COMS 4261: Introduction to Cryptography

    Fall 2023

Class Calendar | Lecture Summaries | Required and Suggested Reading | Homework | Quizzes | Courseworks | Gradescope | Ed discussion board


General Information

This is a three-credit graduate level course. It can be credited to all degree programs, subject to advisor approval.  It is also a theory elective for the PhD program in computer science, a suitable elective for the MS foundations or security tracks, and a foundations track elective for undergrad CS majors.
We meet Tuesdays and Thursdays 10:10-11:25 in 142 Uris Hall.
The class is recorded for CVN students, and recordings will also be made available to on-campus students for 10 days after each lecture.

Communication: We will be using gradescope and edstem, both accessible from courseworks, and regular office hours (see below). Announcements will be sent by email through courseworks, as well as posted on this webpage. Regrade requests should be submitted in writing through Gradescope, within one week after the assignment is returned.

If you have any administrative questions, you can post a private question on Edstem. Questions with sensitive personal information can be emailed to just the professor. Questions related to the material should be posted on Edstem or asked in office hours, with the exception of quiz related questions, which should not be asked while the quiz is still ongoing. Other questions are highly encouraged (after you've spent some time thinking and going over the material).

Teaching Staff and Office Hours

Teaching staff are listed below with their typical office hours. However, office hours are subject to change, so please check the course calendar (also embedded below) for the most updated information. Most office hours are in person, but there is one hour a week that will regularly be held over zoom, and other office hours may move to zoom on occasion -- make sure to check the calendar for time and location/modality information before attending office hours.


Teaching and Course Assistants

Class Calendar

Class Description and Syllabus 

This course is an introduction to the foundations of modern cryptography.  In general, cryptography aims to construct efficient schemes achieving some desired functionality, even in an adversarial environment.  For example, the most basic question in cryptography is that of secure communication across an insecure channel: Can Alice send a message to Bob so that Bob understands the message, but no eavesdropper does?   How can Bob be sure that the message received was sent by Alice?  Another question is that of secure computation in an insecure environment:  Can a group of parties perform some distributed computation (e.g., coordinate an attack, or tally a vote), so that an adversary controlling the communication channels and some of the parties cannot disrupt the computation or learn extra information?  

While cryptography is an ancient field, the emergence of modern cryptography in the last few decades is characterized by several important features distinguishing it from classical cryptography.  For one thing, the availability of computers and the wide spread of networked information systems and the Web, has dramatically increased both the need for good cryptography, and the possibilities that it can offer.  In addition to the classical military and national security applications, a wide scope of financial, legal, and social cryptographic applications has emerged, from using a credit card on-line or sending an encrypted email, to more ambitious goals of electronic commerce, electronic voting, contract-signing, database privacy, and so on.  The most important characteristic of modern cryptography is its rigorous, scientific approach, based on firm complexity-theoretical foundations.  In contrast to the classical approach based on ad-hoc solutions (design a scheme that seems very hard to break, and hope for the best), modern cryptography aims for specific, rigorously quantifiable security guarantees,  based on precise mathematical definitions and provably secure protocols.

What You Will Learn in This Class (Hopefully!)

The principles and techniques underlying the above will be illustrated through specific examples drawing from the basic cryptographic primitives.  Through these examples, which are very important on their own, you will also learn to critically evaluate and interpret cryptographic definitions and security proofs (i.e., what is and what is not guaranteed?).  
While the class will focus on the theoretical foundations, we will discuss the relation to how things are actually done in practice.
The material covered in the class should prepare you to make sense of some current research papers in cryptography, and to study further on your own (or take an advanced class).  Opportunities for research under my supervision may be available for interested students who do well in the class.

Tentative List of Topics 

The following is an ambitious list of topics to be covered.  Depending on time, some of the topics will be omitted.

What You Will Not Learn in This Class

The following topics are outside of the scope of this class.

Required Text

We will use the book “Introduction to Modern Cryptography” by Jonathan Katz and Yehuda Lindell, Chapman and Hall/CRC Press, 3rd edition. This book will be on reserve in the science and engineering library.   Recommendations for some other textbooks (not required) appear here


The following skills will be assumed:

It will also help to have background in at least some of the following areas:

These topics will be briefly covered in class as needed, but if you do not have any background in any of them, you are likely to find it hard to keep up.

The appendix of the textbook reviews some background, and additional references for background reading can be found here

Grading and Policies

The grading will be based on homework (50%), quizzes (15%), and a cumulative exam (35%) (tentatively on Fri Dec 15, but this is subject to registrar approval -- the backup option is an evaluation on the last day of classes).
Students are expected to carefully go over each lecture before the next one. There will also be some required readings assigned, that the students will be responsible for.

All students are presumed to be aware of the departmental policy regarding academic honesty.