The once and future CertGuard

Security guard and guard dog

Spend any amount of time around the certification business, and you'll encounter the term "brain dump." What, exactly, does it mean? Simply put, "brain dump" refers to a prep materials or practice test providers whose mode of operation is to pay people to go take certification tests, and then to write down verbatim everything (and anything) they can remember about what they saw on the exam.


This provides future exam candidates with extraordinary foreknowledge of exam content, to be sure, but it's also directly contrary to the exam agreements accepted by anyone who takes such an exam. You can't start reading and answering questions unless you've already pledged not to share them with others. Those who create brain dumps risk prosecution and civil fines; those who use brain dumps to prepare for certifications risk having their credentials dismissed. Worse, they may also be barred from future participation in such programs for life.


That's where the CertGuard value proposition comes into play. You can visit their site, type in the domain name of the provider you want to check up on, and get an evaluation of the associated company or organization. The good ones get a green background and a heavy dashed green outline around their info boxes, and are identified as "SAFE." The bad ones get a pink background, a heavy dashed red line around their info boxes, and are identified as "BRAINDUMP." A nice tool with a basic and valuable use for those in the market for cert prep materials and practice exams, yes?


There's just one problem. For whatever reason, the site has been moribund (by which I mean no new content added or database updates made) since around 2010 or 2011. I learned about this ongoing hiatus from my friend and colleague Matthew Morris, an outstanding Oracle certification expert (check out his excellent Oracle Certification Prep website if you're interested in their database credentials).


Matthew had been trying to make contact with the site to get his practice exams evaluated and listed for the past year or two without any success, and in fact, without any reaction from site operators whatsoever. Upon poking around on the site, I confirmed his impression, which is that not much had changed and nothing new been added — not that I could find, anyway — since 2011 or thereabouts.


After a couple of hours of investigation, I used the "whois" information from the domain name to learn that the domain is owned and managed by a Largo, Fla., company named Learn Force Partners. I used the name and location data to get a phone number for Learn Force, and after a lengthy wait on hold, I was put in touch with a business development manager at the firm.


He informed me that his company represented the ExamForce test preparation software company (to which CertGuard gives a "SAFE" rating as of June 20, 2010), and that they had acquired CertGuard as part of their acquisition of Lambers, which also includes LearnKey among its properties. He informed me that the site was in the process of being resuscitated, and that it should resume operation sometime in the first half of 2015 as a going concern.


Though you can — and many still do — use CertGuard to get readings on cert prep and practice exam providers right now, you'll get better results if you wait until the relaunch of the site. That's because the database is basically frozen in time about three years back, which blocks newer companies from getting in on the action (as Matthew Morris learned when he tried to get himself listed, knowing he would qualify as SAFE).


This, alas, also means the site is currently useless for warning buyers off newer braindump sites that have popped up since CertGuard turned off its radar, so to speak. All of that should change next year, however, as a formely valuable cert materials watchdog gets a new kennel and collar, and begins issuing its warning bark once again.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.