Brief Announcement: Passive and Active Attacks on Audience Response Systems Using Software Defined Radios

  • Khai T. Phan
  • Ryan EwingEmail author
  • David Starobinski
  • Liangxiao Xin
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 10616)


Audience response systems, also known as clickers, are used at many academic institutions to offer active learning environments. Since these systems are used to administer graded assignments, and sometimes even exams, it is crucial to assess their security. Our work seeks to exploit and document potential vulnerabilities of clickers. For this purpose, we use software defined radios to perform jamming, sniffing and spoofing attacks on an audience response system in production, which provide different possible methods of cheating. The results of our study demonstrate that clickers are easily exploitable. We build a prototype and show that it is practically possible to covertly steal or forge answers of a peer or even an entire classroom, with high levels of confidence. Additionally, we find that the receivers software of the system lacks protection against unexpected answers, which allows our spoofer to submit any ASCII character and opens the receiver up to possible fuzzing attacks. As a result of this study, we discourage using clickers for high-stake assessments, unless they provide proper security protection.



The authors thank Prof. Ari Trachtenberg for his suggestion to investigate fuzzing attacks. This work was supported in part by NSF under grants CNS-1409053, CNS-1563753 and CNS-1717858. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors only, and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Khai T. Phan
    • 1
  • Ryan Ewing
    • 1
    Email author
  • David Starobinski
    • 1
  • Liangxiao Xin
    • 1
  1. 1.Boston UniversityBostonUSA

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