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"ExamSoft" Bar Exam Software Fails Law Grads

timothy posted about 5 months ago | from the until-it-happens-to-you dept.

Bug 100

New submitter BobandMax writes ExamSoft, the management platform software that handles digital bar exam submissions for multiple states, experienced a severe technical meltdown on Tuesday, leaving many graduates temporarily unable to complete the exams needed to practice law. The snafu also left bar associations from nearly 20 states with no choice but to extend their submission deadlines. It's not the first time, either: a classmate of mine had to re-do a state bar exam after an ExamSoft glitch on the first go-'round. Besides handling the uploading of completed exam questions, ExamSoft locks down the computer on which it runs, so Wikipedia is not an option.

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Really? (5, Funny)

nospam007 (722110) | about 5 months ago | (#47572937)

"leaving many graduates temporarily unable to complete the exams needed to practice law."

And that's a bad thing, because ... ?

Re:Really? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573109)

Because they would like to practice law and earn money, presumably.

Re:Really? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573207)

Because they would like to practice law and earn money, presumably.

Sucks to be them - but probably a win for the rest of society...

Re:Really? (1)

Wootery (1087023) | about 5 months ago | (#47573369)

Yeah, mob rule is so much better than law and order...

(I'm not saying all that lawyers do is in the public good - far from it - but you're still an idiot.)

Re: Really? (3, Interesting)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | about 5 months ago | (#47573539)

Lawyers are not necessary to maintain law and order. They are useful only when law is written by and presided over by other lawyers, for lawyers.

That is, they are a solution to a problem they create.
  You can look back at just about every functionjng society for most of human history and neither find mob rule nor lawyers. You also find law that is comprehensible to a lay person.

Not saying our legal system is better or worse than old legal systems, just that the point you made about mob rule is certainly not necessarily true.

Re: Really? (1)

Wootery (1087023) | about 5 months ago | (#47573831)

Interesting points; thank you.

As I understand it, in China, the lawmakers are generally not lawyers, and they have more ex-engineer politicians. I have no idea if their laws are more comprehensible, though.

Re: Really? (3, Funny)

EvilJoker (192907) | about 5 months ago | (#47573989)

I still can't read a word of it though

Re: Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47576167)

Can we expect laws in a complex society to be "comprehensible" to lay people? Laws are complex because society is complex and every law has far reaching implications. Terms have to be defined with reference to other laws, people need to analyze the incentives created with reference to other laws, etc. GP's theory that laws are complex because lawyers like mucking up the gears so that they get a bigger slice of the pie* suggests the kind of conspiracy which, frankly, does not exist in the legal profession. It is not that kind of cartel.

*If lawyers muck up the gears in drafting laws, it is assuredly so that their clients can get a bigger slice of the pie.

Re: Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47575657)

True, lawyers often write the laws. But, the laws are often written because of what people are doing to each other. In an ideal/rational world we would never need laws to say that killing or stealing is wrong; but, we don't live in an ideal world.

Also, the arcane nature of the law is not so much about lawyers protecting their bread and butter but more a testament to the endless creativity of people trying to get out of doing something (e.g., I don't have to pay for this car because we never had a contract, how you gonna prove that I was drinking while driving, etc.).

Re: Really? (1)

DRJlaw (946416) | about 5 months ago | (#47576579)

[Computer programmers] are not necessary to maintain [computer programs]. They are useful only when [a computer program] is written by and presided over by other [programmers], for [programmers].

That is, they are a solution to a problem they create.

The same critique applies to the the general sort reading this site. You can look back at just about every society for most of human history and find that they're unnecessary... right?

If you want to create complex systems to automate data processing and other tasks, you're going to have specialist programmers. If you want to create complex regulations to prevent pollution, unsafe products, financial fraud, etc. you're going to have specialists enforcing those regulations and specialists advising how to comply with the regulations. In either case, you do not simply have lay persons making it up as they go along, with little or no documentation concerning what is happening so that very few people know what to expect.

The more complicated the scope of human activity, the more complicated the regulations, and the more you need specialists to deal with the. Ad hoc rules and ad hoc exceptions to the rules are the definition of "mob rule," at least so long as you prefer a putative democracy to a putative dictatorship -- if not, simply substitute "strongman rule."

Re: Really? (1)

Kijori (897770) | about 5 months ago | (#47588303)

That's a pretty naive view of what lawyers do and when they're needed. A lawyer is just an expert in certain things, and they assist people who need to do something they aren't themselves an expert at:
- If you want to present a persuasive case in court, you want someone who is an expert in reviewing and presenting evidence. A lawyer can be that person
    You also want someone who can explain the case to the court in a persuasive way. A lawyer can be that person.
- If you want to prepare a contract that does what it's meant to you need someone who is an expert in precise writing. A lawyer can be that person.

Moreover your points about society are just flat-out wrong. If you look back at the societies of history you will almost always find lawyers, or people offering an equivalent service. I say "almost" because I'm sure there will prove to be an exception, but after a flick through the Wikipedia entries for the major historical civilisations I couldn't find any.

And the idea that laws are complicated because lawyers want them to be complicated is a nice soundbite with no substance. Laws are complicated because the world is complicated. They are an attempt to make clear rules in a world that isn't made up of simple black-and-white issues. They're full of political compromises. And they're drafted by human beings who make mistakes. If the only thing keeping laws complicated was that it was being done deliberately, don't you think we would have fixed that by now?

