UVM CS 3990/5990: Secure Distributed Computation (Fall 2023)

Course Description

Techniques for secure computation involving multiple distributed parties, including applied cryptography, homomorphic encryption, secure multiparty computation, verified computation, and zero-knowledge proof. Applications including Bitcoin and other blockchain systems, Ethereum and other smart contracts, encrypted databases, and computing on encrypted data.

This is a programming-based course, with minimal theory background required. Programming projects may include:

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course, you will be able to:



Textbook & Other References

Please do not buy any books for this course. All required reference material is available online for free.

We will use the following textbooks for this course:

In addition to these, we will reference a number of academic papers throughout the semester.

A very cool podcast on Unexplainable about cryptography, including interviews with Whit Diffie, Martin Hellman, and Rafael Pass.



Your grade for the course will be determined as follows:

Your final grade will be determined by summing the total number of points awarded and calculating the percentage of the total possible points. This percentage is translated into a letter grade as follows:

Undergraduate Students

Percent Letter Grade
98-100 A+
93-97 A
90-92 A-
87-89 B+
83-86 B
80-82 B-
77-79 C+
73-76 C
70-72 C-
67-69 D+
63-66 D
60-62 D-
<60 F

Graduate Students

Percent Letter Grade
98-100 A+
93-97 A
90-92 A-
87-89 B+
83-86 B
80-82 B-
77-79 C+
73-76 C
70-72 C-
<70 F

Exams & Quizzes

There will be two exams: a midterm and a final. You will be allowed unlimited notes for each exam (but please don’t print a whole book). See the schedule below for the dates.

Homework Assignments and In-class Exercises

This course will use Python for examples and for programming assignments. Students are expected to be proficient in Python programming. Programming assignments will be distributed and turned in as Jupyter notebooks. Click here for instructions on installing Jupyter Notebook.

Assignment Submission: Homework and in-class exercises will be turned in via Brightspace.

To submit an assignment:

  1. Complete the released Jupyter Notebook by filling in answers to all the questions
  2. Submit the notebook file (the .ipynb file) as your solution on Brightspace

Please do not change the name of the .ipynb file. This makes the grading process more difficult.

Please let me know if you have any questions about the submission process.

Grading rubric:

100% - Correct or with minor issues

75% - Main idea on the right path, with parts incorrect

50% - Decent start, but misses the main idea

0% - Missing/no answer

Solutions and feedback: Homework solutions will be posted on Brightspace under “homework solutions.” Grades will be posted on Brightspace. To see your graded assignment, visit the following link:


Replace <your-netid-here> with your actual netid. You will need to log in using your UVM credentials to view your graded assignments. If you have questions about how a question was graded, or if you spot a mistake in grading, please let me know.

Late Work

Late work may be accepted, but you must make arrangements with me first. If you need to turn something in late, for any reason, please email me before the deadline. Depending on the circumstances, I may (or may not) impose a late penalty on your grade.

Collaboration & Allowed References

Collaboration on the high-level ideas and approach on assignments is encouraged. Copying someone else’s work is not allowed. Any collaboration, even at a high level, must be declared when you submit your assignment, in a note at the top of the assignment. E.g., “I discussed high-level strategies for solving problem 2 and 5 with Alex.”

The official references for the course are listed in the schedule below. Copying from references other than these is not allowed. In particular, code and proofs should not be copied from other sources, including Stack Overflow and other public sources.

Students caught copying work are eligible for immediate failure of the course and disciplinary action by the University. All academic integrity misconduct will be treated according to UVM’s Code of Academic Integrity.

Final Projects

The course will include a final project, completed in groups of 1-3 students. The final project will demonstrate your mastery of the concepts covered in this course.

Click here for more complete information.

CS Student Research Day & Extra Credit

We will not hold class on Friday, September 15. I encourage you to attend CS Student Research Day and learn about the awesome research being done by CS students at UVM!


Note that class will not be held on the following dates:

Note that class will be asynchronous on the following dates:

Important due dates:

Exam dates:

Homework dates:

Item Due Date
Homework 1 9/11/23
Homework 2 9/18/23
Homework 3 9/25/23
Homework 4 10/2/23
Homework 5 10/16/23
Homework 6 10/23/23
Homework 7 11/1/23
Homework 8 11/6/23
Homework 9 11/13/23
Homework 10 12/4/23
Project proposals 11/17/23
Final project writeup/video/implementation 12/11/23

Schedule of topics:

Week of… Topics Reference
8/28/23 Intro to secure computation, additive secret sharing (no exercise) PMPC Ch. 1
9/4/23 Adversaries and threat models (no class Monday) PMPC Ch. 2
9/11/23 Shamir secret sharing (no class Friday) PMPC Ch. 3
9/18/23 MPC for arithmetic circuits PMPC Ch. 3
9/25/23 Circuit representations; MPC protocols for circuits PMPC Ch. 3
10/2/23 GMW protocol; garbled circuits protocol; malicious MPC PMPC Ch. 6
10/9/23 Intermission. Review (exam Wednesday; no class Friday; no exercise) None
10/16/23 Partially homomorphic cryptosystems: Paillier and El Gamal TBA
10/23/23 Fully homomorphic encryption TBA
10/30/23 Zero-knowledge proof PMPC Ch. 6
11/6/23 Distributed ledgers and blockchains BCT Ch. 1
11/13/23 Bitcoin & its challenges BCT Ch. 2
11/20/23 No class (Thanksgiving) BCT
11/27/23 Blockchain applications: smart contracts, filesystems, etc BCT Ch. 10
12/4/23 Open challenges; review  


In keeping with University policy, any student with a documented disability interested in utilizing accommodations should contact SAS, the office of Disability Services on campus. SAS works with students and faculty in an interactive process to explore reasonable and appropriate accommodations, which are communicated to faculty in an accommodation letter. All students are strongly encouraged to meet with their faculty to discuss the accommodations they plan to use in each course. A student’s accommodation letter lists those accommodations that will not be implemented until the student meets with their faculty to create a plan. Contact SAS: A170 Living/Learning Center; 802-656-7753; access@uvm.edu; or www.uvm.edu/access

Religious Holidays

Students have the right to practice the religion of their choice. Each semester students should submit in writing to their instructors by the end of the second full week of classes their documented religious holiday schedule for the semester. An arrangement can then be made to make up the missed work.

Student Athletes

In order to be excused from classes, student athletes should submit appropriate documentation to the Professor in advance of all scheduling conflicts within the first two weeks of class. Those missing class are expected to submit make-up assignments within a reasonable time period.