6.858 Fall 2015 Final assignment: Project
If you choose to do a project, you get to choose what to build, subject
to our approval. The project may be done individually, or you can form a group
of 2 to 3 6.858 students to collaborate on the project. We encourage students
to work in groups, as this often enables more interesting projects. You'll turn
in your code and a short write-up describing the design and implementation of
your project, and make a short in-class presentation about your work. We will
post your write-up and code on the web site after the end of the semester,
unless you explicitly talk to us about why you want to keep yours confidential.
The primary requirement for project ideas is that they are interesting.
They should also be at least tangentially related to security, and
should be of similar size and difficulty as the
final lab. Below, we give some half-baked
ideas that we believe could turn into interesting projects. Each one
requires some measure of scoping and refinement before they would be
suitable as a final project
We encourage final projects that leverage multiple classes you might
be taking, or that involve other research or projects you are already
working on. For example, if you are also taking 6.828 or 6.S897
(elections and voting technology), it would be fine with us to have a
single project that counts for both 6.858 and another class. Same for
other upper-level course-6 classes or MEng and AUP projects.
Most of the final projects from last year are posted
Final projects from previous years have ended up being subsequently
published as research papers
If this sounds interesting to you, try to pick an ambitious class project
that you might want to continue working on afterwards!
There are four steps to doing a final project; they are as follows:
- Project proposal.
Discuss your proposed idea with course staff before the proposal
deadline of October 29th to flesh out the exact
problem you will be addressing, how you will go about doing it, and
what tools you might need in the process. Remember: project ideas
must be approved by us to be eligble for class credit! By the
proposal deadline, you must submit a one-to-two-page proposal to the submission web site describing: your group
members list, the problem you want to address, how you plan to address
it, and what are you proposing to specifically design and implement.
- Project presentation.
Prepare a short in-class presentation about the work that you have done
for your final project. We will provide a projector that you can use
for slides, demos, etc. Depending on the number of groups and the kinds
of projects that each group chooses, we may decide to limit the total
number of presentations, and some groups might end up not presenting in
- Write-up and code.
Write a document describing the design and implementation of your
project, and turn it in along with your project's code by
December 4th. The document should be about 2-3 pages
of text that helps us understand what problem you solved, and what your
code does. The code and writeups will be posted online after the end of
the semester. Take a look at the list of writeups from past years
get a sense of what this writeup should look like.
A note about attack-oriented projects
If you are interested in a more attack-oriented final project, your
goal for this project is to pick an interesting service provided by
MIT's IS&T (or any other computing service at MIT, such as those
provided by SIPB), and try to find vulnerabilities in it. We will judge
your project based on what kinds of vulnerabilities you find. Beware
that there's no guarantee of success with this (or any other
attack-oriented) project, because you may accidentally choose a very
secure service, and might end up finding no vulnerabilities, which can
potentially result in a failing grade. However, if you have an
interesting approach to finding vulnerabilities (e.g., you have
designed a new tool for finding bugs), you may receive a good grade
even without finding real vulnerabilities.
In any attack-oriented project, you must be very careful to avoid
disrupting existing services, inconveniencing users of those services,
compromising the security of that service, or taking advantage of any
vulnerabilities you find. If you are ever in doubt, please get in touch
with us. If you discover real vulnerabilities in a service, please get
in touch both with the operators of that service and with us. Please
don't exploit the vulnerability to gain any additional privileges on a
service, and don't announce it widely before the service operators have
a chance to understand it.
Your grade in this project depends on how interesting the
vulnerabilities are that you have found, or how interesting the
techniques are that you used to discover those vulnerabilities. For
example, obtaining passwords through traditional brute-forcing
techniques is not interesting. The general scale of work expected
should be comparable to the amount of work involved in solving the
final lab. Of course, much of your work will
involve reading and understanding an existing system, and carefully
constructing proof-of-concent exploits to demonstrate the
vulnerabilities that you discovered, and the total amount of resulting
code may be minimal; think back to how much time you spent on lab 1,
and how many lines of code your final exploits were.
Here is a list of services that might be interesting targets for security
evaluation as part of this project:
If you are interested in looking for bugs in MIT's newly developed APIs
or OpenID Connect, several folks at IS&T have volunteered to help
you get started: Chris Giles <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Stephen Buckley
<email@example.com>, and Thomas Hardjono <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Half-baked project ideas
We encourage you to come up with your own ideas for what you would like
to work on, but if you're looking for inspiration, what follows is a
list of ideas that could turn into good final projects:
- Get the concolic execution system from lab 3 to work on real-world
Python web applications, and try to find real bugs.
- Write an interesting web application in Ur/Web.
- Modify Linux to keep track of the last process and user that
modified each file. Perhaps log a warning or raise an alarm
when a file is modified by an application that hasn't written
to that file before.
- Build a static analysis tool to find bugs in real web applications.
