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Microsoft takes code to the classroom

The University of Leeds receives partial funding from the software giant to teach would-be developers to write secure code.

The University of Leeds in the United Kingdom has received partial funding from Microsoft to teach would-be developers to write secure code.

The class will be available to 100 undergraduates at Leeds starting January 2004. Nick Efford, who is designing the syllabus, said it will differ from classes at other universities. "They have traditionally emphasized network security, cryptography and things like that," he said. "Our course is emphasizing secure coding and software security. We will still cover cryptography, but that will not be our focus."

Efford said the course will cover areas such as vulnerabilities of software, design principles and coding techniques. "We will illustrate all of these with case studies, classic security problems that have emerged...for example, Melissa and Slammer...looking in each case at what gave rise to the problem in the first place and how it was dealt with."

Microsoft's U.K. chief security officer, Stuart Okin, said: "Regardless of which vendor's product you use or which industry you are in, computer security and privacy is probably today's top concern." He said Microsoft's Secure Windows Initiative, highlighted in January 2002 in company Chairman Bill Gates' e-mail to employees, resulted in 11,000 Microsoft developers being trained to write secure code.

"It occurred to me last year when I took on the role to see what courses were out there in writing secure code," Okin said. "Leeds was interested, and we had the material. A lot of it is very generic and doesn't have to apply to Microsoft technology." The course is based on a methodology that Microsoft uses, called "stride," Okin said. He said the methodology is based on Michael Howard's book, Writing secure code.

Efford emphasized that Leeds has complete freedom to use any technology in its classrooms. "Our systems run both Windows and Linux, and like many universities, we are involved in both camps. We use whatever tools are appropriate to the case in hand. That applies also with Unix security issues."

The material from the new class will be made available for other universities to use. Depending on how the course develops, it could be expanded to a master's degree and developing distance-learning variations.

The Leeds class follows Microsoft's support of the United Kingdom's first postgraduate course in .Net at Hull University, starting in September 2003.

Stuart Neilsen-Marsh, .Net academia manager at Microsoft, said that future courses supported by Microsoft are likely to include e-learning, pen-based devices, gaming, mobile and wireless technologies.

ZDNet UK's Andrew Swinton reported from London.