Systems security

This module is based on the systems security domain of the Cyber Security Body of Knowledge (CyBOK). This knowledge area includes cryptography; authentication, authorisation and accountability (AAA); operating systems and virtualisation security; and distributed systems security. Throughout the module, you’ll develop knowledge and understanding of these important cyber security subject areas. The proliferation of digital systems impacts our daily lives, bringing a range of challenges, including the security of these systems. Systems range from those embedded in our homes – providing security, energy management and home automation capabilities – to desktop and mobile computing systems, and control systems powering the 4th industrial revolution.

Vocational relevance

Securing digital systems requires qualified technical cyber security professionals. They need the knowledge and skills to analyse threats against the security of these systems, evaluate suitable solutions that minimise the risk of these threats being realised, and implement these solutions and monitor their efficacy. Within the broader field of cyber security, these activities fall into the domain of systems security, which is the focus for this module.


Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU postgraduate modules correspond to these frameworks.
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

What you will study

To address the challenges of systems security, we adopt an approach inspired by Adam Shostack’s method for modelling security threats. For any given systems context, we systematically answer the following questions:

  • What are we doing? – describe the system we want to secure.
  • What can go wrong? – analyse the threats relevant to the system.
  • What are we going to do about it? – evaluate the methods to secure the system and implement them.
  • Did we do a good job? – assess whether the security of the system is effective.

The module has five blocks. Block 1 introduces the domain of systems security. This gives an overview of the other blocks and covers the introductory principles of those blocks. You’ll be concerned with the mathematics involved in cryptography. The focus of this module is the application of cryptography – how, when, and why. The emphasis being on the design and implementation of the appropriate cryptographic techniques to secure a systems architecture.

Block 1 – Systems security fundamentals
Introduction to systems security; modelling systems and analysing threats; fundamentals of cryptography; fundamentals of authentication, authorisation, accountability; fundamentals of operating systems and virtualisation security; fundamentals of distributed systems security.

Block 2 – Cryptography
Symmetric and asymmetric cryptography; applications of cryptography.

Block 3 – Authentication, authorisation and accountability (AAA)
Authentication protocols and technologies; authorisation and access control models, enforcement mechanisms, federated access control; principles of accountability including data collection, analysis, assessment and privacy.

Block 4 – Operating systems and virtualisation security
Security mechanisms for operating system functions; virtualization technologies and associated security mechanisms; designing secure operating systems and virtualized system architectures.

Block 5 – Distributed systems security
Types of distributed systems; peer-to-peer (P2P) systems and associated security threats; mechanisms to secure distributed systems.

You will learn

On completion, you’ll be able to:

  • analyse cyber security threats for different digital systems, using systematic methods
  • evaluate the role of authentication, authorisation and audit mechanisms, cryptographic techniques, methods for securing distributed systems, and techniques securing operating systems and virtualisation technologies
  • implement appropriate security mechanisms to mitigate the threats posed in different systems contexts
  • assess the effectiveness of different security solutions.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.


The assessment details can be found in the facts box.

Course work includes

2 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Future availability

Systems security (M817) starts once a year – in May.

This page describes the module that will start in May 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in May 2026.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Entry requirements

    You must have one of the following:

    • a bachelors degree (or equivalent) in computing or a related discipline
    • at least three years relevant industry experience.

    Your spoken and written English must be of an adequate standard for postgraduate study. If English is not your first language, we recommend that you will need a minimum overall score of 6 and minimum score of 5.5 in each of the four components: reading, writing, speaking and listening under the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Please see the IELTS website for details.

    If you’re not sure you’re ready, talk to an advisor.

    Preparatory work

    It would be helpful to have a basic understanding of some mathematical principles for the cryptography block. This includes number systems (natural, negative and real numbers), prime, relatively prime and co-prime numbers. Also, modulus arithmetic and matrices.

    Additionally, it would be helpful to have some experience of different operating systems (particularly Linux) and familiarity in using programs with a command line interface.


    Start End England fee Register
    01 May 2024 Oct 2024 £1580.00

    Registration closes 04/04/24 (places subject to availability)

    This module is expected to start for the last time in May 2026.

    Future availability

    Systems security (M817) starts once a year – in May.

    This page describes the module that will start in May 2024.

    We expect it to start for the last time in May 2026.

    Additional costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    Ways to pay for this module

    We know there’s a lot to think about when choosing to study, not least how much it’s going to cost and how you can pay.

    That’s why we keep our fees as low as possible and offer a range of flexible payment and funding options, including a postgraduate loan, if you study this module as part of an eligible qualification. To find out more, see Fees and funding.

    Study materials

    What's included

    You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

    • a week-by-week study planner
    • module materials
    • video recordings
    • access to an online cyber security lab
    • an assessment guide
    • access to online forums.

    Computing requirements

    You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS (11 'Big Sur' or higher).

    Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

    To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

    Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

    Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

    It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

    If you have a disability

    If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Disability support website to find more about what we offer.

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