A safe certification program could undermine brain dump providers
Posted on
April 20, 2015
Battle brain dumps by requiring test prep approval.

Brain dumps are a thorn in the side of all major certification providers. There is a demand for certification preparation materials and when a demand exists, suppliers (both good and bad) will come forward to fill it. Not every IT professional understands exactly what brain dumps are. With the exception of people very new to certification, however, I believe that most could provide a reasonably good definition. The vast majority of exam candidates probably realize that certification authorities ban the use of brain dumps in preparing for an exam.

Possessing the ability to define a brain dump, however, is not the same thing as having the ability to identify a site that sells them. If presented with two practice exam vendors, one legitimate and the other a brain dump provider, I suspect fewer than half of certification candidates could reliably choose between the two. After all, sites that sell brain dumps do not market their products by pointing out that their content has been banned by the certifying authority.

The problem is not trivial. Most certification authorities do not provide the names of brain dump vendors to certification candidates, and for good reason. Even if certification organizations maintain such a list internally, it is unlikely that they would want to make the names public. Publishing the names of brain dump vendors would provide a degree of publicity to those sites that might actually increase their use.

The CertGuard.com website is a commonly used resource for determining whether a given site contains legitimate materials. Unfortunately, CertGuard is not infallible, and currently the site is not even being kept updated as Ed Tittle reported in a recent article at GoCertify.

A second problem is that CertGuard can only provide advice regarding sites that staffers (whoever they may be) have visited and tested. Many brain dump providers sell their products under multiple different vendor names and domains. If one or more of their names gets red flagged, they can simply buy another domain and sell the exact same products under it.

Finally, Oracle and other certification authorities have no control over the content of CertGuard. This means that certification organizations have no way of ensuring that the advice provided matches their own interpretation. The genesis of this article was a thread in a certification group on LinkedIn. In the thread, a manager from the Oracle certification program indicated that a given vendor was a dump provider, but the vendor was one that I had believed was valid. Searching that domain on the CertGuard site revealed that they, too, feel the vendor is legitimate.

I do not know which interpretation is correct, but it brought home just how confusing this must be for certification candidates. The only guidance Oracle currently provides for practice exams is to recommend Transcender or Self Test Software. They do not prohibit using products from other companies, but warn that using materials from brain dump vendors is not allowed and can cost candidates their certifications.

That said, Oracle provides no official method for distinguishing between legitimate providers and dump providers. I am confident that some candidates who use dumps are aware that the materials are prohibited. Others, however, are certainly not. The websites selling dumps are the equivalent of phishing sites ... only worse. They are designed to present the appearance of selling legitimate study materials, yet unlike a phishing site, they do not have to mimic a specific company. They simply need to make their site look professional enough to convince potential customers to buy their product. The job is made even easier by the fact that the people they are trying to convince are often new to the industry and do not know what constitutes a red flag.

Certification candidates need a map to cross this particular mine field. The Oracle certification program should provide a middle ground between their recommended vendor (Kaplan), and companies that sell brain dumps. It is not really fair to tell candidates that they can pick other vendors, but then to punish them for choosing poorly when there is no official guidance on how to make a choice.

Battle brain dumps by requiring test prep approval.

One potential solution would be for the program to create a “Verified Certification Safe” credential for vendors of Oracle practice tests. After being verified, a page on Oracle’s certification website would show that “Text X” by “Vendor Y” has been verified to be certification safe. In return for putting in the effort to become part of the program and submit exams for verification, vendors would receive additional visibility and publicity.

In addition to the list on Oracle’s site, the program could have a logo for these vendors to display on their websites. The logo would indicate a site is “Certification Safe” and could link back to Oracle’s page of verified providers. This would result in a simple method for practice test seekers to immediately discard sites that do not display the logo. The link to Oracle’s official listing of verified providers would provide a logical second verification step. Companies willing to sell stolen material would certainly not hesitate to display a linked logo fraudulently, and some might be clever enough to mimic Oracle’s actually listing of safe sites, but at least it’s a starting point.

The upshot of this is that creating a mark of trust for practice test providers would allow the Oracle certification program to present a straightforward message to candidates. Candidates looking for practice tests would ideally start with a “Certification Safe Practice Tests” page on Oracle’s website. In addition, Oracle would be able to tell candidates that any site which does not display the logo is likely to be a dump provider.

These two rules would make an enormous improvement over the current mixed message. Clear instructions would reduce the possibility of candidates unintentionally using brain dumps. It will not stop people who deliberately seek to use these materials, but that is an entirely separate issue.

It is difficult for Oracle — or any other certification authority — to prosecute brain dump providers through legal actions. A program like this would allow them, however, to damage brain dump providers via economic actions. Every certification candidate that uses a “Certification Safe” vendor for a practice exam will reduce the profit to be made from selling brain dumps. The loss to the dump vendor is conversely a win for the Oracle certification program — and for the certification candidate.

About the Author

Matthew Morris is an experienced DBA and developer. He holds Oracle DBA Certifications for every Oracle release from 7 through 12c; Expert certifications for SQL, SQL Tuning, and Application Express; and is an Oracle PL/SQL Developer Certified Professional. He is the author of more than 20 study guides for Oracle certification exams, as well as a suite of Oracle practice tests that are available at ocpexam.com.

Posted to topic:

Important Update: We have updated our Privacy Policy to comply with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)

CompTIA IT Project Management - Project+ - Advance Your IT Career by adding IT Project Manager to your resume - Learn More