Re:Really? (3, Funny)

rossdee (243626) | about 5 months ago | (#47573599)

"Yeah, mob rule is so much better than law and order..."

I have never seen "Mob Rule" but "Law and Order" stopped being good after Jerry Orbach died.

Re:Really? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573713)

Anarchy does not specifically imply immoral behavior. It does however, allow me to beat the ever loving shit out of you for committing immoral acts under the color of law.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573277)

>Because they would like to practice law and earn money, presumably.

Whoosh

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573507)

He/she was obviously ignoring the played out reference that lawyers are worthless, and giving a straight response to acknowledge how he/she felt about the joke.

Whooosh

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47576403)

Inception

Re:Really? (4, Informative)

fiziko (97143) | about 5 months ago | (#47573325)

The business next door proctors these and similar exams. They are expensive and not available in every community, so the test takers have often paid a relatively large amount of money at this stage of their lives, not just several hundred to take the test, but also travel, accommodations, missing day(s) of work, etc. to be where the test is available. The proctoring company does not charge them for the second attempt, but all of the expenses needed to be there get doubled.

Re:Really? (1)

nealric (3647765) | about 5 months ago | (#47573663)

Depending on your state, the all in cost of taking the bar exam can be $4,000 when you include test prep materials, fees, and travel. The fee just for taking the exam can be almost $1,000 and is not refunded if you have to retake.

Re:Really? (1)

Just Some Guy (3352) | about 5 months ago | (#47574531)

I'm almost certain that a company which just screwed over a bunch of protolawyers will allow free re-testing for those involved. It would probably turn very, very ugly for them if they didn't. Test takers will have to pay for travel again, which is probably significant for many of them, but they won't have to pay for test prep and fees again.

Re: Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47575247)

What about the state part of the fee or the testing center fee

Re:Really? (2)

nealric (3647765) | about 5 months ago | (#47573647)

Whatever you feel about the necessity of lawyers in society, many of these graduates are out $150,000 of tuition and are $200,000+ in student loan debt. They are prohibited by law from working in their profession until they pass the bar, which is only offered twice a year. So yeah, it's a pretty huge deal to be sentenced to 6 months of unemployment when you are in deep debt because of a software glitch.

Re:Really? (1)

Just Some Guy (3352) | about 5 months ago | (#47574589)

I don't know about that. Say the average first year lawyer makes $60,000 (pulled directly from my butt; I have no idea what the actual number is and don't care to look). Suppose that 80% of bar takers pass the exam. That means the expected income for the next six months of a random person taking the bar is 60K * .8 * .5 = 24K. This is the number that a good lawyer could convince a judge (who is a lawyer) that these young, brilliant, aspiring lawyers should be compensated by the testing firm (who is not a lawyer).

That's not shabby pay for a fresh graduate sitting around (ahem, studying!, ahem) until the next testing period rolls around.

Re:Really? (1)

nealric (3647765) | about 5 months ago | (#47575457)

I'm going to go ahead and say you have no idea what you are talking about.

First: Law graduate salaries are heavily bi-modal. While the average salary is around $60,000, that average is heavily skewed by high-earners. My starting salary upon law school graduation was $160,000. Most large law firms (500+ lawyers), which employ approximately 10% of new graduates, pay exactly that salary to first-years. My offer was explicitly contingent on passing the bar. If I had failed, there would have been approximately zero firms willing to hire me at a similar salary. I would have been pushed down to the other mode, which is something like $35-40,000, which is par for the course for small firms doing things like traffic accident cases. Once you start at that lower mode, your chances of making a high salary as a lawyer become very low. My actual losses from failing the bar exam could have been well over $1 million of lifetime earnings loss.

Second: The measure of damages you provide, consequential damages, is often not available to a plaintiff for myriad reasons. For one, It's not unlikely that the EULA limits damages to the cost of the software ($100). Maybe you could get that provision thrown out, but maybe not. For another, you have to be able to prove that the party knew their failure to fulfill their part of the bargain would cause the damages in question. Despite your implication, judges don't give lawyers a free pass because they are lawyers.

Third: The popular conception of plaintiffs running off with bags of money a few months after filing a lawsuit has little to do with reality. More likely, the plaintiff gets pennies on the dollar after years of wrangling.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47576501)

Bad news nearlic, Esq., GP refused to read your missive for a myriad of reasons. GP's individual rules of posting clearly state that Slashdot comments containing contractions will not be read and that a courtesy copy must be submitted to GP if your reply comment is submitted in electronic format. Additionally, there is a typo in the paragraph concerning consequential damages. Finally, you should likely advise him that you are not providing legal advice and that you are not his lawyer.

In the future, please proof you'r work product prior to submission.

Respectfully submitted,
AC

Re:Really? (1)

nealric (3647765) | about 5 months ago | (#47576863)

Thanks. Got a laugh out of that one.

Re: Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47575813)

One acronym: EULA.
N'uff said.

Re: Really? (1)

Just Some Guy (3352) | about 5 months ago | (#47576043)

I don't think a EULA - even if found enforceable, which isn't a given - is carte blanche to destroy someone's livelihood.

Re:Really? (1)

Penguinisto (415985) | about 5 months ago | (#47575267)

So yeah, it's a pretty huge deal to be sentenced to 6 months of unemployment...

Wait - you can still work as a paralegal or in a similar support role until you pass the bar as a full-blown lawyer, no?

