Honours Thesis Projects
The thesis topics listed here are available to strong undergraduate students. They are mostly associated with research projects and generally quite challenging; many topics have the potential to lead to a publication, and in average we get about one paper a year from the work of one (or more) undergraduate thesis students. Students who are not aiming for excellence are in the wrong place here.
Note that the below list is constantly updated, new topics are added as we identify them as work on various research projects proceeds. Topics marked are recent additions.
UNSW students can access all of our recent student theses.
- topics supervised by Gernot Heiser
- topics supervised by Ihor Kuz
- topics supervised by Gerwin Klein
- topics supervised by Kevin Elphinstone
- How to apply
- info for postgraduate students
Undergraduate Thesis Topics in Operating Systems and Formal Methods
We are generally looking for honours candidates, or students with outstanding performance in operating systems. Specifically we guarantee a thesis topic to any student who has obtained a HD grade in UNSW's Operating Systems or Advanced Operating Systems course, no matter what their other grades are!
Present topics supervised by Gernot Heiser (official list)
3754: Evaluate and improve the memory-management model of seL4
The seL4 memory-management model has never been properly evaluated in terms of run-time and space cost. In particular, there is a strong suspicion that it requires a batching facility to reduce the overhead of multiple map operations, as they happen when forking a process. This project is to perform such an analysis, guided by the classical work of Appel and Li.
3755: Evaluate and improve seL4's worst-case performance
seL4 is highly optimised for best-case performance, but much less care has been taken about the worst case. There are two main issues to look at: Optimising data structure layout to minimise the number of cache lines accessed, and optimising preemption points. The latter applies to long-running kernel operations, the former mostly to short but frequently-used ones (IPC, exception and interrupt handling).
Tools to be used are the seL4 benchmarking suite (sel4bench), which needs to be extended to measure cold-cache performance, and our WCET toolchain [Sewell et al, 2016]. Explore the limits of interrupt latency in seL4.
3756: Assessment of impact of kernel design on security failures
Linux security is inherently broken (and there is no reason to believe that Xen, Windows or MacOS are any better). Inherently superior approaches exist, generally based on microkernels, but are not widely used outside critical embedded systems. Specifically, designs based on the seL4 microkernel, with its provable security enforcement, could prevent many exploits by construction.
This work is about quantifying the above claim. It is to analyse the list of critical linux CVEs, say for the last 5 years, and develop or adopt a taxonomy of exploits based on classifying the underlying faults. Demonstrate which of those classes would be prevented by a disciplined, micro-kernel-based design, and what this would mean for system security. If time allows, expand this to Xen, as an other open-source representative of infrastructure that regularly fails to provide the security people expect.
Note: This is a paper-based research project, without an implementation component. The purpose is to produce a publication at a security venue.
3586: Sloth vs eChronos
eChronos is an RTOS designed for deeply-embedded systems with no memory protection and single-mode execution, that is being developed and formally verified by Data61. Sloth is a system for a similar application domain, which takes the unusual approach of leaving all scheduling to hardware, by running everything in an interrupt context. This limits the use of Sloth to processors where interrupts mode can be entered by software. This project is to evaluate and quantify the performance advantage of Sloth over eChronos.
Novelty: Sloth is presently the world's fastest RTOS. eChronos, which has the advantage of formal verification and less dependence on hardware features, is a more traditionally-designed RTOS. This project will determine whether the performance advantage of Sloth is significant enough to justify the different (and more limiting) design.
Outcome: A better understanding of RTOS design tradeoffs, eminently publishable results.
3584: Protected-Mode eChronos
eChronos is an RTOS designed for deeply-embedded systems with no memory protection and single-mode execution, that is being developed and formally verified by Data61. However there are interesting use cases for a verified kernel on mid-range processors that feature a simple memory-protection unit (MPU). A particularly interesting case is the ARM Coretex M4, which eChronos already supports, albeit without utilising the MPU. This project is to design a protected-mode version of eChronos, implement and evaluate it.
Novelty: Data61 has produced the first verified kernels for high-end microprocessors with full virtual memory (seL4) as well as for low-end single-mode microcontrollers (eChronos). The remaining middle ground are MPU-only processors. Success of this project will complete coverage.
Outcome: eChronos version that uses memory protection
I will not take on students who have not shown a convincing performance in COMP3231 ``Operating Systems''. I normally expect students to have done COMP9242 ``Advanced Operating Systems'', although I make exceptions in special cases.
Most topics can lead to publications.
Present topics supervised by Ihor Kuz (official list)
3287: Secure terminal on seL4
seL4 is a formally verified microkernel for building secure systems. A key element of such systems is secure access to terminal I/O (i.e. the screen, keyboard, and mouse), which means that different applications can get user input and output without worrying that other malicious applications (such as a key logger) can interfere. Nitpicker is a secure display architecture developed at Technical University of Dresden. In this project implement a version of Nitpicker for seL4, and use it as the basis for building a secure windowed terminal. Evaluate the resulting system by analysing its functionality, performance, and security.
3288: seL4 AUTOSAR
seL4 has been developed to be the basis for building secure systems, however, it can also be used as the basis for safety-critical systems, such as those used in cars. With seL4 in such systems, it becomes possible to provide guarantees about memory isolation properties, which is crucial for safety-critical systems. Besides memory isolation, seL4 also has known timing properties, making it possible to give timing guarantees, which is important for real-time systems such as those found in cars. The goal of this project is to investigate the role that seL4 can play in such systems by implementing the AUTOSAR automotive framework to use seL4 as the underlying OS.