It would be great to have a static analysis tool for Python programs,
even if it's not perfectly sound, much like the PHP static analysis
tool we discussed in lecture. In addition to the standard XSS bugs,
can you find bugs where application developers forget to perform
permission checks, or inadvertently leak sensitive data?
Such a tool might also be useful to find non-security bugs in
Python programs. One existing tool that's quite limited is PyLint.
- Find bugs in real C code. Take a look at some recent research papers
on finding real bugs in the Linux kernel and other C-based programs,
or undefined behavior.
We can give you access to our source code to these tools; you can
apply them to existing software to see what bugs you can find, and
also think about ways to extend the tools to make them more accurate,
to make them find other kinds of bugs, etc.
- Extend program analysis tools used by Linux kernel developers,
to catch different kinds of bugs in the kernel.
- Use the KLEE symbolic execution
system to build an analysis tool that finds interesting bugs in C programs.
- Explore the extent to which covert channels / side channels matter,
e.g. in shared VMs like EC2, vs. shared OS, vs. other environments.
See this paper for
some background information.
- Add Capsicum support to Linux. There has been some
recent work toward capsicum on
linux proposed here.
- Port an interesting application to use Capsicum (on FreeBSD).
- Build an interesting application on top of Webathena
or extend it to support non-DES enctypes (AES, etc).
- Implement Kerberos for Android. We can put you in touch with some
folks at the Kerberos Consortium that are working on this. It would
be interesting to implement a Kerberos ticket caching service, accessed
via Android intents, so that an application can use Kerberos tickets
for a specific service without being able to steal the user's entire
- Implement progressive authentication: instead of requiring the user
to log in to do anything, require different levels of credentials
for specific tasks. For example, on Athena, perhaps running a web
browser should not require any credentials, but accessing your personal
files (or your browser accessing your google.com cookie that
gives access to gmail) should require your Kerberos password, etc.
The same would apply on an Android phone: checking the weather or
the map should not require any credentials, but accessing the mail
app should prompt for a PIN, swipe pattern, or password.
from Microsoft Research might give you some things to think about,
although it may not be worthwhile to implement all of the environment
monitoring done in that work.
- Examine the security of Android applications. Look at some previous
studies for inspiration
- Improve sandboxing for Android applications. Is there something that
you could do to prevent a malicious application from exploiting kernel
recent improvements to seccomp, using
Linux KVM, or using Native Client.
- Look for weaknesses in random number generation, or improve the random
number generation. Some hints for where to start:
Mining your Ps and Qs,
Ted T'so on Linux PRNG design,
Theoretical weaknesses in the Linux PRNG.
- Audit interactions between Android applications, perhaps by tracing
all intents sent via the reference monitor. When something goes wrong,
can your system tell the user why an application might be broken?
- Implement an environmental
key generation system.
- Build a password manager for Android applications, perhaps by implementing
a virtual keyboard that can automatically enter passwords into an application.
The virtual keyboard can know exactly what application it's entering passwords
into, which can guard against phishing-style attacks.
- Provide more fine-grained network access control in Android, to protect an
internal corporate network from possibly-malicious applications on a phone.
- Implement an efficient version of Baggy bounds checking on top of
- Use DynamoRIO's binary instrumentation to implement some cool security
mechanism for unmodified binaries. For example, you could implement a
binary-level taint tracking system that prevents
secret files from being sent out over the network.
You can look at a previous lab we used to have involving DynamoRIO from
a few years ago
- Use Resin's taint tracking
for Python to enforce some interesting properties in zoobar.
- Find an interesting use for trusted hardware, and figure
out how to expose trusted hardware safely to applications.
Linux should already have a basic device driver for a TPM.
- Write a tool to help privilege-separating Python applications, and
apply it to the Zoobar labs or other real applications.
- Implement more flexible protection mechanisms for Linux (so that any
user can create additional protection domains -- sub-users -- to run
code with less privileges, without having to be root). You can build
upon a class project from a previous year,
- Improve the security of HTTPS in web browsers in the face of possibly
compromised CAs. For example, define a new URL syntax that includes
the server's certificate public key in the URL itself, so that one site
can unambiguously include a link to another site without relying on CAs.
Or, include the CA name in the URL, so that another CA cannot subvert
- Auditing support for web applications.
For instance, suppose someone broke into your blog or forum, added a user
account for themselves, changed permissions, and posted garbage messages.
How can you track down all of the changes made by the attacker?
Could be done with the help of a language runtime, such as Resin.
- The Tor Project has some ideas for possible Tor-related projects
- Analyze the Bitcoin transaction graph. How hard is it to anonymize
Bitcoin exchanges? Here's one recent
paper analyzing the
Bitcoin data set, which might give you ideas for other things to try.
- Implement one of Daniel J. Bernstein's ECC curves (e.g., Curve3617) in
OpenSSL/OpenSSH. See this page
for more information.