Re:Really? (1)

nealric (3647765) | about 5 months ago | (#47575547)

In theory yes. In practice, probably not. Law firms don't want to hire people with law degrees as paralegals since they are a high flight risk once they pass the bar. Non-legal employers don't like hiring law graduates for the same reason.

Wrong - bad summary (1)

Etherwalk (681268) | about 5 months ago | (#47574539)

Students weren't unable to complete exams; they were unable to upload the exams, which you need to do after you get home (or to a hotel) after the exam. It gets stores on your laptop (presumably with public key encryption) in the meantime. Examsoft's servers ran at least 50% slower than they had in the past; the company hasn't announced why.

The only trick is that some jurisdictions required you to upload the exam within a few hours, so Examsoft had to contact those jurisdictions and get them to extend the deadlines.

The only other issue is stress. If it takes law students a lot of time to deal with Examsoft's incompetence and they have to take day 2 of the exam the next day, people who needed just another hour of studying (Not many where an hour would make a difference, but there will be some who just barely fail)... the result, predictably, will be lawsuits.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47576017)

mod parent UP. We have too many attorneys, with the bulk of the ones we currently have, rather useless. Look at our Congress if you want proof; or our toothless Attorney General, or POTUS. Look at the jerkoff attorneys who have defended the NRA, causing slaughter in our nation. Add to that the nutcase attorneys who have argued against environmental health, or a woman's right to abortion. They are dangerous people. The list goes on.

lock down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47572967)

" locks down the computer on which it runs" - does it lock down your phone and Glass too?

Re:lock down? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 5 months ago | (#47573015)

of course not.

"glitch in a widely used system to upload bar exam answers and essays temporarily failed, meaning their answers were not uploaded or sent to various state websites."

Lockdown (3, Insightful)

GigaplexNZ (1233886) | about 5 months ago | (#47572979)

Besides handling the uploading of completed exam questions, ExamSoft locks down the computer on which it runs, so Wikipedia is not an option.

Yeah, that'll work, because nobody has internet capable cellphones, secondary machines or even Virtual Machines.

Re:Lockdown (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573041)

Besides handling the uploading of completed exam questions, ExamSoft locks down the computer on which it runs, so Wikipedia is not an option.

Yeah, that'll work, because nobody has internet capable cellphones, secondary machines or even Virtual Machines.

and exams are never held in controlled conditions on known hardware with invigilators..... but sure lets let law students BYOD to there exams....

Re:Lockdown (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573879)

and exams are never held in controlled conditions on known hardware with invigilators

I see the sarcasm, but all that is needed to prove you right is that "at least one" exam is held in such a manner. But assuming you meant "always" instead of "at least one", then why the need to lockdown the PCs? "Lockdown" makes it sound like some sort of rootkit. But if these exams are "held in controlled conditions on known hardware with invigilators", then you don't need to touch the PC to keep students off of Wikipedia and Google and elsewhere.

Re:Lockdown (3, Insightful)

Chelloveck (14643) | about 5 months ago | (#47574321)

RTFA:

The digital system for the exam works on usersâ(TM) personal laptop, which they bring to the testing facility, where they download the company's application to the computers they use to take the tests. At the end of the exam, the file closes and locks. When the user is able to connect to the Internet, the file uploads. Users cannot make changes to the file after the conclusion of the test.

You have to drive to the exam site but you're expected to bring your own equipment? Who thought that up? Rather than trying to intrusively lock down everyone's machine it would be far better to simply issue everyone a cheap tablet or netbook on which to take the exam. Controlled hardware, no need to try to "lock down" innumerable variations of BYOD. The ExamSoft web site says the software runs on "any modern machine", defined as Windows, Mac, or iPad purchased in the past 3-4 years. But disable any anti-virus, and no VMs. They're basically trying to secure any random machine off the street to prevent cheating. That's a very fine example of "doing it wrong".

Re:Lockdown (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47575249)

Even better, when I took the exams, they didn't even provide internet access to upload. You had to wait until you got home or other internet access to upload it. Goodness only knows what could have happened in the mean time. Plus, a guy in my class ran it in a virtual machine as all he had was a Linux machine. Apparently, running dmidecode and vboxmanage was enough to do so.

Re:Lockdown (1)

buhusky (3064123) | about 5 months ago | (#47576771)

You've never asked a just-graduated law student to take a 6-hour type as fast as you can essay exam on a keyboard they aren't intimately familiar with. Death may ensue to those who ask such a question.

Re:Lockdown (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47578843)

Oh good. The rich law students who own new laptops with expensive software get to type, while the poor law students who use old laptops and free software have to handwrite. Sounds like a great way to solve that inequality problem I've been hearing about.

Re:Lockdown (1)

pla (258480) | about 5 months ago | (#47573071)

Yeah, that'll work, because nobody has internet capable cellphones, secondary machines or even Virtual Machines.

I had wondered about that myself... Do they seriously not require taking the Bar on controlled hardware? Hell, a bunch of geeks should take and "ace" the Bar just for the sake of making fun of it.

"Oh, JD huh? Yeah, I have one of those too, figured I'd just drop by in my spare time and take a go at it, and whaddya know, perfect score. Oh, sorry about all those 100 hour weeks of study you put in, but hey, I'll bet you can look back now and have a good laugh, right?"

