CAS 767/eHealth 767

Information Privacy and Security

Winter 2016 Course Outline


-       Avenue is used for submissions, discussions, and further announcements. It is your responsibility to check Avenue regularly.

-       The first lecture for this course will occur on Jan 12. 


Dr. Reza Samavi

Office: ITB213, ext. 24895, Email: samavir, Web:


The regular schedule for the course lectures is Tue 1330 – 1630, ITB202. Office hours: Mon 14:30-15:30 and Tue 1100-1230 (please also email to make an appointment)


This course provides an introduction to security and privacy issues, taking an engineering perspective and focusing on application areas of the healthcare process and data privacy and security. Current research topics in information privacy and security will be studied and the main challenges will be investigated. Reading is an essential component of the course. We read and discuss important research papers on data privacy and security including cryptography, digital signature, key management, access control (authentication, authorization and certificates), privacy enhancement technologies (e.g., k-anonymity and differential privacy), privacy auditing and inspection, and developing a privacy plan for a specific domain. Students will undertake a course project that employs and integrates on the topics covered in the course.

Course Objectives

In the presence of advanced technologies vast quantities of data about individuals are gathered, analyzed, disseminated, and preserved, raising new challenges and concerns regarding information privacy and security. This course aims to address some of these challenges and concerns. The objectives of the course are:

1.    to develop knowledge of recent research in various aspects of data security and privacy,

2.    to expose students to the technical challenges behind data security and privacy particularly in the domain of health data and processes, and

3.    to enable students to understand security and privacy requirements of a specific domain and how to engineer around them.

Students completing this course should be able

1.    to understand research challenges of privacy, security, confidentiality, and information accountability

2.    to understand roles and responsibilities of different actors involved in data protection

3.    to understand and operationalize the fundamental principles of information privacy and security

4.    to develop privacy and security plans and risk assessments

5.    to develop critical thinking, writing and oral presentation skills to communicate research results in information security and privacy


Instructor’s Note

Schedule and contents in this outline are tentative and may be changed and/or adjusted as we make our way through the course. Additional reading materials may be assigned.


Course Website


This website contains information related to the class, such as the course schedule, test dates and location, assignments, and other general information. It is the student's responsibility to be aware of the information on the course website, and to regularly check for announcements and course news.

The instructor and university reserve the right to modify elements of the course during the term. The university may change the dates and deadlines for any or all courses in extreme circumstances. If either type of modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. It is the responsibility of the student to check their McMaster email and course websites during the term and to note any changes.


Rregistration in one of the graduate programs in the department of Computing and Software or in the MSc eHealth program is required for taking this course. You can ask for the instructor’s permission for taking this course if you are not registered in either of these two programs. This course is designed to expose students to the core concepts and topics of data security and privacy. The course may not be appropriate for students already well versed in data security or privacy. Knowledge of programming is helpful but not necessary for taking this course.


Class sessions will include lectures by the instructor, student seminars, intra-class activities, and guest lecturers.

References and Reading Material

Required Textbooks:

·       [STA11]: Information security: principles and practice. Mark Stamp. John Wiley & Sons, 2011 (selected chapters).

·       [DEN14]: The Privacy Engineer's Manifesto: Getting from Policy to Code to QA to Value. Dennedy, Michelle Finneran, Jonathan Fox, and Thomas Finneran, Google Book. 2014 (selected chapters).

Both books are available online (eBook) via McMaster digital library. For off-campus access, you will need to login through proxy with your macid.

Additional readings will be provided as we make our way through the course and based on students’ feedback. The most updated list of readings can be found here. The following list provides great references for the topics covered in this course:

·       [NIS09]: Privacy in context: Technology, policy, and the integrity of social life. Helen Nissenbaum. Stanford University Press, 2009.

·       [OLI14]: Privacy Engineering: A Data Flow and Ontological Approach, Ian Oliver. 2014 

·       [MUR15]: Healthcare Information Security and Privacy, Sean P. Murphy, Mc Graw Hill, 2015

The most recent and relevant publications from the following conferences are selected for weekly readings and seminars:

·      ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS) (

·      USENIX Security Symposium (

·      PETS - Privacy Enhancing Technologies (

·      Symposium On Usable Privacy and Security (



Class participation






Final Project /Research paper






Each student in the class hands in a hardcopy of weekly paper critiques (9 reviews in total) due at the start of the class. All students will review the same paper that has been assigned for the seminar that week. Please also submit the electronic version of the critiques to the assigned folder on the course website before the start of each class. The critiques are limited to one page (~3000 characters) and should answer the following questions:

1.    What are motivations for the paper?

2.    What is the proposed solution?

3.    What are the main contributions of the paper?

4.    What is your analysis of the identified problem, idea and evaluation (the areas that the paper or the research can improve upon)?

5.    What questions are you left with?

In answering the last two questions you should include your insights about the topic and the paper.


Each student is expected to present and lead class discussion on assigned readings related to the objectives of the course. Each week, we have one student as presenter and one student as discussion leader. The presenter will summarize and present the main contributions of the paper, the methodology, the research results and evaluations, the student’s personal insight of the paper, critiques, and thoughts in 20 minutes using presentation slides or any other approved medium. The presentation is not a simple summary of the paper but a critical thinking reflection of the paper supported by the student’s own investigation.

The discussion leader’s responsibility is to lead the class after the presentation is concluded. The discussion leader should be prepared to start the discussion by raising relevant questions and then moderating a discussion. The discussion leader will be evaluated based on his/her ability to engage students and moderate a relevant and live discussion. 

