Lowering The Bar For Exam Software Security

Most standardized tests have a fee: the SAT costs $50, the GRE costs $200, and the NY Bar Exam costs $250. This year, the bar exam came at a much larger cost for recent law school graduates — their privacy.

Many in-person events have had to find ways to move to the internet this year, and exams are no exception. We’d like to think that online exams shouldn’t be a big deal. It’s 2020. We have a pretty good grasp on how security and privacy should work, and it shouldn’t be too hard to implement sensible anti-cheating features.

It shouldn’t be a big deal, but for one software firm, it really is.

The NY State Board of Law Examiners (NY BOLE), along with several other state exam boards, chose to administer this year’s bar exam via ExamSoft’s Examplify. If you’ve missed out on the Examplify Saga, following the Diploma Privilege for New York account on Twitter will get you caught up pretty quickly. Essentially, according to its users, Examplify is an unmitigated disaster. Let’s start with something that should have been settled twenty years ago.

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Tiny Mario Clone On A Tiny Processor

We’ve become used to seeing retro games running on commodity microcontrollers where once they would have required the bleeding-edge console hardware of their day. [Duncan]’s Mario clone takes the genre a little further, using not a processor with plenty of pins for peripherals, but instead the humble ATtiny85. Its eight pins drive two OLED displays, and accept input from the buttons of a cheap Nintendo-like controller.

The write-up is split between software and hardware sections, with all the software itself available from a GitHub repository. He’s bit-banging the i2C for the displays for an impressive turn of speed, and the ATtiny’s lack of pins is addressed by clever use of resistive dividers to present a different voltage for each button pressed. With a truth table of voltages he’s even able to detect multiple simultaneous button presses. Music is achieved with the chip’s limited resources by storing the sounds in EEPROM, and clocked it at 16 MHz for smooth gameplay.

The whole is mounted inside the shell of the controller, with its USB guts removed and replaced by a smart custom PCB. An unexpected problem with ground plane fill caused a temporary roadblock reading the buttons, but the finished product is a very Nintendo-like experience. We like it.

An Open Source IR Gateway Based On The ESP8266

The market is absolutely inundated with smart gadgets, with everything from coffee makers to TVs advertising that they support the latest and greatest in home automation platforms. Don’t worry about how many of those platforms and services will still up up and running in the next few years, the thing will probably stop working before then anyway. No sense worrying about the details in a disposable world.

Of course, not all of us are so quick to dump working hardware in the name of the latest consumer trend. Which is why [Viktor] has developed an open source infrared gateway that can connect your “dumb” devices to the latest flash in the pan backend service with nothing more than a software update. Though even modern smart TVs still include IR remotes, so there’s nothing stopping you from using it with newer gear if you don’t trust like the built-in implementation.

The hardware here is really quite simple, essentially boiling down to a few IR LEDs and an IR receiver hanging off the GPIO ports of an ESP8266. While the receiver isn’t strictly necessary, it does allow [Viktor] to rapidly implement new IR codes. He just points the existing remote at the board, hits a button, and the decoded command gets sent out over MQTT where he can easily snap it up.

[Viktor] has done the hard work of creating the PCB design and testing out different IR LEDs to find the ones with the best performance. But if you wanted to just throw something together in a weekend, you should be able to get his firmware running with little more than a bare ESP and a random IR LED salvaged from an old remote. But don’t be surprised if you get hooked on the concept and end up rolling your own home automation system.