (CompSys) section at VU Amsterdam. CompSys itself consists of three interconnected research groups of outstanding international reputation and was set up by  professor Andrew S. Tanenbaum, winner of the ACM Karl V. Karlstrom outstanding Educator Award, the ACM/SIGCSE Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computer Science Education and the IEEE award. For more information, visit the CompSys website.

Change your future with our Master’s programme in computer security

Change your future with our Master’s programme in computer security

Upon completion of your studies, you’ll be prepared for top positions in industry, with high-demand roles such as security researcher, analyst, or lead system designer/architect.

After graduating, you could also continue your studies with a PhD research position at a top university. Or, you could join one of the excellent research labs in industry. 

Explore your future prospects

Want to know more about the curriculum of this programme?

Please contact the programme director

Dr. Cristiano Giuffrida,
c.giuffrida@vu.nl