Outraged at Respondus LockDown Browser

27 03 2009

Welcome to another post of me being outraged at something college related. This time, it is about the RespondusLockDown Browser and it’s usage at ASU. What this software essentially does is cripple your operating system while you are taking an online test or quiz with BlackBoard. You can’t copy, paste, print, access the taskbar, switch applications, close the application, or run anything on a list of about 250 programs that have been deemed bad (including paint) while taking your test.

According to the article, ASU payed $2,372 to use this software for the fiscal year. At a time where there are constant threats of tution increases and program closures, this is something ASU is spending money on?

First off, the software is useless if anyone using it has half a brain (and we’re college students, meaning supposedly we have that). Listing the first 3 things that come to mind, starting with the skill level of hacker guru and going to the skill level of someone who’s 10 years old,

Sniff packets and fool whatever page your accessing that you’re really using the browser when you aren’t.

Run it under VMware and take screenshots, surf the web, etc, all you want while taking your test.

Just use two computers, Google with one, take test with the other.

So essentially, anyone who wants to get around it, easily could. That said, the entire thing is just going to burden and annoy large amounts of honest students. What happens if your Wifi cuts out when taking the test? You can’t access the taskbar, can’t close the application, can’t get to your wireless or network settings, and are essentially screwed while the clock ticks down to 0 on the test you can’t finish. In that case, I could go complain to the teacher and get them to let me retake the test, unless of course he’s the paranoid type who thinks everyone is cheating and wants to run software on their computers to prevent accessing things like their printer during an exam. Oh shit…

If you want students to not have access to the Internet while taking a test or quiz, do not administer it on the Internet! It’s as simple as that. Using BlackBoard for tests and quizzes is essentially open book and open notes anyway, so even if you make it harder to access the Internet, it’s just as easy to “cheat”. The level of stupidity of whoever thought it was a good idea, or for that matter, would actually do anything useful, boggles my mind.

Purposely installing a piece of software that not only has the ability to, but has the purpose of crippling my operating system, is just utterly ridiculous. Why would I ever install something that does this,

  • Assessments are displayed full-screen and cannot be minimized
  • Assessments cannot be exited until submitted by users for grading
  • Task switching or access to other applications is prevented
  • Printing functions are disabled
  • Print Screen and capturing functions are disabled
  • Copying and pasting anything to and from an assessment is prohibited
  • Right-click menu options are disabled
  • Browser menu and toolbar options are disabled, except for Back, Forward, Refresh and Stop
  • Function keys are disabled
  • Source code for the HTML page cannot be viewed
  • Over 250 screen capture, messaging, screen-sharing and network monitoring applications are blocked from running
  • The browser automatically starts at the login page for the institution’s course management system
  • URLs cannot be typed by the user
  • External links don’t compromise the “locked” testing environment
  • Pages from the assessment aren’t cached or stored in Internet Explorer’s history listing
  • Assessments that are set up for use with Respondus LockDown Browser cannot be accessed with other browsers.

It sounds like a virus, not a piece of software for educational institutions.

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23 responses

28 03 2009
matt

This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

23 07 2009
Ana

Yea, honestly I was so frustrated when I read we’d have to use this all of the sudden in the MIDDLE of a five week course. If it were just my computer, I’d be slightly annoyed but still use it, as it wouldn’t hurt me that much. Heck, if it were for a big final, I’d understand. But when it inhibits computer usage just to take a FIVE question test, thats probably almost open book anyways…thats ridiculous.

8 08 2009
Brian

I’m grateful for your article, but I’m wondering if you know of a way to get it to work successfully within VMware. It seems as though the software knows when it is being run on a virtual machine and will not let the user run the software. Any ideas? Thanks.

25 10 2013
Jared Moen

I ran it on VMware and it worked fine. A program run in VMware shouldn’t be able to detect whether its being run on VMware or not.

27 10 2009
Spider

I’m so glad someone else feels the same way I do. I’ve just encountered this software, and it prevented me from taking my test at all.

It never ran on Windows 7 Pro (retail) and under Linux it completely wigged out when I tried to run it under a VM.

Interesting tidbit for you, the program cripples your OS through registry changes and if you’re unlucky enough to have it crash…guess what? The changes stick. The only way to reverse it is to manually edit your registry entries, or change group policies assuming you still can.

2 11 2009
VXO

I found this piece of crap software quite curious… I’d installed the Mac version to do a midterm (though not on my own mac)… strings revealed a plaintext list of processes it looks for and kills off.

http://pastebin.com/f3cff7ee1

Yes, it does indeed kill sshd, and something called Earphoria, which is nothing more than a remote control to iTunes! Seriously, what?

I’m going to be trying the Windows version under a VirtualBox VM in a bit. This stuff looks so dodgy… out of curiosity, I’m also going to dissect whatever data it passes back and forth to the server. I’m wondering just what it may try to phone home with… I’ve heard rumors of it activating the camera and microphone, so I covered them with tape and white noise, respectively, the last time I used it.

What utter nonsense. I do also agree with your comments regarding the thing being a colossal waste of money. I’m glad to see that my school is starting to migrate over to using the free, open-source Moodle system for some of their online courses.

3 11 2009
pherricoxide

I’ve found Moodle quite nice in the past, but unfortunately only one of my professors ever used it, since the school itself is a strong supporter and payer of Blackboard.

3 06 2010
Saul

Well, you have to understand the mentality of the people who have purchasing power on these products. They go to conferences where these things are pedaled as the latest and greatest in educational tools. Being the end users that they are, without much thought they decide it will be great. Unfortunately, this is all done with no real clue as to what the real problem is (people who are addicted to shortcuts, or cheating) and not putting 2 and 2 together to realize that hey someone who is an expert at finding shortcuts will surely find away around the product.

