University of Minnesota
Security and Privacy in Computing

Reading Assignments

In preparation for each class (after the first), you should read the paper linked to from the schedule, and then write up a question and answer about it. The purpose of these assignments is to make sure that you're already thinking in depth about the paper, which will allow you and everyone else to get more out of the discussion we have. A short slogan to remember what you have to do is "answer one, ask one".

In addition to the main reading for each day, there will also often be extra papers listed as "background" and/or "optional". A background paper is one that is logically (and usually chronologically) prior to the main paper, for instance introducing a concept that the main paper extends. If you're already familiar with the background paper or the concept, you don't need to read the background paper; but if the topic area is new to you, at least skimming the background paper would probably be a good idea. Other papers listed as optional may give other perspectives or different extensions in the same topic area: you may want to check them out if you want a broader view or you find a topic area particularly interesting. But the focus of our discussion will be on the main paper, and so you reading assignment should primarily concern the main paper.

For the first "answer one" part, you should answer one of the following general questions (your choice) as it applies to the main paper:

  • Summarize one interesting new thing you learned from reading the paper. Be sure to explain why you think it is interesting, don't just repeat what the paper says about it.
  • Describe a research question which is implicitly raised by the paper, but not answered in it.
  • Does the paper contains a claim that you are skeptical of or disagree with? Explain in your own words what you interpret the paper as claiming, and then by contrast what you think is true.
  • Is there an important detail that the paper leaves out or is ambiguous? Describe what the unanswered question is, and then give your best guess as to the answer.
  • Given the benefit of hindsight, if you were doing the same research project as the paper over again from scratch, how would you have done it differently?

Usually a good answer should be a modest-length paragraph which summarizes the gist of your answer with a topic sentence, and then backs it up with additional sentences giving supporting details. It should usually be sufficient for your answer to be in plain text: most questions should not require figures, complex formulas, or bibliographic citations to answer. If you want to typeset your answer, please submit a version in PDF format, not a word-processor file format. Please make clear which question you're answering: if it might not be obvious otherwise, you can do this pasting a copy of the question you're answering before your answer.

For the second "answer one" part, you should ask a question of your own that pertains to the paper that might be suitable for in-class discussion. This second question is also supposed to be a catalyst for thinking about the research, but it gives you a different perspective than when you're answering a question.

Each student should submit their answers using the appropriate assignment on the course Canvas page . You should prepare your answers no later than the day before the relevant paper is discussed in class, where the boundary between evening and the following day is 3am Central. Submissions that are late but still before class are worth 50% credit, while submissions after the beginning of class (to be precise, after 1:00pm) get no credit.

Two common pitfalls you should be careful to avoid:

  • Just summarizing a paper. Understanding the paper is intended to be a prerequisite to answering the questions, but they all ask you to do some thinking beyond that. So be sure to answer the question that's actually asked. It may be appropriate to summarize part of the paper in supporting your answer, but don't let a summary be your entire answer. In particular for the "summarize one interesting thing" question, your summary should only cover one aspect of the paper, and you also need to describe why that particular thing is interesting to you (even if it might not be interesting to someone else).
  • Discussing only at a very high level. Sometimes for a security paper, just the basic idea of what a paper is doing is interesting in its own right. But it's also important to look at how a paper demonstrates and supports it basic idea with technical approaches, experimental or theoretical evaluation, and comparison with related work. Since the whole paper is important in this way, you should make sure that you are reading the whole paper carefully, and your answers should reflect that by drawing on details from the whole paper. After you've written a first draft of your answer, read back over it and ask yourself whether it sounds like an answer that someone could have written having only read the introduction of the paper. If so, it is probably at too high a level. Try to support your answer with more specific details.