Re: Lockdown (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573211)

Sure a bunch of geeks with no legal training could use Wikipedia and slashdot. To pass a law exam.
Maybe yahoo news posts for the constitutional parts.

A garenteed 100%

Re: Lockdown (2)

pla (258480) | about 5 months ago | (#47573391)

Sure a bunch of geeks with no legal training could use Wikipedia and slashdot. To pass a law exam. Maybe yahoo news posts for the constitutional parts.

...Or maybe just use any of an hundred searchable online testbanks of past Bar exam questions?

TFS mentions Wiki, but you'll notice that TFA did not, nor did I. No doubt, if someone seriously tried to do this, Wikipedia would fall pretty far down the list of places to look for answers.

That said, what the GGP and I jokingly pointed out counts as a much more serious issue for those borderline folks actually studying law. Sure, I would probably have trouble even figuring out the intent of some of the questions, and even if I didn't get stuck on the impenetrable jargon, I probably couldn't realistically look up the answers fast enough to finish it in the time given. Someone who (barely) made it through law school, however, would no doubt have at least picked up enough of the core skills to successfully (and quickly) make use of online resources, given the chance.

Re: Lockdown (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573525)

If you can use the internet while taking a test, then you can easily cheat. Whether it's knowing which sites have thousands of previous test questions, passing questions to a lawyer friend, etc.

Re: Lockdown (1)

Penguinisto (415985) | about 5 months ago | (#47575305)

Sure a bunch of geeks with no legal training could use Wikipedia and slashdot. To pass a law exam.

...same way a lot of them made MCSE back in the dot-boom: braindump websites.

Re:Lockdown (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573157)

For exam takers, a secondary machine and internet capable cellphone is not an option. The exam doesn't take place in your living room but at a monitored location. In my state, the exam proctors don't even let you bring in your own pencil. Pulling out a cellphone would be a great way to be kicked out and never be allowed to take the exam again.

I am not sure the current state of virtual machines and ExamSoft, but at least a few years ago the ExamSoft software would not run when a virtual environment was present. While I am sure people have found workarounds, the point of the software (and why most law schools and state bars use it) is to avoid that result.

Re:Lockdown (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573851)

I wonder what all of these skill based systems will do when Neural interfaces and cybernetic coprocessors become possible. do courtrooms even have faraday cages? Else lawyer dude could link in to Lexus Nexus and a legal expert system on the fly and eat the other lawyer for breakfast. Same for doctors linking in to a medical expert system, the AMA datastore, and others on the fly.

is it really cheating then, or a hidebound insistence on doing things the way they have always been done, linked with a large amount of luddism?

exam taking best practices (disabling an AV) (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 5 months ago | (#47574063)

there exam taking best practices (including disabling antivirus programs) and NO VM??? on your own hardware?

Re:Lockdown (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47577675)

For exam takers, a secondary machine and internet capable cellphone is not an option. The exam doesn't take place in your living room but at a monitored location. In my state, the exam proctors don't even let you bring in your own pencil. Pulling out a cellphone would be a great way to be kicked out and never be allowed to take the exam again.

I am not sure the current state of virtual machines and ExamSoft, but at least a few years ago the ExamSoft software would not run when a virtual environment was present. While I am sure people have found workarounds, the point of the software (and why most law schools and state bars use it) is to avoid that result.

I had a short contract helping with the IT side of administering these at Brooklyn Law School years ago. Alt-Tabbing out of the exam GUI raised trouble warnings that would remain there for the proctors to see. I forget the exact details, but I think it required some kind of superior intervention before permitting the upload at the end of the test, so someone would know you tampered with the Mac or PC.

Re:Lockdown (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573171)

It is security theater. It doesn't do anything (other than to be annoying), but it makes it look like ExamSoft is doing something...

Re:Lockdown (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573229)

It's astonishing how many of you braindead fucks that pretend to be intelligent people have apparently never taken a fucking test in your life.

Re:Lockdown (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573821)

No, that'll work because unlike you the company as well as the students KNOW WHAT THE FUCK THEY ARE DOING. Your ignorance of the situation doesn't explain the stupidity of your conclusions.
more on.

Re:Lockdown (3, Informative)

sandytaru (1158959) | about 5 months ago | (#47573841)

Last time I took a test (CAPM), the testing place gave me a temporary locker to put my stuff, and also requested that I turn my pockets inside out to show I didn't have a tiny cell phone or something hidden in them. They take it pretty seriously.

I noticed that the exam software we used was running on XP and appeared to have been originally programmed for Windows 98. I wonder if they ever upgraded those boxes to Win7...?

Re:Lockdown (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47574085)

Besides handling the uploading of completed exam questions, ExamSoft locks down the computer on which it runs, so Wikipedia is not an option.

Yeah, that'll work, because nobody has internet capable cellphones, secondary machines or even Virtual Machines.

What would be more prescient is if the software locked the machine so that Wikipedia was the *only* option...

Re:Lockdown (1)

Etherwalk (681268) | about 5 months ago | (#47576355)

Besides handling the uploading of completed exam questions, ExamSoft locks down the computer on which it runs, so Wikipedia is not an option.

Yeah, that'll work, because nobody has internet capable cellphones, secondary machines or even Virtual Machines.

It doesn't need to be perfect, just decent enough to make it harder to cheat. Things like the consequences of getting caught also apply--law is a highly regulated profession, and getting caught would keep a person from ever becoming a lawyer. Failing the bar exam generally just means you retake it six months later and study more.

