Moore’s law favors the cheater

In 1965, Gordon Moore of Intel observed that transistor densities were doubling roughly every 2 years. Since then the exponential nature of faster, smaller and more powerful computational units has continued. Initially, the observation was a remarkable statement of trends. Later, it became an expectation. And, it is now considered an unrelenting challenge for high technology. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore’s_law

The trend of faster, smaller and more powerful electronic devices has spilled over from computers into all forms and types of electronics. Notably, consumer electronics commonly used by cheaters on tests are no exception. While Internet-capable PDAs have been available for some time, it was in 2007 that Apple introduced the iPhone, a cellular phone integrated with a browser and digital camera. It would be surprising if iPhones and text-messaging are not replaced with even more sophisticated cheating technology within the next few years. Those who administer tests must anticipate the appearance of these newer, faster, and more easily concealed cheating devices.

Small, fast devices appeal to two broad classes of consumers: (1) persons who want mobile and wearable electronic devices, and (2) persons who have a need for spy gadgetry. Wearable computing (http://www.media.mit.edu/wearables/) trends are very interesting, including smaller keyboards (http://www.frogpad.com/), head-mounted displays (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head-mounted_display), USB watches (http://www.amazon.com/Timex-Data-Link-Watch-T5C291/dp/B000B545B4), and PDAs and ultra-small computers (examples are: Nokia’s Internet Tablet http://reviews.cnet.com/pdas/nokia-n800-internet-tablet/4505-3127_7-32309517.html and OQO’s Model 02 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OQO).

Spy gadget shops sell tiny pin-hole cameras, but our research at Caveon indicates that the tiny digital cameras have insufficient resolution to capture high quality images of test questions. (See this review of the Casio WQV-1CR Wristwatch camera http://reviews.cnet.com/watches-and-wrist-devices/casio-wqv-1cr-wristwatch/4505-3512_7-2660570.html.) While we found that the pin-hole spy cameras did not have sufficient resolution to steal a high-quality image of a test, we did confirm that the hand-held scanner DocuPen (http://planon.com/) could be used very easily to steal a paper-and-pencil test. There is a clear trend for higher resolution digital cameras in smaller packages, such as the BenQ 8 megapixel camera which is 4 inches by 2.5 inches by one-half inch thick http://blogs.zdnet.com/digitalcameras/?p=151.) We expect to see eight megapixel cameras in cell phones before long due to Samsung’s announcement of a CMOS package for cell phones (http://blogs.zdnet.com/ip-telephony/?p=2737).

In 2007, we saw the introduction of ExamEar, an earpiece with a radio that was specifically marketed to cheaters on tests. This caused a lot of concern in Great Britain (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6951524.stm, see also http://www.engadget.com/2007/08/20/examear-helping-students-make-the-best-of-exam-day/) and the website owners decided to cease operations. The ExamEar domain is now for sale. But, it would be very surprising if this technology does not resurface. In fact, two Chinese students were recently caught cheating on a test when they couldn’t remove their earpieces and needed medical attention (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2007-12/31/content_6361740.htm). We don’t know where they obtained these earphones, but they may have been ExamEar models.

Cheaters are usually engaged in one of four behaviors which may be bolstered by technology. These are:

  1. Communicate with or copy from another (requires a miniature radio, cell phone, or other signaling device),
  2. Smuggle test taking aids into the testing event (requires a miniature high-capacity data retrieval device with visual display, such as a PDA, iPod, or DataLink wristwatch)
  3. Steal a copy of the test content (requires a miniature camera)
  4. Engage in impersonation (requires an ability to tamper with or defeat identification safeguards)

Many of the current devices used by cheaters (e.g., cell phones, DocuPens, and PDAs) can be easily slipped past most test administrators, because they are so small. One of the gadgets shown at the 2008 CES (Consumer Electronics Show) which may cause concern for test administrators is the Bug Labs do-it-yourself modular electronics kit (http://gizmodo.com/346789/bug-labs-store-launches-monday-minus-wi+fi). It seems that the device will not include Wi-Fi initially, but it has support for a wide range of other functions, including cameras and cell phones.

Another recent innovation is the Bionic Eye (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22731631/). This is a contact lens that features LCD circuitry which allows projection of an image into the wearer’s field of view. Researchers at the University of Washington have tested it successfully on rabbits. These researchers are the same people who developed the virtual retinal display (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_retinal_display). It will be sometime before these contact lenses are used by people, but the technology is fascinating.

Another interesting product introduced in 2007 was the FlyPen, a pen-top computer. The company’s marketing literature states, “Meet the FLY Fusion Pentop Computer, the only pentop platform to offer a complete set of high-speed homework solutions and innovative note-taking applications for students of all ages. This next-generation FLYTM system harnesses the same sophisticated Anoto technology as its predecessor, enhanced by PC connectivity, four times the memory, on-the-go calculating functionality, and a 1,000-word Spanish dictionary. Best of all, students can upload handwritten notes and drafts, digitizing them instantly into Microsoft Word documents or emails.” (See http://www.flyworld.com/presskit.pdf.) It will be interesting to see if students use this device for stealing test content.

Because consumer electronics are changing and adapting so quickly, it is very important that testing program administrators review current policies, procedures, and practices to ensure that these devices are not used by cheaters to gain an unfair advantage.

Dennis Maynes

Chief Scientist, Caveon Test Security

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