[/thread]Something on a less ethical note

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[/thread]Something on a less ethical note

Postby qyron » 2017-01-21 20:59

I've returned to college this year, after a long hiatus. When I originally enrolled, I was still a win user so at that time this did not concern me as it does today.

One of the courses I have, a Statistic related with Social Sciences, requires a certain program to be used to treat and analyze exercises and problems the teacher assigns. I'm still trying to relocate the name of the program but I do know there is a FOSS replacement in the Debian repositories; as soon as I find the name, I'll update this post.

My problem, today, is that I no longer have the chance to use whatever alternative I can find and I'm forced to use a licensed copy of the software. It has versions for Win, Mac and Linux. But what gets me angry is that the program, according to a fellow student, when installed, creates a direct access to my machine, which the teacher can freely use to review work and, supposedly, grants access to the hard drive has well, to allow for copyright and plagiarism control.

If there is one thing I'm not willing to accept is having someone snooping around inside my machine.

I've already emailed a complaint to the course direction but I'm not holding my breath for replies. What measures can I take to lock out this kind of abuse (beyond pulling the Ethernet cable) and in a worst case scenario deploy a back-track attack?

I understand that what I'm asking goes way off what can be considered as ethical, so I'll fully understand if nobody can help me on this subject.

EDIT - the software is called SPSS but no further information is given about it.
Edit2 - PSPP is the FOSS alternative.
Last edited by qyron on 2017-01-27 10:39, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Something on a less ethical note

Postby HuangLao » 2017-01-21 21:08

That scenario doesn't seem ethical or legal. If the teacher and the Dean agree this is a requirement, then you have choices:

1) drop the class write a paper to the school administration, Board of Directors etc... as well as the press perhaps....demand your money back etc...
2) use a virtual machine to lock that bi*ch of a program in a container so the only thing the professor sees is a tiny little OS running in a tiny little folder that looks just like a real OS, of course don't keep anything in that virtual machine that you do not want them to see.

PS: deny ssh login, require key authentication instead of password, connect through trusted VPN etc....

Your post reminds me of the dangerous way that more and more people want to use computers, ie: to spy and collect data under the guise of work/entertainment.

enjoy the joys of loopholes. ;)
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Re: Something on a less ethical note

Postby debiman » 2017-01-21 22:04

qyron wrote:what gets me angry is that the program, according to a fellow student, when installed, creates a direct access to my machine, which the teacher can freely use to review work and, supposedly, grants access to the hard drive has well, to allow for copyright and plagiarism control.

so it's hearsay.
i strongly recommend to get some hard info on this asap.
fyi, in my country's educational system something like this would be illegal.
hell, it would be illegal anywhere.
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Re: Something on a less ethical note

Postby pcalvert » 2017-01-22 01:03

If you are not familiar with using VirtualBox, you should start making yourself familiar with it.

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Re: Something on a less ethical note

Postby Thorny » 2017-01-22 11:14

qyron wrote:... and in a worst case scenario deploy a back-track attack?

I understand that what I'm asking goes way off what can be considered as ethical, so I'll fully understand if nobody can help me on this subject.

I agree with the other posters, if the scenario you posted isn't illegal in your jurisdiction it should be. However, you should confirm that it actually exists. Maybe try at the site for the software, do they have a forum there so you could ask about it, or any way to contact the developers? If it's true, I'd suggest also contacting your student association.

Regarding your idea of a back-track (or are you referring to Kali) attack, I would suggest you reconsider that, it surely would be illegal and might get you expelled, depending on university policy.
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Re: Something on a less ethical note

Postby qyron » 2017-01-22 11:20

Let me explain this a bit deeper and further.

My college is an online teaching institution (its official and state funded; not a private school). When I originally enrolled in 2006, there was an "open" students forum, where I originally came across with the fact that when enrolling in the Statistics courses for Social Sciences, you were mandated to download and install an SPSS software, that came with an all-powerful backdoor access for the teachers to inspect for the use of copyrighted material illegitimately obtained and plagiarism.