3289: Qubes on seL4
Qubes is a new operating system architecture for developing secure desktop systems. It is based on isolation, running each application in a separate virtual machine so that they cannot maliciously interfere with each other. However, Qubes is based on Xen, which is a relatively heavyweight, and unsecure, hypervisor. Qubes would be much better if it ran on, and relied on, seL4 for its isolation. In this project you will implement a version of Qubes on seL4, and evaluate it by running various applications to analyse the security benefits that seL4 provides.
1268: Shared resources in an microkernel-based
One of the key services that an OS provides is a managing access to shared resources. For example, a file system manages access to shared disk space, a network stack manages access to a network device, a window system manages access to the display, etc. In a modular, microkernel-based OS, these shared resources are managed by user-level services. In this project you will investigate ways of modelling such shared resource managers within the CAmkES component framework on seL4 and develop a suitable model for building such services in a componentised environment. You will assess the suitability of this model by designing, implementing, and evaluating one or more such services (e.g., a file system, a network stack, etc.).
Related topics supervised by Gerwin Klein (official list)
GWK01: Formal Model of an ARM Processor in
Develop a specification of an ARM processor (e.g. Xscale) suitable for use in formal verification of programs. A similar such model for an MMU-less ARM6 core has been developed by Anthony Fox at Cambridge in the HOL4 system. This should be examined for its usability, and for what is missing with respect to a full model of an Xscale processor. If time allows, an instruction-set level simulator should be generated from the model. This project is an integral part of the formal verification of the L4 micro kernel at Data61. It connects cutting edge OS research with real-world large-scale system verification. You will work with the developers of L4 and Isabelle in an international team of PhD students and researchers in Data61's TS group.
GWK02: Verifying the core of standard C library in
You will work with a state-of-the-art interactive theorem prover (Isabelle/HOL) to formally verify the functional behaviour of a small number of basic C functions like memcpy, memset, etc. The verification of these functions is at the basis of any undertaking that wants to provide guarantees about programs implemented in C. This project is an integral and important part of the formal verification of the L4 micro kernel at Data61. You will work with the developers of L4 and Isabelle in an international team of PhD students and researchers in Data61's TS group.
GWK03: Formal Model of L4 IPC and/or Threads in
Develop a specification of a subsystem of the L4 microkernel in the theorem prover Isabelle/HOL. L4 provides three basic abstractions - address spaces, threads and IPC. An abstract model has been developed for address spaces and the virtual memory subsystem, the aim of this project is to provide a similar model for one or both of the remaining abstractions. In addition, an investigation into high-level properties of this model will be undertaken, together with the development of proofs that the models satisfy these properties. If time allows, the model will be refined towards the L4Ka::Pistachio implementation on ARM. This project is an integral part of the formal verification of the L4 micro kernel at Data61. It connects cutting edge OS research with real-world large-scale system verification. You will work with the developers of L4 and Isabelle in an international team of PhD students and researchers in Data61's TS group.
Related topics supervised by Kevin Elphinstone (official list)
2981: Secure microkernel-based web server using Linux
Our research group has developed a formally verified secure microkernel that supports virtualisation. We have a version of Linux that runs on top of this kernel. The goal of this project is to develop a secure web server platform consisting of a instance of Linux running in the DMZ and an instance of Linux running on the trusted network - all actually running on the same machine using the secure microkernel to separate them. This project has the chance to be deployed as a demonstrator for our groups web site.
KJE15: A Secure Bootstrapper for the seL4
The seL4 microkernel is a high assurance microkernel capable of acting as a seperation kernel when it and the encompassing system is instantiated correctly. The goal of this thesis is to develop a simple component model that can specific an initial system state - i.e. the servers and applications that will run on the microkernel. THe component model is then used to generate the boot strapping code to instantiate the system with the specified seperation guarantees. The project may involve evaluating the existing CAMKES framework for the component model, and looking at formal models and guarantees for both the component model, and the generation of the boot strapper.
KJE16: Linux as a component.
Data61 has various versions of Linux that run para-virtualised on various versions of micro-kernels developed here at Data61. However, the connection between Linux and the platform is rather ad-hoc, which makes is difficult bring Linux into the principled componet framework (CAMKES) developed here at Data61. This project would involve examining the interface between the micro-kernel and the support infrastructure to allow Linux to be just another component in the CAMKES framework.
KJE17: ARTEMIS robotic clarinet player
Data61 is entering the ARTEMIS intrument playing robot competition. This project involves developing the system software side of the robot, with an eye to making it general enough to use it for future entries. It involves low-level embedded controller programming, Linux kernel programming, and application programming. A familiarity with music is also helpful.
How to apply:
Contact the relevant supervisor.
Note for OS/FM related topics: We promise a thesis topic to every interested student who has obtained a HD grade in COMP3231/COMP9201 Operating Systems or COMP9242 Advanced Operating Systems. If necessary we will define additional topics to match demand.
We will not turn down any students doing exceptionally well in OS courses. However, this does not mean that an HD in OS or Advanced OS is a prerequisite for doing a thesis with me. Interested students with lower OS marks are welcome to talk to me if they feel they can convince me that they will be able to perform well in an OS thesis.
Keep in mind that these topics are all research issues and generally at the level of Honours Theses. They are not suitable for marginal students or students with a weak understanding of operating systems. We expect you to know your OS before you start.
Postgraduate thesis topics:
Undergraduate thesis topics are also suitable for coursework Master's projects. Same conditions apply: You must have a pretty good track record in OS courses for OS and FM related topics.