The Florida Bar exam software crashes, freezes and can lead to hacks, examinees say

The state's prospective lawyers are scheduled to take the big test remotely next week. But they're raising alarms about the software that will be used to administer it.
The Florida Supreme Court building in Tallahassee.
The Florida Supreme Court building in Tallahassee. [ Times (2019) ]
Published Aug. 11, 2020|Updated Aug. 11, 2020

Days before they’re scheduled to take one of the biggest tests of their lives, some of the state’s future lawyers are raising alarms about the software that will be used to administer the remote Florida Bar exam.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners announced last month that it would strike its in-person exams in favor of an online format, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The exams, originally set for July 28 and 29 in Tampa and Orlando, were rescheduled for Aug. 19.

The board decided to give the exam via a software platform developed by ILG Technologies of Missouri. But as test-takers have started to download the software, they say they’re encountering a host of problems, from security breaches to damage to their devices.

On Monday, a group of Bar examinees sent a letter to the Florida Supreme Court, asking it to intervene in the testing process. It was signed by “August 2020 Florida Bar Examinees,” though in a tweet, the group Diploma Privilege for Florida took credit for the letter. Diploma privilege is a system in which law school graduates are admitted to the Bar without taking the exam. Wisconsin uses the system permanently, and at least four states have adopted it temporarily to cope with the effects of the pandemic.

Related: Florida high court cancels in-person Bar exams, will go online

The letter outlined a handful of complaints about the software. Some of the problems were functional: Test-takers reported that the software froze their devices and even caused them to overheat; performance lagged while they typed and prevented them from deleting content; and that the facial-recognition log-in system allowed them access to the software even when they used their dog — or even an open window — instead of their faces.

They also say they documented more than 35 apparent security breaches that users said they experienced soon after downloading the software. Those included suspicious log-in attempts to social media and email accounts, compromised bank accounts and credit cards — and at least one extortion attempt.

And they say they’re concerned about the software company’s ability to access the personal information on their devices.

“ILG’s platform is apparently so invasive that the instructions require the user to disarm their device prior to installation, forcing end users to give ILG unfettered access to all sensitive information stored on the device as well as web camera access, therefore potentially violating examinees’ rights to privacy,” the letter says.

A Florida Supreme Court spokesman says the justices will not intervene.

“The court rules governing Bar admissions control this process,” spokesman Craig Waters said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. “Under them, the Florida Board of Bar Examiners will evaluate all issues and make any needed recommendations to the Court.”

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Florida isn’t the only state where remote testing has been problematic. In Indiana, the Bar exam was also set to take place via ILG software, but after running into “repeated and unforeseen technical complications,” the Indiana Supreme Court issued a July 29 order delaying the test by a week and dropping the ILG software. Instead, test-takers were to receive and answer questions via email, and would be allowed to use outside reference material.

Nevada also delayed its ILG-based Bar exam after technical problems, though it planned to move forward using the software, with exams scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. Michigan, which used a different software provider, ExamSoft, became the first state to administer an online Bar exam on July 28 — but the software crashed due to what the company said was a “sophisticated attack.”

The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates has adopted a resolution asking that state Bar admissions authorities test the reliability and security of software, provide accommodations for accessibility, and disclose what data the software companies will collect from users “sufficiently in advance” of the tests.

In the wake of complaints, the Florida Board of Bar Examiners canceled a trial exam scheduled for Monday, according to a statement posted on its website. It told test-takers who hadn’t yet downloaded the software to not do so, and it said it would update them on a newly scheduled trial exam. It did not clarify whether the Aug. 19 exam will still go on as scheduled.

The board did not respond to emailed questions sent by the Times. A woman who answered the phone at the board’s Tallahassee office said the statement on its website is the only information available. ILG Technologies did not respond to a call or email seeking comment Tuesday.

“We honor and respect the integrity and weighty ethical duty that licensure demands of us,” the Florida Bar examinees’ letter says in conclusion. “At a minimum, it is both reasonable and proper that we seek a similar degree of integrity and ethical practices from the entities who will be administering the examination that our futures rest upon.”