Back then, the thread where this was being made generally known was quickly closed and the whistle blower was silenced. The next year, the students online forums where taken down and the online model was rebuilt towards what it is today, where every course has a separate "domain" with highly controlled and supervised "cafe" threads, that are scrubbed with the end of the school year.
Because all of this takes place inside dedicated, in-house, faculty servers, there is no public access or backup outside. What happens there stays there.

Fast forward to 2016: for personal reasons, I dropped college for a few years. Upon returning, none of these sordid details are made available to the public but SPSS is still the "recommended" software for that course and its stated that a license with no extra fees will be made available to the students taking the course, with Win, Mac and Linux versions being available. It's only a suspicion, but I'll risk the only supported distros will be Ubuntu and Caixa Mágica. I'll even go out a further step and risk the provided license will come with a time bomb and/or an advanced functions lockout.

Now add to this to the equation: this college does not allow students to take printed documents for exams. In a course I enrolled the first semester I can take to exam the national constitution and an international treaty text, which I can freely download and print from my parliament website, but I can't do that because only original certified copies are considered legitimate (please read "bought copies from a given press house and only that").

Please, feel free to accuse me of being paranoid (which I will thank you) but it tends to add up in my mind to become a very reasonable scenario.

I won't be enrolling in that Statistics course this year (it has a planned 156 hours of assigned work that I'm aware I won't be able to manage at this point in my life) but this is a situation I'm not willing to roll over and go down quietly.
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Re: Something on a less ethical note

Postby dasein » 2017-01-22 19:34

Before you go all nuclear about an issue that may or may not actually exist, consider the following points (in no particular order):

- The mere existence of an unsubstantiated claim doesn't make it true. Repeating an unsubstantiated claim doesn't make it true either. (Stated differently: the Sun isn't actually 32 miles (51.5 km) in diameter simply because some random idiot says so in a forum post. Repeating such a claim doesn't make you sound paranoid; it makes you sound stupid.)

- Even if the alleged "backdoor" existed 10 years ago (a point I don't actually concede), at least one thing has happened to SPSS in the interim to make its continued existence extraordinarily unlikely. Go do some actual research to figure out what that might be.

- Yes, the student version of SPSS self-destructs after a year. Just like the full-blown commercial version. But given that you would presumably use it only for the duration of this course, it's unclear why you find this prospect troublesome.

- There is at least one compelling and not even remotely Nefarious reason to like the idea of having all students in a class (or even all students at a particular university) use a single, standardized software package. Think really hard for five consecutive seconds to determine what it is.

- If allowing delusions to run your life is as important to you as you say it is, as several folks have pointed out already, you can run it in a VM or run it standalone off a dedicated USB stick. "Problem" solved.

Sheesh.
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Re: Something on a less ethical note

Postby vbrummond » 2017-01-22 19:42

I am going to chime a "me too" with using a virtual machine. Be like water and flow around your obstacles.
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Re: Something on a less ethical note

Postby deborah-and-ian » 2017-01-22 20:05

qyron wrote:Upon returning, none of these sordid details are made available to the public but SPSS is still the "recommended" software for that course and its stated that a license with no extra fees will be made available to the students taking the course, with Win, Mac and Linux versions being available.

If it's just recommended, why not take PSPP?
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Re: Something on a less ethical note

Postby qyron » 2017-01-22 21:20

dasein wrote:Before you go all nuclear [...]

I can't. I'm not fissionable. :wink:

dasein wrote:- The mere existence of an unsubstantiated claim doesn't make it true. Repeating an unsubstantiated claim doesn't make it true either. (Stated differently: the Sun isn't actually 32 miles (51.5 km) in diameter simply because some random idiot says so in a forum post. Repeating such a claim doesn't make you sound paranoid; it makes you sound stupid.)

Absence of proof does not constitute proof of absence neither belief constitute fact. Yes, I am aware of that.

Giving credit to any sort of unsubstantiated claim without reasonable motive does tend to show the person supporting such claim is at least gullible and/or misinformed.

dasein wrote:- Even if the alleged "backdoor" existed 10 years ago (a point I don't actually concede), at least one thing has happened to SPSS in the interim to make its continued existence extraordinarily unlikely. Go do some actual research to figure out what that might be.


