Proctoring: Prevent online cheating

Proctoring : how to prevent cheating in online exams, tests and courses.

How online proctoring services and software can be made more secure by using PDF DRM to prevent online cheating in courses, tests and exams.

Proctored exams & remote online proctoring

The onset of the pandemic Covid19 has accelerated the need to extend remote teaching and tutoring into the field of remote examinations.   The initial pressure has been affecting traditional lectures and tutorials by reducing the number of attendees as a result of ‘social distancing’ this also has restricted travelling from home to campus and even within campus sites.  Now the pandemic effectively prevents bringing large numbers of students to examination halls, and this impacts on proctoring the examination process.  Locklizard can provide some of the underpinning to compliment online proctoring services and help prevent cheating in online exams, tests and courses.

What does proctoring do?

Proctors are used to supervise the conduct of an examination from the receipt of question papers through distribution to students, to the actual conduct of the students (to prevent cheating) and the collection and securing of completed examination forms for return to the examination authority.

How does online proctoring work?

Online proctoring works by using proctoring software that monitors a user’s activity at their computer along with webcam video and audio while an online exam (usually timed) is taking place.  The data recorded by the proctoring software is transferred to a proctoring service for review and later audit.

Transfer of proctor services to an online environment

To transfer traditional proctoring requirements to a remote proctoring process (i.e. online proctoring) is not a simple task since there are many ways in which examination candidates can try to bypass the controls.  These include:

Fake student authentication

The candidate presenting themselves for examination is not the claimed student (this is a common problem with things like the Driving Test and public voting) and may have presented fake credentials.  This can be guarded against by ‘remote proctoring’ where video cameras are set up in the examination area and on the computers being used to deliver the examination.  These may be remote monitored in real-time or by periodic scanning and a record of the entire session stored for later analysis (rather like the use of CCTV to identify people at crime scenes).  This provides evidence in the event of a dispute as to authentication.  A less expensive method for user authentication is to issue an email to a candidate with only a few minutes before the examination is due to start and have that email contain the license (candidate) code needed to use the exam paper.

Theft of examination questions

It is not unknown that examination questions have been stolen in the period before an examination and the actual conduct.  That is because sets of questions had to be sent before the exam date, and often had to be copied to match the number of candidates (with spares in case of accidental damage, and overs from non-presenting candidates).  This is prevented if the examination paper is encrypted and only candidates going through the process are able to view, but not copy or record the content.  DRM controls such as those used by Locklizard PDF DRM products can be used to prevent sharing and copying/pasting of content.

Preventing question theft

This is a weakness in any physical distribution system, and Locklizard Safeguard PDF Security has DRM controls to prevent questions from being disclosed before an examination takes place.  All exam documents are encrypted and protected with DRM controls by the examining authority on their own premises and computer(s).  There is no third-party cloud provider holding uncontrolled copies of the exam papers.  The original unprotected PDF documents are never distributed or uploaded to a server outside of your control.  So it does not matter how or when the protected examination papers are sent to the examination centers because until a student is licensed to open the exam paper it remains an encrypted file that even the proctors cannot use.  This means that exam papers can be installed on the computers used for the exam itself, as can the PDF viewer, and until the exam authority processes a license that allows a specific candidate to open the exam paper it remains unusable.

Online cheating

Cheating can take many forms, ranging from using smart phones to connect to someone who can answer the questions to connecting via a remote access session to observing other candidates whilst going to the bathroom.  Locklizard installed secure PDF viewers prevent copy and paste, saving in unprotected formats, printing to PDF and other file drivers, and the use of screen grabbing applications.  They even blank the screens of remote session connections rendering them unusable for cheating.

Remote proctoring systems also are used to resist cheating by checking where candidates are and if they leave the room or appear to be observing other candidate’s work, and combine with the Locklizard PDF DRM controls to prevent cheating.

Examination timing

Part of the proper conduct of examinations is that they start at the same time and finish at the same time.  There are exceptions that are important to include in any control method.  Candidates with disabilities may require extra time and more room to access the exam area.  Also, for national examinations, time zones may require differing start and stop times for each zone.  Locklizard PDF DRM controls allow you to track and log when protected PDF DRM documents were opened in UCT time (independent of local time zones) and by candidates opening a session closing file you can record when they individually finished answering the paper.  This process could be increased to help account for ‘bathroom breaks’ if they do not count as examination time.

