Mission Impossible: Cheaters

Mission Impossible: Cheaters

December 19, 2016

Written by Alison Foster, Test Security Specialist

Hello.

It has come to the attention of Caveon Test Security that attacks on our global assessment system are growing ever more treacherous, conniving, and underhanded.

In the last mission, you were tasked with shutting down test theft and catching those responsible for stealing test information. That was no easy task, and you are just now mounting counter-theft efforts that will last for years.

Unfortunately, theft is not the only threat that the international testing community is facing, and your job is about to get much more difficult.

Cheaters are, at this very moment, getting past our lines of defense and using any and all illicit means conceivable to improve their scores. We can no longer tell the difference between friend and enemy, between those who are trustworthy and those who are deceptive. These cheaters are uniquely trained and highly motivated–there is seemingly no security they cannot breach. They sneak past our defenses and erode our confidence in exams and everything those exams stand for.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to stop these cheaters. Your primary target should be to catch them before they have the chance to swindle their way into better test scores. If this is not possible, your secondary target will be to catch these cheaters and deal with them appropriately.

This is a complicated, prevalent, and undeniably critical problem. To counter it, your tactics must be bold, and you must rely on technology and innovation; your traditional counter-measures will simply not suffice. We advise that you assemble your team carefully – referring to the dossier of test security professionals provided in your previous mission.

Your classified “Cheating Watch-List”, compiled by Caveon CEO David Foster and H.L. Miller, Jr. is included below. Study it. Know it. It is your window into the mindset of the enemy you will be facing.

At times, your mission will seem impossible, but you must not fail. We are relying on you.

This document will self-destruct in five seconds.

Good Luck.

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CONFIDENTIAL:

CHEATING WATCHLIST

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Using Pre-Knowledge of Test Content

A recent college graduate is searching for a job in the IT Sector. He hopes to find work with a company in his hometown, but unfortunately all of the available local jobs require advanced IT certification. When researching what he needs to know to qualify for these certification, he stumbles across a website that offers a downloadable “study guide” of 100% accurate test questions. For $39.99 he can study the actual test questions, and easily pass the exam without having to spend time, money, and effort on studying the material from scratch. The decision is clear.

The most dangerous cheaters are those who have knowledge of test questions and answers before they take the exam. They obtain this knowledge from websites, forums, chat sessions, colleagues, friends, anywhere they can. The content is highly accurate and easily obtained, and there is almost no chance of getting caught. This type of cheating is very difficult to detect through statistical methods, almost impossible to detect by test administrators and proctors and is highly effective.

Threat Alert Level: SEVERE

Colluding with an Expert While Taking the Test

A teacher is proctoring a statewide assessment to a group of third-grade students. When walking around the room, she glances at a student’s test booklet and notices that the student has made a simple addition mistake. Knowing the student knows how to do the problem, but just made a stupid mistake, the teacher leans down and whispers the correct answer in his ear.

A nearly undetectable type of cheating is when test center personnel, teachers, instructors, proctors, or other experts help a test taker during the exam. This can be in person or through technology such as two-way radios and cell phones. Because this type of cheating often involves collusion with insiders, it is very difficult to catch and is highly effective.

Threat Alert Level: SEVERE

Using Inappropriate or Non-Authorized Test Aids

A college student in an end-of-year course exam writes down five questions on her scratch paper, slips the paper in her pocket, and then raises her hand and asks to use the restroom. Once in the restroom she opens the course book she placed there the night before and looks up the answers.

In a testing center, an examinee adjusts his watch, and then looks back to the computer screen. The watch is “smart” and has subject-matter content recorded on it. When the examinee touches the screen, it displays this information.

One of the most common types of cheating is accessing unauthorized aids during the exam such as cheat-sheets, cell phones, headphones, programmable calculators, Internet, etc. These devices can have exact content or simply be used for accessing information during the test. Many of these resources are designed to be difficult to detect, but are variable in their effectiveness. A high score is not necessarily assured.

Threat Alert Level: HIGH

Using a Proxy Test Taking Service, or Using Friends or Acquaintances for Proxy Test Taking

A high-school student named Ned Johnson shows his ID and checks in to a college admissions exam. Ned proceeds to take his exam without problems, and leaves at the end of the testing period. Unfortunately, Ned is actually a college student named Carson Green, who charges $1000 to take an exam for high school students hoping to get accepted to top-tier schools. Glasses and a fake ID are all he needs to get them a near-perfect score.

It isn’t difficult for test takers looking to cheat to find a company or person offering to take the test for them – either in person or online. Professional proxy services are expensive, but often guarantee a high or passing score. For a smaller price, or even as a favor, a friend of acquaintance can act as proxy, though this does not necessarily assure a high score. This type of cheating is very difficult to detect, and typically involves insider collusion or a weak authentication process.

Threat Alert Level: HIGH

 

Hacking into a Database to Change a Score

An IT employee, taking an internal company exam for promotion purposes, shows up to the test hung-over and tired after his best friend’s bachelor party. Exhausted, the employee falls asleep during part of the exam and as a result gets a terrible score. That night, knowing that the score will impact his chances for promotion, the employee uses his computer skills to hack into the database that stores the exam scores and changes his to a passing one.

There is the potential for remote cheating; when hackers gain unauthorized access to a test program’s database and change either change the scores or delete the records. This type of cheating is rare. It is very difficult to access a program’s systems, and the cheater needs strong IT skills and knowledge. The probability of detection is moderate to high.

Threat Alert Level: GUARDED

Manipulation of Test Administration Rules

A test administrator at a language-training center is overseeing a placement exam the takes place at the end of a six-week course. If the examinees pass with a high enough score, they are eligible for a pay increase. The administrator, though not an instructor, has become friends with the examinees over the past six weeks. He notices, with fifteen minutes of test-time left, that several of his friends are not close to completing the exam and will not have the chance to answer all of the questions. Knowing how much the pay increase means to them, he simply re-sets the timer to thirty minutes to give them a bit more time.

Cheating by manipulating test administration rules can take many forms: low-performing students may be required to stay home on testing days, test administrators may ask students to mark answers in booklet, timing rules can be ignored to give students more time, administrators can change low scores to high scores, etc. This type of cheating is prevalent, but is easy to detect using independent monitor and systems.

Threat Alert Level: GUARDED

Copying the Answers from Another Test Taker while Both Tests Are Being Taken

A student sitting in an end-of-course college exam glances to her left and sees a fellow classmate’s answers on a multiple choice exam. Feeling insecure about her answers, she changes them to reflect the other student’s responses. This cheating method is anything but new, but there are still instances when it is undoubtedly effective.

Even for a computerized test, it is possible to copy answers from a nearby test taker. This is particularly dangerous if the exam does not utilize randomization features. The risk from this type of cheating is low, and is mostly ineffective due to innovations in computerized tests.

Threat Alert Level: GUARDED

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