I can't. The exact program to be used is not specified. The correct phrasing from the college course states that "a license for a SPSS program will be made available for the students". I get several hits when I search for SPSS programs, being the IBM SPSS only one.

Strangely, PSPP does not come up has one of those.

dasein wrote:- Yes, the student version of SPSS self-destructs after a year. Just like the full-blown commercial version. But given that you would presumably use it only for the duration of this course, it's unclear why you find this prospect troublesome.


It isn't. But it nonetheless strikes me as unreasonable. It would make more sense to setup a server with an SPSS and give individual access keys for students to do their assignments. After the course is successfully finished, the key expires. No need to install "good before date" software in the end-user machine.

dasein wrote:- There is at least one compelling and not even remotely Nefarious reason to like the idea of having all students in a class (or even all students at a particular university) use a single, standardized software package. Think really hard for five consecutive seconds to determine what it is.


Now you're just trying to hurt my feelings. :? I actually did gave this whole thing quite a big deal of thought cycles.

But making things easier and more uniform on the teachers side does not make it more ethical.

dasein wrote:- If allowing delusions to run your life is as important to you as you say it is, as several folks have pointed out already, you can run it in a VM or run it standalone off a dedicated USB stick. "Problem" solved.

Sheesh.


After reading your entire reply I almost felt compelled to smack myself around.

No matter if I sound unreasonable, delusional or anything else I can pin up on the board, I'm entitled to it. I'm only human and a basic mammal, still grounded with primeval self preservation instincts more than capable of clouding my better judgment.
Last edited by qyron on 2017-01-22 21:38, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Something on a less ethical note

Postby qyron » 2017-01-22 21:23

deborah-and-ian wrote:If it's just recommended, why not take PSPP?


Taken that "recommended" literature for the courses I've taken up until now takes on fully mandatory character when it comes to present papers, I'll take the "recommended" with a grain of salt.
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Re: Something on a less ethical note

Postby qyron » 2017-01-22 21:33

vbrummond wrote:I am going to chime a "me too" with using a virtual machine. Be like water and flow around your obstacles.


You made me remember I need to dive back into my Aikido practice as well.

Getting familiar with VirtualBox seems the most reasonable thing to do in the face of this entire situation.
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Re: Something on a less ethical note

Postby pylkko » 2017-01-22 21:42

If you are even remotely interested in statistics for real, then start using R now. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with not being interested. Just that it is immensely better and probably suites your political standing point better.
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Re: Something on a less ethical note

Postby deborah-and-ian » 2017-01-31 12:50

qyron wrote:Taken that "recommended" literature for the courses I've taken up until now takes on fully mandatory character when it comes to present papers, I'll take the "recommended" with a grain of salt.

Wow. Very inflexible system there and also one that could be abused for conflicts of interest. Suppose a teacher also publishes with publisher x and has their readers as recommended, but actually mandatory course literature... This should be banned. If you can get an alternative book/programme that teaches you/does the same, you've accomplished what you set out to do.
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Re: [/thread]Something on a less ethical note

Postby qyron » 2017-01-31 20:43

There is a great deal of promiscuity between teaching bodies and publishing houses.

When I originally enrolled, another course was overseen by a teacher who toke the time to write a dedicated manual, based on the online seminars he gave to students and supporting notes and texts he usually passed down. The manual was extremely well written, organized to be ageless (with only deep constitutional changes rendering it worthless) and it was very easy read, with cited sources and additional literature being cited as sources but only as further reading to those wanting to increase their understanding of legal and constitutional mechanisms but completely worthless for achieving the course objectives. To close the deal, it was extremely cheap, costing less than €10.

The present manual for that course costs almost €30, it was published in 2016, it was never tested against teaching practice and it was written not by teachers but by a group of masters degree students, as a thesis. And, to further sweeten the deal, without any notice, it was adopted in several colleges - private and public - throughout my country immediately with the first edition being printed, leading to complete stock rupture. I ordered my copy in early October and only received it in mid December!
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