Improving your odds at winning the lottery
Beginning New Year’s Day 2008, lottery ticket retailers in Ontario will have a new set of rules to follow if they will continue selling lottery tickets. “Most of the changes are the result of Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin and his scathing investigation of the province’s lottery corporation.”
The previous set of rules allowed lottery ticket retailers to steal lottery winnings from those to whom they sold the tickets. An example of the scam is described in this story where after three years, bilked lottery ticket purchasers were finally awarded their prize.
In the above situation, the retailer apparently exchanged a non-winning ticket for the winning ticket when the purchasers presented the ticket to claim their prize. The problem is that the retailer is in a position to game the system because two functions are performed: selling the tickets and verifying the tickets. A clever and practiced cheater can manipulate such a situation.
This “man-in-the-middle” attack illustrates an obvious weakness in most paper-and-pencil testing scenarios. An answer sheet may be misdirected or even falsified by an adult who is acting in a trusted test administration position.
For example, it is common practice in elementary schools for teachers to review the student’s answer sheets and make sure that the marked answers are dark, legible, and between the lines on the scan sheet. This practice allows a teacher to not only “clean up stray marks” but also to tamper with the answer sheet. An example of the procedure is described in this document from Dallas Independent School District: http://www.window.state.tx.us/tspr/dallas/ch02h.htm
Another example is more blatant. A teacher could very easily fill-out blank answer sheets for students and then replace the student’s answer sheets with the prepared answer sheets. Erasure or light marks analyses are routinely performed on answer sheets that are scored, but it is unlikely that “fouled” answer sheets (which would also be returned) are subjected to the same analysis.
As a variation of the above exploit, it is well-known that a certification exam can be manipulated by a proxy test taker in a similar manner. The test taker and the proxy test taker both appear at the test site. They have both registered to take the test, and both will take the test. They switch names on the answer sheets (e.g., the proxy test taker puts the name of his or her employer on the answer sheet). If the answer sheets are controlled by document identifiers, the two can breach the security by exchanging answer sheets if they are together when they receive their test materials.
The above vulnerabilities (and others that use the same theme) may be addressed with revised procedures, just as procedures are being revised for the Ontario lottery. For example, instead of stray marks being cleaned up at the school they may be cleaned up at the processing center (where those reviewing the answer sheets do not have a motive for tampering). All returned answer sheets could be scanned, allowing for any fouled answer sheets to be detected. If the answer sheets have document control numbers provided using a readable encoding (such as a bar code), then every control number should be accounted for and none should be duplicated (prevents unauthorized destruction of fouled answer sheets).
To prevent document exchange (such as in the above scenario with the proxy test taker), a digital scan of the test taker signature on the answer sheet may be preserved. This allows for verification of the signature on the answer sheet with the signature on the application. Another way to prevent document exchange between two test takers is to distribute test taking materials to candidates after all are seated, and to collect testing materials from candidates before any leave their seats at the end of the testing session.
While preventative measures are usually the best, analysis of the data may detect these types of attacks. For example, analysis of lottery wins by retailers should have detected there was a problem long before the complaints started to pile up. In the same way, it is very difficult for a person who is tampering with the test results to conceal the effect of their work.
In summary, every aspect of a test administration system and procedure should be carefully reviewed under the assumption that some individual will attempt to exploit that system, and then reasonable security measures should be taken.