If an institution truly believes in itself then it would be able to create social policy of honesty that makes it a stigma to cheat.

At its heart, it another example of people trying to implement a technical solution to a social problem.

22 08 2010
Jeremy

“At its heart, it another example of people trying to implement a technical solution to a social problem.”

Saul, you’re completely correct on that! Every time someone asks me using the Lockdown browser to prevent copying of tests, I respond, have you ever heard of the digital camera? Never mind VMWare or anything else to confuse the software… just take a photo of your screen! (Or use a different computer to Google your answers, as mentioned.)

The much better option is for the instructor to use open-ended questions, essays, projects, etc. instead of multiple-choice. But, you’ll find many instructors are way too lazy for this… they love the ease of grading of multiple-choice.

30 09 2010
sandy

this pioece of S$%& just crashed on my pc and the ONLY thing i could do seeing as ALL administrative functions are blocked like the start menu was to do a hard shutdown which did NOT make me happy. i knew this program wold cause me trouble wen my professor stated that we should defrag our harddrives every time before we take an exam. i was like ” @.@ WUT” thats just insane, if they know all the flaws why do we need to use it????

4 12 2010
Craig

I have a professor using this for an final essay…yes an essay…something you fully write yourself and he expects people to use online resources and not only use them, but reference them in the essay as well. Thank god I have a laptop and desktop….as well as a netbook and smartphone (provided by my employer). The essays (3 of them) have to be on 2 poems…Intro to Literature class. Im already bombing the class because evidently I dont get the same thoughts or feelings as the professor when I read stuff even when I can support them.

22 08 2011
HaburGate

I’m running it in a snapshotted VM.

31 01 2012
jangabahadur

this respondus lock down brower shit is making me sick. It is not only fucking pathetic but also ridiculous . FUck it goddmanit. It is a fucking piece of shit.
Here is how i take my tests I keep two or three computers in my side and google the fucking answers.
Does anybody know how to trick this software and open other tabs while taking the test in the same computer?

24 10 2012
quityourcrying

Wow. Has anyone just tried studying and knowing the answers to take the test? Sounds easy to me.

26 10 2012
pherricoxide

Nah, that’s the easy way out :p

7 12 2012
Cleo

Just found this site today while I wait for an email from my teacher. I was in the middle of my final when my schools website crashed. It purged all the students from the system. After being on hold with tech support for an hour I was told to shut down my computer to get out of lock down. When everything came back up 12 hours later my teacher opened my exam back up. I got everything ready and opened lock down only for it to tell me my time was up and it only saved 14 questions. I was an hour into this test and was almost done. I had to hold the power button down again and send yet another email to my teacher after another call to tech support. This is the fifth test I have used on this program and it is the worst program I have ever used. The last test would not submit, but it gave me a grade when it timed out. It is slow and freezes for 1-5 minutes at a time. On a timed test a loss of five minutes could cause you to fail. I say good luck to anyone that has to use this on an important part of your grade.

3 07 2013
karl

someone said to me if they treat you like a criminal you will strive to fulfill their expectatives, that means, if the campus tells you “I don’t trust you saying the day of the week we are in”, you’ll feel compelled to adhere to their expectatives, even if it isn’t in agreeance with the “honesty and integrity” policy of said institution.
BTW, I think the safest way to screw this “security” would be the two computer approach, since even if they hack the loked down you will be able to use the other to download your answers, and even in the most paranoid stories (it uses your webcam and mic to spy on you).

11 02 2014
jarebear

our school is using this too! its so silly! you made some very good points, what if the wifi goes out? pretty annoying and un-nessicary if you ask me. thanks for writing this!

30 03 2014
k paterson

A course I am taking requires this program for tests. These tests are open book and open note. The one test I could take (Library computer) was too easy. Studying is NOT the problem (why would anyone cheat anyway). This program altered my Global Template and my Administrative settings/access, even after the program was uninstalled. I still haven’t fixed it.
While I understand why it is used, it should not alter my system when it is not running, or after it has been uninstalled.
My instructor was sure no one else had any problems with the program. Thanks for posting this!

10 04 2014
Jeff

Do a full backup of your system before installing it, then restore after the test

21 05 2014
KB

Well, coming from a professor’s point of view, we are sick of students who cheat. If you really don’t want to deal with Respondus, just go to the nearest testing center, show your ID and take the test with a proctor….

11 08 2014
Luke

Also coming from an instructor’s point of view, it is your job to police your class and tests – don’t leave your job up to software. Applying this will encourage people to be dishonest as it assumes they will be. If you have online/web-based tests, make sure they’re run in a lab where you and/or a proctor are present. If they’re at-home tests, make them open-note/book tests. Or you could do paper tests – they’ve worked quite well for a number of years. Or you could do test alternatives (projects come to mind). There are many cheaper, more effective ways to assess students’ learning without assuming they’re cheaters and then handing them a situation that would encourage honest people to act dishonestly.

25 09 2014
HackerHacker

I wonder if you can use shortcuts that you can set to copies of the programs you want (but named differently, so lockdown browser doesn’t know what it is and can’t block it) then use the shortcut to do whatever you want, bring up command prompt, kill processes, take screen shots, run VMware while you are taking the test and googling stuff. The three-finger press really comes in handy on a trackpad. Three fingers and then hacking heaven! Set the three-finger press shortcut after setting it to as many renamed copies of executable files as you want like explorer.exe and cmd.exe. Hack away now, but don’t get into too much trouble

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