Mich. Online Bar Exam Disrupted By Apparent Cyberattack

By Emma Cueto
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Law360 (July 28, 2020, 6:30 PM EDT) -- Michigan's online bar exam, the first such test to go forward so far, experienced a cyberattack that caused a serious technical problem on Tuesday, the test's technology provider said, as test takers were initially unable to log in for the second part of the exam.

Aspiring lawyers took to social media Tuesday to say that the password to log in to the second of five modules — which was supposed to be available on the website of ExamSoft five minutes before the test was set to begin — was not available. ExamSoft's support line began giving out the passwords to callers, and the issue was eventually resolved by emailing the passwords to test takers, according to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The allotted testing time was also extended to account for the delay, the Michigan Supreme Court told Law360. The state's 2020 exam was a one-day exam. The court also said that test takers with accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act were not affected by the glitch, because those test takers had already received passwords via email.

According to ExamSoft, the malfunction was caused by a distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attack — which floods a system with requests in an effort to shut down service — but that no data was compromised.

"This is the first time ExamSoft has ever experienced a DDoS attack at the network level," ExamSoft said. "We worked closely with the Michigan Board of Law Examiners so that the exam could continue forward as scheduled with the appropriate extra time allotted to enter the exam for those who may have been delayed. All exam takers were successfully able to start and complete all modules of the Michigan Bar exam."

The Michigan Board of Law Examiners told Law360 in an email, "The board is committed to further investigation to better understand the cyber-attack and the impact on applicants, if any. Once we have completed this investigation, the board will report its findings to the court. The Board thanks the applicants who had to prepare for and take the exam under unique circumstances. Their dedication and passion to becoming lawyers has been tested."

The Michigan Supreme Court said it was holding off on discussions of next steps until it had a more complete picture of what went wrong and the effect on the test takers.

Despite being given additional time to account for the delay, several test takers said the experience was enough to throw them off their game.

"I went on maybe six or seven minutes before [the second module] was supposed to start because the passwords were supposed to be released five minutes before, and the website would not load," Corrine Staten, a Valparaiso University Law School graduate who took the test Tuesday, told Law360. "Instant panic set in."

Staten said she initially thought that the problem was on her end and began checking her internet connection and trying to open the page in different web browsers. She also tried pulling it up on her cellphone and on the phones of other people in her household but wasn't able to get the page to work.

She then tried calling the support number and spent more than 10 minutes on hold before getting through, she said.

"I started having a panic attack," she said. "I had no idea if I was losing time."

Other test takers expressed similar frustrations on social media.

"Regardless of the fact that we eventually got the password for the second #mibarexam module, it really takes you out of testing mode when something like that happens," tweeted Addy Aguilera.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced states across the country to adjust their bar exam protocols, as public health officials caution against indoor gatherings of large groups of people. However, the National Council of Bar Examiners and examiners in some states have been criticized as inflexible and in some cases even asking test takers to risk their health by holding exams in person.

Some states have extended "diploma privilege" to aspiring attorneys or otherwise granted would-be test takers a limited or temporary license to practice. Others, including Michigan, are trying online exams. Indiana was scheduled to hold an online test on Tuesday but decided last week to postpone it until Aug. 4 due to technical issues.

--Editing by Alanna Weissman.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the entity ExamSoft worked with to administer the bar exam. The error has been corrected.  
Update: This story has been updated with comment from the Michigan Board of Law Examiners.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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