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Formal specification and analysis of modern complex systems


   School of Computing

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Applications are invited for a self-funded, 3-year full-time or 6-year part time PhD project.

The PhD will be based in the School of Computing and will be supervised by Dr Benjamin Aziz

The work on this project could involve:

  • Formal theory of computing systems
  • Formal verification methods
  • Programming
  • Logic

Project description

Existing formal analysis methods, techniques and tools developed in literature, thus far, have focused on a narrow number of classes of properties, for example, certain security properties such as authentication, taking into account traditional models of intruders. Whilst such methods and techniques have achieved much success in advancing our understanding of fundamental security, they have not attained much flexibility in the face of new paradigms of communication.  

The project will first explore what new properties are of interest to users of new paradigms of communication, for example, what security really means nowadays when communicating over social media or when IoT devices communicate and exchange data and control commands, and will then develop a new theory for the formal analysis of such properties. The analysis will use new or existing formal languages, and will be developed into an automated tool, which can detect instances where the property of interest is violated in a model of the system being analysed. The project will emphasise the complex nature of systems, staying away from the the traditional approach of toy examples.

The School of Computing at the University of Portsmouth hosts a team of experts in areas related to this project. More specifically, the project will build on expertise and research record achieved by the supervision team in areas of formal methods, security and communication systems, and may extend research works documented recently in a book titled “Formal Analysis by Abstract Interpretation: Case Studies in Modern Protocols”, by Benjamin Aziz, published in 2021 by Springer.

General admissions criteria

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Specific candidate requirements

  • Understanding of communication protocols and complex systems.
  • Ability to use formal analysis skills, including familiarity with formal languages. 
  • A background in computer science.

How to Apply

We encourage you to contact Dr Benjamin Aziz () to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code below.

When you are ready to apply, please follow the 'Apply now' link on the Computing PhD subject area page and select the link for the relevant intake. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process. 

When applying please quote project code:COMP5951023


Funding Notes

Self-funded PhD students only.
PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (UK students only).

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