Cellphones are not permitted in the exam room; so are second computers; and I believe the software is designed not to run on at least some class of virtual machines.

Lawsuit Just Begging to Happen (4, Funny)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 5 months ago | (#47573003)

Sue the bastards... but they might need to hire a lawyer to do it.

AI (1)

AchilleTalon (540925) | about 5 months ago | (#47573091)

"...leaving many graduates temporarily unable to complete the exams needed to practice law."

I guess that's what we call Artificial Intelligence.

Wikipedia lookups eh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573095)

If law graduates are trying to use Wikipedia as a trustable information source, I'd be far more amusing to MITM it and serve intentionally incorrect articles for the subjects being questioned.

Can you break https? (1)

tepples (727027) | about 5 months ago | (#47574913)

Good luck forging a certificate to MITM not only https://en.wikipedia.org/ [wikipedia.org] but also the notaries used by Perspectives and the cited documents in References, unless you own the computer on which the test is being taken.

EULA (1)

coofercat (719737) | about 5 months ago | (#47573205)

I hope they have a good EULA ;-)

Trust (4, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 5 months ago | (#47573323)

If we can't trust these applicants to take the test honestly, how can we trust them to act as officers of a court?

Re:Trust (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573401)

Oh, humor! AR! AR!

Re:Trust (2)

flopsquad (3518045) | about 5 months ago | (#47574095)

I took the bar exam this week. My experience was that there are lots of restrictions on what you're allowed to bring in with you (in a clear ziplock bag), but they are not cavity searching you for violations, or even really looking at your bag at all. I.e. to a large degree they are trusting us to take the test honestly.

Now of course the nerds among us (you, me, most everyone else here) can think of clever ways someone could conceivably cheat—a tiny scroll in 4pt font rolled up into your pen, rules of law written in uv ink on your shirt sleeves and wearing special glasses, etc etc. But apart from the fact that it's completely unethical (which matters more to lawyers than pretty much every other profession), getting caught will get you banned for life (still with six-digit loan debt) and it wouldn't be all that helpful anyway. There's like a thousand pages of testable material and time is extremely limited. Unless you broke into the NCBE offices and stole the answers, cheating just won't be a very effective strategy.

Same goes for the computer/essay portion. Yes it's your device to which you have root access, a third party can never 100% verify security. Of course a 1337 haXor could trick the ExamSoft program into running on a VM or, hell, even hard solder something into the keyboard circuitry that sent a paragraph worth of text at the press of a key.

But this isn't spycraft, all they need to do is detect something (anything) hinky and then banhammer. Are you willing to bet 3 years of tuition on your certainty that you beat the program and that it logged nothing? And, again, there's another thousand pages of material being tested, in essays where you get 45min and 6500 characters (maybe 1200 words) each. It's a hell of a lot of potential downside and very little upside unless you burgled the bar examiners' offices. In which case, why are you trying to become a lawyer? You could be planning Oceans 15 right now.

Re:Trust (1)

mjwalshe (1680392) | about 5 months ago | (#47575203)

But when you take a relatively less important exam such as a ccna you are not allowed to do it on your own equipment even more so for the CCIE.

Re:Trust (1)

flopsquad (3518045) | about 5 months ago | (#47576631)

I can't speak to those tests or their security procedures, but it may have less to do with the importance of the test itself than the power of the testmaker. Cisco is not an arm of my state's Supreme Court, and they don't have the power to e.g. look through all my civil and criminal records (sealed, juvenile, expunged, all of them), bring me up on perjury charges, or permaban me from practicing my profession if I try to hoodwink them. The state bar is, and they do have those powers.

Not defending ExamSoft, their practices ($100 one time use is BS) or their software (certainly hackable). Just saying the usual /. infosec calculus doesn't really apply. The upsides are marginal, the downsides are huge, and the number of law students who could actually tell you what virtual machines and buffer overflows are is vanishingly small. The tiny percent of aspiring lawyers with the skills and smarts to pull off an undetectable hack are more than capable of studying a few weeks and actually passing the thing.

Re:Trust (1)

mjwalshe (1680392) | about 5 months ago | (#47577091)

Quite so the exams for the state bar exam should have more security than a CCIE hell my piddling Security+ exam was locked down tighter

Re:Trust (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47578851)

the number of law students who could actually tell you what virtual machines and buffer overflows are is vanishingly small.

Probably this is it. Cisco knows they are giving their test to a bunch of wannabe hackers who know full well that trying to secure someone else's computer is a losing battle, and won't mind wasting twice as much time as it would take to actually study proving it. The bar exam is given to a different crowd.

Which is why we as hackers need to make sure quick and easy ways to break the "security" of ExamSoft's software are available to everyone.

Re:Trust (1)

Calinous (985536) | about 5 months ago | (#47574297)

Those are preparing to be lawyers, not judges or prosecutors.

Re:Trust (2)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 5 months ago | (#47574365)

Those are preparing to be lawyers, not judges or prosecutors.

I thought that even civil and defense lawyers are considered officers of the court.

I also think that even they are given certain powers not available to regular citizens, such as issuing subpoenas. I thought that was one of the reasons for requiring even them to be of good character.

Re:Trust (1)

flopsquad (3518045) | about 5 months ago | (#47576841)

Correct, every sworn-in attorney is an officer of the court, with heightened ethical obligations. I don't think the subpoena power specifically is reserved for lawyers; if you represent yourself you can still subpoena witnesses.

