Students’ fears confirmed as Proctortrack suffers privacy breach

An expected development Christin Hume

Admin stands by software

Less than two months into the semester, and one of the biggest fears that University of Regina students have raised about Proctortrack has come to pass.

On Tuesday October 13, the university was advised that Proctortrack had a “security breach” and that services would be down for 7-10 days while Proctortrack “looked into things.” Rahul Siddharth, COO of Verificient technologies, the owners of Proctortrack, said that one of the company’s servers in Europe was accessed by a “prankster” who attained access by masquerading as a Verificient employee. The hacker contacted some Proctortrack clients and sent communications to them. 

While the security and privacy concerns associated with Proctortrack have been clear from the start, few could have predicted that a “prankster” would be all it took to breach the company’s security. The company’s response to potentially compromised data was “security breaches, unfortunately, happen, and are part of our modern tech world.” More than 24 hours passed between the company’s initial October 13 announcement that security had been breached and their decision to shut down Protctortrack services. It wasn’t until 2:15 p.m. on October 15 that an email went out to deans and directors at the university, advising them of the breach. An email from Student Affairs followed about two hours later.

Dr. Gavin Simpson a professor at the university of Regina expressed his concern from the beginning, commenting on the Carillon twitter post:

“We shouldn’t be using it in most cases/instances. It exposes students to too large a risk of sensitive data breach (no matter what Art Exner says), requires a level of tech/resource that is exclusionary, & represents a poorer way to assess students than other methods.”

Many students have also expressed their concerns to the Carillon via an anonymous survey:

“We are passed [sic] the refund date and honestly, I had NO IDEA about proctortrack!!  Now I’m looking into trying to drop any classes that use it but for a loss. This is totally unacceptable and I honestly can’t believe that this is something that the university is following through with.”

“I am a student at the University of Regina, and I am anxious and stressed out about the use of Proctortrack for myself and my peers.  I did not or wish to consent for a third party company to have access to my data and video and audio recordings of the inside of my home. Although Proctortrack says they will not share any data, they put reliability on you for anything that happens to the data you give them. Terms state, ‘In no event shall Verificient Technologies, Inc. and/or its officers, directors, employees, or agents, be liable to you for any direct, indirect, incidental, special, punitive, exemplary, or consequential damages whatsoever.’ Not allowing students to leave their computers and take their eyes off a screen is unfair when bathroom breaks are permitted during regular exams.  Many students can also not guarantee a quiet and traffic-free space for exams. Also, Sasktel’s internet can barely handle [Z]oom, and some students live in a more remote area that does not promise a reliable internet connection… Exams are stressful enough on their own. On top of the anxiety, stress and financial strain of a pandemic, adding something like this to a student’s load is harmful to the mental health, finances and success of students.”

“Now we are being asked to give up personal privacy and install software on our computers that, according to reports, have caused people’s computers to crash and have had major data breaches. The University has contracted this out to a third party. This is much, much different than the University controlling recordings from in the gym. We’ve never been asked to put our own personal property at risk in a way as we’ve seen now.” 

“The University is supposed to be about critical thinking. It’s time students ask faculty members to problem solve and think critically on how they are going to adjust their evaluation methods without forcing students to download potentially harmful Spyware on their person computers. It’s a shame the University is forcing students between personal property or furthering their education.  I have decided to drop a class, not because I wanted to but because I felt it necessary to protect my personal belongings.”

“I strongly disagree with the U of R’s choice to purchase and utilize ProctorTrack for any course, with any students. The software is unethical in it’s [sic] collection of data and breaching of privacy, and contributes to the intense levels of stress students are facing during the pandemic. The choice to use this software signals to me that the university administration has not considered the health and well-being of students as a priority (which they claim is a top priority during the pandemic). This choice also makes clear to me that they have not considered or do not care about students with disabilities who will be disproportionately targeted by this software. Bluntly, if I am at any point required to use this software as a condition of my enrolment in a course, this will force me to drop out and I will not return to the U of R.”

In addition to data breaches, Proctortrack has also interfered with students’ ability to complete their exams with the necessary tools. In some instances, the software told students they weren’t allowed to use their calculators and, while an online calculator was supposed to be provided, many students weren’t able to access it during the exam. That meant that some questions, which required a calculator to answer, couldn’t be answered by students, costing them marks. Proctortrack is not the answer to cheating. It is not in students’ best interest. By continuing to use this software in spite of data breaches, exam interference, and the legitimate concerns raised by students and faculty, the university is demonstrating a lack of respect for students and their education. An URSU town hall on the subject of Proctortrack on Wednesday is a welcome development, but the only acceptable solution is for the university to end their contract with this company and find another alternative to ensuring academic integrity.

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