End of the examination

Once an examination has ended it is essential that further use of the exam paper by the candidates must be prevented.  Using Locklizard PDF DRM controls you can stop the paper from being opened again by the candidate using PDF expiry controls (some call this document shredding but nothing is actually deleted except the candidate’s authority to use the document).  Document access be re-instated if required (say there is a dispute as to the exact text of a question) for due diligence purposes where the protected PDF original document must be examined because the unprotected original is not the same document.

Returning answer scripts

The end product of an examination is a form which may be on paper or may be in a digital form such as an Adobe PDF form.  The problem examination bodies face is that the Adobe form is created by making a graphic image inside of a PDF document, which is not very computer processible – something that multiple choice tests rely upon.

Locklizard secure PDF forms prevent form fields from being edited by a candidate and content cannot be copied or grabbed or pasted into other applications.  As with secure PDF DRM files forms cannot be Saved into unprotected formats and they cannot be shared with other candidates as they are locked to specific devices, country or IP locations.  No tools are available to users to edit form content so the format of the form once set cannot be changed.

Printing can be blocked so that candidates cannot print forms and edit a copy after the exam and pass it off as the original.

Locklizard Secure PDF Forms takes protection of content a step further by encrypting the data.  Normally PDF form data is sent from the application as plain text since it is part of the PDF document.  This means that on the device it is stored on, form data is unprotected and can be altered without detection.  A common approach to encrypting data is to require users to enable JavaScript even though this is against the recommendation that JavaScript should not be enabled as it creates security issues and is regularly used by hackers to gain access to computers – see PDF JavaScript vulnerabilities.  Locklizard Secure PDF Forms store Form Data in an XML file which can be encrypted separately when the Form is submitted.  That includes the candidate identifier, securely binding the candidate to the Form and the examination.

How to prevent cheating in online courses, tests and exams

In summary, Locklizard provides a number of controls to support remote proctoring systems to help prevent cheating in online exams, tests and courses.  These include:

Taken together with existing web proctoring solutions and online proctoring services and software, this provides a robust remote examination control system.

Why Locklizard for controlling online exams and tests?

Locklizard are the no. 1 document security solution for training organizations to control online exams and protect training courses from IPR theft and misuse.

Here are a few ways we are better than our competitors:

  1. Protect PDFs on your own computer – no uploading unprotected files to a cloud server where they could be exposed to attack – your exams, tests and course materials always remain under your control
  2. Distribute protected PDFs like any other file – you and your users are not locked into using a file sharing site with a fixed structure – integrate protected PDF files into your existing system
  3. No useless password logins which users can easily share or crack – decryption keys are transparently and securely transferred to a keystore which is encrypted and locked to an authorized device
  4. No complex policy controls – automatically disables functions used to copy, modify, and share content
  5. We don’t expose user’s systems to attack by forcing users to enable JavaScript or turn off security functionality in Adobe Acrobat or other applications
  6. Installed Viewers provide stronger security than cloud-based systems – no uncontrolled browser environment where users can easily circumvent security controls
  7. We don’t use or allow plugins since they easily break and can be used to bypass security
  8. No decrypting of files on a server or use of temporary files – documents are decrypted locally by the secure PDF Reader in memory so they cannot be compromised
  9. If you want to allow printing then we prevent printing to PDF files and other file drivers
  10. Stop third party screen grabbers and remote screenshot applications grabbing your content
  11. Batch PDF protection
  12. eCommerce API enables you to automate setting up of user accounts and license delivery
  13. Host on premise in your own environment or use our ready-to-go AWS hosted systems
  14. Unlimited documents and users for one fixed price
  15. USB Viewer for zero installation – publish the Windows Viewer, protected documents and a keystore to a USB stick so users don’t have to install any software or connect to the Internet

See also 10 features to look out for in PDF DRM Software.


Locklizard’s PDF DRM security products enable you to protect exams, tests and courses regardless of their location, enforcing access and use controls.  Stop sharing, piracy and theft of content by taking a free 15 day trial.