I know there's some special stuff attorneys get to do by virtue of being officers of the court, but the main thing is actually practice law (represent clients) and keep nearly unassailable confidentiality (atty-client privilege). One of the gotchas is that your duty to the court (as an officer) trumps, so even though you have an utmost duty to keep client confidences, you still can't knowingly allow a client to perpetrate a fraud on the court.

Re:Trust (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 5 months ago | (#47574637)

how can we trust them to act as officers of a court?

You shouldn't.
Any system based on trust will be abused.

Re:Trust (1)

SuiteSisterMary (123932) | about 5 months ago | (#47575351)

By that logic, if all you need is 'trust,' why have trials? Can't we 'trust' that the police got the right man? Can't we 'trust' that the DA has his facts in order?

Maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573329)

the computer reached sentience and realized that it would create more lawyers, so it committed suicide?

Victims should sue (1)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | about 5 months ago | (#47573477)

Oh wait... they haven't passed the bar yet.

perspective from one of the victims (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573617)

So I took the NY Bar yesterday and can validate this is all true.

This thread has seen a lot of jokes, but just to put things in perspective:

This software costs $100 for a one time use accounting for two 3 hour sessions. Furthermore, it is bound to your computer, so if you need to transfer it, you need to pay for an additional license.

The software is not complex. It has exactly 3 main functions:
1. Provide limited word processing functionality
2. Lock the user out of other programs
3. Automatically upload the answer files to Examsoft servers upon closing.

At my administration of the exam, there were perhaps 1000 people. Mine was in Albany, but there were also administrations in NYC (the largest), Buffalo, and I think one other location. So say 5000 people. Several other states were offering their bar exam with Examsoft on the same day, so lets be generous and say there were 50,000 students who needed to upload files over the course of an evening. The files uploaded consisted of 2 250k files in their proprietary format. So we are talking 25 whopping Gigabytes TOTAL being thrown at them. And they were paid roughly $5M for one day of testing. Also, bear in mind, that there is a winter administration as well, albeit with fewer candidates, and that Examsoft is used for many other types of test as well, so their yearly gross is probably well into the 8 figures.

Yet somehow, they didn't have the bandwidth/and/or the server capacity to handle the connections or puny amount of data being thrown at them? This is unacceptable by any business standard. And they have been the exclusive provider of this service for years, so it's not like they had no notice of what kind of volume they should be prepared for!

I personally paid $300 just to take this exam ($200 to NY for the exam itself, easily one of the cheapest fees among the states, + $100 for Examsoft). I also spent about $1000 in travel expenses. After many tries, I apparently managed to upload the files (my software said they failed, but I received confirmation emails saying they had succeeded). Examsoft can't confirm either way whether data corruption has occurred. If they did not manage to upload in one piece, my exam will have automatically failed by the Bar's standards, a decision which is unappealable. So I will be out my financial investment, close to two months of study time, as well as 6 months in lowered earning potential SINCE I WON'T BE LICENSED.

This was a massive, massive failure, and I will frankly be shocked if multiple lawsuits aren't filed against Examsoft over this.

Re:perspective from one of the victims (1)

Shimbo (100005) | about 5 months ago | (#47573731)

This was a massive, massive failure, and I will frankly be shocked if multiple lawsuits aren't filed against Examsoft over this.

However, those that haven't passed the exam won't be allowed to sue; Tisias must be laughing in his grave. Seriously, though, the whole online examination business needs a shakeup.

Re:perspective from one of the victims (2)

nealric (3647765) | about 5 months ago | (#47573919)

You don't need to BE a lawyer to sue and you don't even need to hire one. You can sue on your own behalf without a license.

Re:perspective from one of the victims (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 5 months ago | (#47575191)

However, those that haven't passed the exam won't be allowed to sue; Tisias must be laughing in his grave. Seriously, though, the whole online examination business needs a shakeup.

No, those students will hire a lawyer to sue.

Remember the whole self-representation thing (as in - you don't do it. "A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client".

And it'll be a lawyer representing soon-to-be lawyers against a company that isn't a bunch of lawyers.

Re:perspective from one of the victims (1)

Shimbo (100005) | about 5 months ago | (#47577671)

No, those students will hire a lawyer to sue.

Yes, of course. I was making a joke. Obviously not a very good one.

Re:perspective from one of the victims (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | about 5 months ago | (#47573887)

So if they gave you the software that can be used on any computer, why force people to travel? And if you are going to be forced to travel, why not use one of the hundreds of existing test centers around the country? I took every major test since I started college at the same Prometric test center on campus, because they were licensed to handle almost anything.

Re:perspective from one of the victims (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47574115)

Honestly, as a medical student, I can't believe they are so lax with the bar exam that they let you take the exam on your own machine. It's trivial to load a VM/rootkit that would fake out any lockdown exam system.

When I took the GRE and the MCAT via computer-based exams, I had to sit in a prometric bunker and take the exam on *their* shitty, locked down computers. It will be the same for the multiple computerized exams required for medical licensing.

If it's as you seem to describe for the bar it's surprising that the exam hasn't been widely pwn3d. Back channels to others could be surreptitiously handled via cellular modem on the machine, and basic communication could be done via morse code on mouse clicks / menu flashes (or myriad other approaches).