Each student should participate both as a paper presenter and a discussion leader. Students’ grades for the seminar will be a combination of their performance during their presentation and their leading the discussion. Presentation slides should be submitted to the assigned folder on the course website 24 hours before the presentation. The presentation dates are distributed throughout the semester. The reading list is available on the course website.

The reading list is available on the course website. Each seminar reading has a code starting with the letter A or B. For presentation, all students can select seminar readings coded A however, only eHealth students or students without engineering or computer science background can select seminar readings from class B. There is no constraint in terms of who can moderate which papers (A or B). Students should sign up (on first come first serve basis) for presentation date and moderation date by Friday Jan 15, 2016, 23:59 EDT using the discussion thread created in Avenue with “Seminar presentation and moderation” subject. Each student will reply to the thread and include two paper numbers one for presentation and one for moderation. You should check previous postings to avoid duplicate presentation or moderation. Students will be randomly assigned if some spots are not filled in.


Project / Research paper

Each student must complete a project or write a research survey paper on a topic related to information privacy or security, subject to the instructor’s approval. Students are encouraged to select a sub-topic in a domain of privacy and security related to their own research interests. For example, the MSc eHealth students registered in this course are strongly advised to do the project or write the research paper addressing privacy or security problems in the health related contexts. Each student will hand in a proposal due on Feb. 9. An interim progress presentation will occur on Mar. 8. At the end of the term, each student will do a presentation of the work accomplished and submit a final paper. The paper is limited to 8 pages (including references and figures) and must be formatted according to the IEEE conference proceeding template. The paper may include an appendix containing supporting materials that will help the reader evaluate your work. When writing the paper, your focus should be on academic venues as listed in the References section of this document (e.g., ACM, IEEE, USENIX). You should systematically and critically describe the stat-of-the-art research relevant to your topic, identify the gap, and concisely report on your contributions including design and evaluation. Students with strong computer science or software engineering background are encouraged focusing on development of a security or privacy solution or making contributions to the theoretical foundation of information privacy and security. Students without computer science or programming background are advised to write a survey paper on a topic related to data security or privacy (e.g., “a survey on efficiency of patients’ consent mechanism in health data analytics” or “a survey on privacy challenges and research proposals for smart home systems”). In both cases the topic must be approved in advance by the instructor and the goal should be to produce publishable research contribution.


Tentative Syllabus

This course is run through Avenue to Learn. Enrolled students should log in to access the most updated syllabus and the detail list of readings for each week.

·       Introduction to Information Security and Privacy

o   Course overview

o   What is the meaning of Security? Security vs. Privacy, Information type classification, and information accountability


·       Fundamental concepts of Information Privacy and Privacy Engineering Process

o   Privacy legal landscape

o   Data collection, use, disclosure, transformation, and retention, Usage Purpose, Notice and Consent, and Privacy obligations

o   Privacy Requirements Engineering

o   Privacy Policies


·       Security Risks and Vulnerabilities 

o   Software flaws and Malware, Software-based attacks, Software reverse engineering

o   Protocol Attacks and prevention, DoS

o   Network, Web, and Cloud Security



·       Basics of cryptography

o   Basics of cryptography,

o   Hash Tables,

o   Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)



·       Methods of Security Protection

o   Access control, Authorization, User authentication, Firewalls, Intrusion detection Systems

o   Application of PKI in digital communications, digital signature and authentication, security certificates


·       Privacy metrics and privacy enhancing technologies

o   Dataset partitioning, Tokenization and randomization, K-anonymity, Differential Privacy

·       Security and privacy in connected healthcare systems

o   Healthcare: People, roles and third-party partners

o   Healthcare information regulation

o   Patient rights and Healthcare responsibility

o   Health information exchange and privacy architecture (HL7 & FHIR)

o   Impact of information privacy and security on Health IT


·       Privacy Impact analysis and Risk Assessment

o   Privacy Impact Analysis,

o   Privacy and security policies and legal and ethical issues,

o   Economics of security and privacy,

o   Failure Model and Effect Analysis (FMEA),

o   Threat assessment, Gap analysis and Risk register


·       Developing a Privacy Program

o   Reporting system, Information distribution System, Administration of security and privacy system, Education and Training, Contingency plans, Knowledge bases


·       Emerging challenges and research topics in information privacy and security

o   Privacy and Big Data

o   Mobile security models

o   Mobile threats and Malware



Faculty's Note

"The Faculty of Engineering is concerned with ensuring an environment that is free of all discrimination.  If there is a problem, individuals are reminded that they should contact the Department Chair, the Sexual Harassment Officer or the Human Rights Consultant, as the problem occurs."
"The instructor and university reserve the right to modify elements of the course during the term. The university may change the dates and deadlines for any or all courses in extreme circumstances. If either type of modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. It is the responsibility of the student to check their McMaster email and course websites weekly during the term and to note any changes."

Academic Integrity

"Academic dishonesty consists of misrepresentation by deception or by other fraudulent means and can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads:  "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty.  For information on the various kinds of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, specifically Appendix 3, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

·      Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one's own or for which other credit has been obtained.  (e.g. submitting a copy of someone else's writeup for an assignment)

·      Improper collaboration in group work. (e.g. collaboration between groups in an assignment)

·      Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations."


Students with accessibility needs may receive accommodations for completing assignments and exams. Please contact the Centre for Student Development for advice and for arranging assistance. Please contact the instructor to facilitate the process.