University of Malta

Study-Unit Description
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TITLE Research Topics in Dependable Systems

LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course


DEPARTMENT Computer Science

DESCRIPTION This study-unit exposes students to recent advancements in techniques aimed at increasing the dependability of software system. Particular attention would be given to Concurrency Theory, Model Checking, Programming Language Semantics, Software Testing, Runtime Verification, Software Testing, Specification Languages and Systems Security.

Students would be guided through a list of selected readings from relevant publications. Topics include but are not limited to: test suite adequacy analysis, mutation testing, symbolic execution, automated test case design, the oracle problem, automated test execution, runtime verification overhead minimisation, monitoring of real-time properties, monitoring of mobile phone applications, monitor-oriented programming, the combination of testing techniques with runtime verification, monitoring of distributed systems, ensuring the correctness of monitoring techniques, intrusion detection, attacks, malware analysis, defences and vulnerability analysis., operational, axiomatic and denotational semantics, program logics, type systems, program equivalence and refinement, concurrent, distributed system analysis, temporal , deontic and other modal logics, and specification techniques.

At the beginning of the semester, a seminar will be held on:
- The scientific method (how to identify a research problem, researching and determining relevant body of literature, implement a solution, evaluating the solution in a scientific manner);
- How to read papers in an efficient and thorough manner;
- How to write scientific documents (such as proposals, literature reviews, and dissertations);
- How to present scientific research.

While the main aim of the seminar is to help students prepare the deliverables of this study-unit, it will also provide solid background to tackle their final dissertation.

To assist students with their reading, regular meetings are held with the lecturer to discuss the progress and any problems encountered. Once the student has read sufficiently, he or she is expected to draw up a report which reviews the texts under consideration. The review is expected to offer a mature discussion, comparing and contrasting the works within a sensible framework.

Study-unit Aims:

The aim of this study-unit is to expose the students to state of the art research papers in the area of dependable systems, help them organise their reading and research efforts while also giving them the opportunity to write a literature review. This will give the students invaluable background in the topic of concurrency theory, model checking, programming language semantics, software testing, runtime verification, specification languages and systems security, while also giving them the opportunity of hands on research under close guidance from the lecturer.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the study-unit the student will:
- Have an intimate appreciation of advanced state-of-the-art topics in dependable systems;
- Be able to outline the research landscape of dependable systems and explain how different areas of the topic relate to one another;
- Be able to choose the most suitable experimentation and results presentation methods in order to evaluate experimental ideas in the field.


By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
- Discuss and critically analyze dependable systems research papers covering current open problems in the field;
- Search for literature containing background and related work to interesting papers and distill them into a literature review;
- Present literature review in an oral presentation.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Sample readings:

- Antoina Bertolino: Software Testing Research: Achievements, Challenges, Dreams, Proc. of the International Conference on the Future of Software Engineering, Pages 85-103, 2007.
- Edward J. Schwartz, Thanassis Avgerinos, David Brumley: All You Ever Wanted to Know About Dynamic Taint Analysis and Forward Symbolic Execution (but might have been afraid to ask), Reading Research Quarterly (Journal), Volume 33, Number 3, pgs 336-335 (2011).
- A. Jefferson OFfutt, Jie Pan: Detecting Equivalent Mutants and the Feasible Path Problem, Proc. of the International Conperence on Computer Assurance, pages 224-236, 1996.
- Nelly Delgado, Ann Quiroz Gates, Steve Roach: A taxonomy and catalog of runtime software-fault monitoring tools. IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, 30 (12), pgs 859-872 (2004).
- Séverine Colin, Leonardo Mariani: Run-Time Verification. Model-Based Testing of Reactive Systems, pgs 525-555 (2004).
- Martin Leucker, Christian Schallhart: A brief account of runtime verification. JLAP 78(5), pgs 293-303 (2009).
- Proceedings of the Conference on Runtime Verification (
- IEEE Transactions on Dependable and Secure Computing.
- Proceedings of the 'Research in Attacks, Intrusions and Defenses', and 'Detection of Intrusions and Malware & Vulnerability Assessment' conferences published in Springer's LNCS series.
- Proceedings of the 'USENIX Security' symposium published online at

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture, Independent Study, Project and Seminar

Assessment Component/s Resit Availability Weighting
Oral Examination (1 Hour) Yes 20%
Project Yes 80%

LECTURER/S Christian Colombo

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the study-unit description above applies to the academic year 2017/8, if study-unit is available during this academic year, and may be subject to change in subsequent years.
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