Re:perspective from one of the victims (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47574407)

Well, the thing is is that unlike say the GRE, the Bar exam is required by law to be administered simultaneously to all of the students taking it. That is why it generally takes place inva large convention center, the problems of administrability and accountability were this to be would be huge if it took place at countless smaller testing centers. The level of proctoring is also extremely high. Probably a proctor for every 10 students. Anything carried in has to come in a clear plastic bag, and violations, unlike in other tests, are not only considered to be grounds for failure, but are also in some cases raise criminal liability. Anything popping up on the screen (the interface is fullscreen and staic) would stand an extremely good chance of being noticed and get the user removed with prejudice. The bulk of the questions are also used only once (they may be tweaked for later examinations, implying different answers) and are in essay format, so it would be quite difficult to surreptitiously receive meaningful answers via morse code or the like, since they involve interpretation of a long fact pattern and explaining the legal principles that would be used to resolve it. It also covers so much material, some of it obscure, that the person at the other end would have to be a lawyer him/herself to formulate the appropriate answers in a reasonable amount of time,. The computerized section isn't a pure multiple choice test where there are obvious correct answers can be ascertained and transmitted asily. That would be the MBE portion, which is completely pencil and paper, and even that still requires interpretations of fact patterns, so old fashioned coordination between people sitting in the room would be the much more likely avenue for cheating in that situation. Either that or just get someone who has already passed the test to sit in the room in your place. The ID check was not particularly rigorous (quick visual inspection only), so a fake is probably all that is needed.

In fact, the main concern the they likely have is test takers who aren't trying to cheat but rather are trying to make off with questions for the benefit of the test prep companies. A company called PMBR was successfully sued a few years ago because they were caught using plants to gather the copyrighted questions and publishing them in their books.

Re:perspective from one of the victims (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47575043)

Still. Quite lax. I had to submit fingerprints to take the goddamn MCAT, and those were shared with other entities to ensure the person showing up for med school was the same person who took the exam. Not to mention the intense scrutiny of all test takers' ID (including a high res scan that was kept).

It's over the top, but they are obviously serious.

Besides, if the bar exam is primarily concerned with leaking info then a vm/rootkit would be trivial to capture a stream of screenshots of questions and even answers as they are typed. These could be transmitted offsite in realtime via cellular network and feedback obtained (one menu flash for "good", two for "you missed something, check again", or perhaps even a more sophisticated feedback system).

It's well-known that you can't trust the client to enforce security.

Honestly, the criminal liability aspect isn't as much of a threat. In both of our cases, being caught cheating is likely to preclude a career in the profession. Coupled with the years of time and hundreds of thousands in monetary investment, criminal liability is a minor differentiator.

Re:perspective from one of the victims (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47575369)

yeah, I here you. Myself with the GRE, I had to go to an approved testing center. Then you had strict time limits on each portion as well as you were limited to being allowed to leave the computer once in the middle. God help you if you had a weak bladder.

Also, sounds like a total of $300 for the exam counting test taking fee and software. I seem to recall it cost me more to take the GRE, and that was only good to allow me to apply to universities. It didn't certify me for jack squat.

Re:perspective from one of the victims (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47576611)

Yes, I will have to take 4 USMLE exams to become a licensed physician. The first three cost a total of $2,300 in direct test fees (i.e. not counting travel, prep, etc). I don't know what the last one costs, but it's a two day exam, seven hours each day.

That's even before you get into the effectively-required board certification exams (post-residency). Then there is the repeated recertification exams every ~10 years or you lose your cert.

It must be nice to pay $300 in fees, take a single test, and be fully professionally licensed for life.

Let Me Get This Straight (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47573775)

... So the end result is fewer lawyers in the world?

That's not a bug. It's a feature.

That there is even a need for lawyers (1)

waspleg (316038) | about 5 months ago | (#47573855)

Shows you just how much of an unjust, deeply shackled, and corrupt society you live in. At least I can find state law online these days. I can go through the thousands upon thousands of pages myself if I need to.

Stress could not be understated (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47574109)

My wife was one the exam takers affected by the examsoft upload issue. I'm not sure that most people understand how much stress is on this test. My wife literally spend 9 hours a day, 7 days a week for 10 weeks studying for this test. This is the second time she's taken it because she went to school part time and has had two kids during that time and she just barely missed the pass line on her first go around. The stress is beyond immense because 3-5 years of school are rendered meaningless unless she can pass this test. It is a hazing ritual of the most sickening degree. I guarantee that if all practicing attorneys had to take the test in two weeks, there would be a less than a 15% pass rate.

So suffice it to say, worrying that you can't upload your exam responses immediately after you write them is incredibly fucking frustrating. "What if my hard drive crashes", "what if my laptop gets stolen out of my hotel room". There is no way to upload the answers as an encrypted file to a 3rd party (gmail, dropbox, etc). You can only upload them to Examsoft. For someone who has so much riding on this stupid fucking test, it is infuriating. Oh, did I mention it is a two day test? Guess when she had to upload her answers... AFTER THE FIRST DAY. Instead of relaxing or continuing to cram for day two. she has to spend the ENTIRE FUCKING NIGHT worrying about being able to get her fucking answers upload.

