University of Hertfordshire

A Dynamic Profile Questions Approach to Mitigate Impersonation in Online Examinations

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Abrar Ullah
  • Hannan Xiao
  • Trevor Barker
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Grid Computing
Early online date31 May 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 May 2018


Online examinations are an integral component of many online learning environments, which face many security challenges. Collusion is seen as a major security threat to such examinations, when a student invites a third party to impersonate or abet in a test. This work aims to strengthen the authentication of students via the use of dynamic profile questions. The study reported in this paper involved 31 online participants from five countries over a five-week period. The results of usability and security analysis are reported. The dynamic profile questions were more usable than both the text-based and image-based questions (p < 0.01). An impersonation abuse scenario was simulated using email and mobile phone. The impersonation attack via email was not successful, however, students were able to share answers to dynamic profile questions with a third party impersonator in real time, which resulted in 93% correct answers. The sharing of information via phone took place in real time during an online test and the response time of an impersonator was significantly different (p < 0.01) than a student. The study also revealed that a response time factor may be implemented to identify and report impersonation attacks.


© The Author(s) 2018 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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