We're ditching paper exams - so please get hacking our IT, asks Finnish exam board

The Finnish Matriculation Examination Board is organising a crowdsourced hacking competition to help find flaws in its electronic exam system.
Written by Olli Sulopuisto, Contributor

In a few years' time, Finnish secondary school students will be sitting their exams on their own PCs – but hacking the IT that could underpin the new system was an easy matter for one software designer.

It took Toni Lähdekorpi all of five minutes to hack the Linux system that could be used for the electronic version of Finland's matriculation exam. Lähdekorpi, a software entrepreneur from Pori, Finland, is one of the people taking part in Hackabi, a crowdsourced hacking competition that organised to help find vulnerabilities in the proposed system.

"It was ridiculously simple. Everybody came up with the same first exploit. It's a basic thing you always look at first," said Lähdekorpi, who works with Linux systems.

To win the competition, which runs until 1 October, participants have to find as many clever, and unique exploits as possible — so there's no spot on the top of the leaderboard for Lähdekorpi yet. The competition is being judged by three IT security professionals, including Mikko Hyppönen of F-Secure.

As of now the Finnish matriculation examination is still a purely paper-and-pencil affair. Each year more than 30,000 students from over 400 upper secondary schools take the exam at the exact same time. The plan is to have parts of the exams done on computers in autumn of 2016 and everything by 2019.

"Systems that can handle simultaneous high stakes exams aren't too plentiful. It was a slight disappointment to me," said Matti Lattu, the project manager at the Finnish Matriculation Board.

Lattu thought of the Linux system that is being poked about with right now as a public beta release, a way to inform the teachers and the students about the upcoming changes and raise awareness in general.

"The idea isn't that we'll organise a hacking competition that'll fix everything. The system hasn't been audited by professionals yet. We know the competition is symbolic," he said.

The current system is a Debian Linux live install that can be run in a virtual machine. The purpose of using a live install operating system is to allow the students to use their own computers in the exams, though Lattu said  they aren't "locked into the idea" of using Linux.

The possibility of cheating has generated a lot of concern, but Lattu said the biggest challenges are related to reliability and overcoming IT failures during the exam.

"If a service provider claims 95 percent availability, with 30,000 students that would mean letting down hundreds of students. That's what makes this difficult but also interesting," Lattu said.

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