Oh, did I mention that every test taker has to pay $120 directly to Examsoft for the "privilege" of using their piece of shit software? (In addition to the $1000+ she had to pay to the state bar). She had to pay the $120 six weeks ago. They knew EXACTLY what the load should have been. There were 12,000 people in New York state ALONE. Extrapolating out, if there were ~200,000 test takers (a high overestimate) and each file was 200kb, Azure blob storage would charge $2.45 to accept and store the data for a month. Not $2.45 per exam. TWO DOLLARS AND FORTY FIVE CENTS TO STORE ALL 200,000 exams. Fuck. I wish I didn't read this

In conclusion. FUCK EXAMSOFT, I hope someone starts a class action suit.

Re:Stress could not be understated (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47574257)

How do they make sure no one cheats? Is it _just_ the "lockdown" controls on the software? If so, I wouldn't be surprised if someone's figured out a way around it, installed a remote control client and paid someone in another country to take the exam.

I know you can't actually cheat on the bar exam, but it's interesting. I would have thought something like the bar exam would have required writing the answers out longhand with pencil and paper, fingerprints, retinal scans, DNA matching, etc. just given the domain of knowledge they're testing.

Re:Stress could not be understated (1)

Just Some Guy (3352) | about 5 months ago | (#47574801)

My wife's a doctor and we recently moved to a new state with very protectionistic licensing policies. For example, you're required to have passed the medical boards within the last ten years. Doesn't matter if you're a professor of medicine at Harvard: you had to have passed the boards recently. You know, the ones new doctors take in their senior year of med school when they've been doing nothing but studying for the last for years straight and it's still fresh in their minds. So my wife, who's owned a successful practice for the last (more than 10) years had to pass the given-every-6-months test that determines whether she gets to keep doing the job that she's an expert at.

I'm writing this in sympathy for your situation, and to let you know that it apparently sucks for lots of professions. Your wife's not in it alone, and as someone who went through your role in the situation: I feel your pain. Best of luck to both of you!

Re:Stress could not be understated (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47575007)

It is always nice to know someone can empathize with you. Thanks. My wife is not yet an attorney, but has been working at a legal clinic for years as a social worker and is extremely well versed in family law. But she's naturally going to have a tougher time remembering all the arcane rules about "commercial paper" and "secured transactions". It is becoming more well known that it is just a hazing ritual which is why Iowa (our state) will likely get rid of the bar exam as long as you graduated in state (hopefully this legislative calendar year). Not sure how that'll play out with people who graduated in state but were not able to pass the bar exam. IIRC, it is already this way in Wisconsin.

Re: Stress could not be understated (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47578593)

"If in doubt pull em out"
One of my profs worked as a social worker.
Failed that class. (Family law). Didn't want to know it.

Hits just keep on coming for lawyers... (1)

ErichTheRed (39327) | about 5 months ago | (#47574215)

It's actually interesting that the bar exam is administered using software running on somebody's personal computer. All the computer based tests I've taken (GRE, various vendor certification tests) have been at a Prometric or similar testing facility on their hardware. They're actually pretty strict -- no personal items of any kind allowed in the room, the only scratch paper you get is a whiteboard and marker, etc. I know the bar exam isn't a multiple choice test you can memorize the answers to, but even so, how do they guarantee integrity? Wouldn't it be safer for the state to just rent laptops for all these temporary testing locations they set up? (I remember hearing that they use hotel space or similar locations.)

This sounds like ExamSoft is like one of the firms mentioned yesterday that refused to support custom firewall configurations "just because." They have a monopoly on testing software, refuse to update anything, and are pretty much the only game in town, leading to crappy software. I am intimately familiar with companies like this in my little corner of industry.

All that said, I've also heard new lawyers aren't exactly in for a fun ride. Basically, anyone who didn't go to Harvard, Yale or Stanford and didn't finish in the top 10% there is doomed to never make old-school lawyer salaries. Apparently the American Bar Association threw open the floodgates and allowed way too many law graduates onto the market, and accredited way too many law schools. This coupled with the offshoring of routine legal tasks means that there's way fewer jobs at big law firms...so the image of the high-powered corporate lawyer in the $1000 suit driving the S-Class is only available to a very select few now and the rest of these law grads are paying off 6 figure debt while scraping for any work they can find. It's kind of sad (yes. yes, lawyers are evil, blah blah blah) to see other professions being hollowed out the way IT and engineering have been. Doctors are still in good shape though -- the AMA ensures that only X doctors graduate medical school each year, and X is always matched to meet or be below demand. Wish we in IT had that kind of representation!

Re:Hits just keep on coming for lawyers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47575929)

Hit the nail on the head with your last paragraph. Document review is being hollowed out, wages are being driven down, and the ABA exists to protect law schools and a select group of attorneys. Unlike medicine it is an incredibly stratified profession--the difference between the top and the bottom is staggering.

Everyone hates lawyers (1)

gelfling (6534) | about 5 months ago | (#47574887)

Until someone pushes a shopping cart into their minivan. Then it's "Kill that motherfucker bring me his head on stick!!!"

The sad part (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47575845)

The sad part is that most people who were impacted know enough about proving damages to know it is not worth filing a suit. Negligent infliction of emotional distress is rarely recognized on its own . . .

Computer locked down (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47576745)

That, of course, is why you use two computers. Duh...

AC

It wasn't just the bar exam... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47591825)

On Tuesday, I sat for the American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional exam using ExamSoft, and, after an excruciating three hour exam, no one could upload. We had word that it finally went through later that evening. Sheesh...

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