Project code



School of Computing

Start dates

February and October

Application deadline

Applications accepted all year round

Applications are invited for a 3 year PhD to commence in October or February.

The PhD will be based in the Faculty of Technology, and will be supervised by Dr Benjamin Aziz and Dr David Williams.

The work on this project will:

  • Define a model of mutations in communication protocols, and construct analysis algorithms that capture the safety and security effects of those mutations
  • Demonstrate soundness and completeness of the model with respect to pre-defined classes of safety and security properties
  • Validate the results of the model and algorithms using an industrial IoT case study

Mutation testing and analysis is concerned with the introduction of single faults (or errors) into a system design, specification, implementation or interface and then testing or analysing the effects caused by those faults or errors on the system's properties and behaviour. Such faulty entities are called mutants. In communication protocols, mutants can be used to identify whether a protocol’s implementation may deviate from the standard defining that protocols. Despite the fact that mutation testing and analysis has a wide scope of research in areas related to systems testing and analysis, its application using formal specification and verification methods has remained somehow limited over the years.

This project will aim at defining how mutations could be used as a technique in formally understanding whether faulty implementations of protocols in critical systems can pass as correct implementations in relation to the standards defining those systems. For example, it is well-known that implementing a standard encryption function by an XOR-based function weakens the resulting implementation. Similarly, a protocol’s quality of service level sometimes may be as weak as to allow for lossy communications, however, such definition may result in implementations that deny a service altogether while still adhering to the protocol’s standard specification. The theoretical framework will consider as a use case IoT protocols, such as MQTT and CoAP, and their implementation within industrial IoT systems, such as the Hermes electronic board system.

The outcome of this 3-year project will be a model and theory that define mutations in communication (particularly IoT) protocols, and construct analysis algorithms that capture the effects of those mutations in relation to safety and security properties. The project will use the case of industrial IoT systems as a validation case, where an industrial system will be modelled and analysed as a demonstration.

Fees and funding

Visit the research subject area page for fees and funding information for this project.

Funding availability: Self-funded PhD students only. 

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

Bench fees

Some PhD projects may include additional fees – known as bench fees – for equipment and other consumables, and these will be added to your standard tuition fee. Speak to the supervisory team during your interview about any additional fees you may have to pay. Please note, bench fees are not eligible for discounts and are non-refundable.

Entry Requirements

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.

  • Interest in the following: theoretical computer science, testing, safety and security properties, Industrial IoT
  • Good familiarity or interest in learning functional programming, e.g. Erlang or OCAML
  • Analytical skills and knowledge of foundations of computer science
  • Ability to think independently, including the formulation of research problems
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills, both in plain English and scientific language for publication in relevant journals and presentation at conferences

How to apply

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. 

October start

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February start

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