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The Rise of the Exam Hackers
As with any system, the rules of exams and assessments have the potential to be bent or broken. For people who are determined to cheat their way through exams – be they organised exam fraud gangs, professional exam candidates or opportunistic individuals – the potential gains in status and earning power create a tempting opportunity to gain an unfair advantage.
As a company working to prevent exam fraud, we are constantly looking for opportunities to thwart the efforts of cheats and to detect the work of those who manage to do so during the exam. This is not always easy. As is often the case, prevention is better than cure, and so the recurring question that confronts us is how we can deter, detect and stop cheating in exams and assessments that are under our control.
One way is to employ exam hackers.
Understanding Exam Hackers
Exam hackers are highly skilled individuals who leverage their expertise in ethical hacking and assessment design to assess the robustness of assessment integrity protection measures. As with other white-hat hackers, their primary objective is not to exploit vulnerabilities maliciously, but rather to identify weaknesses that could be exploited by real threat actors.
They operate under strict ethical guidelines, ensuring that their efforts contribute to enhancing the assessment process and protecting client intellectual property and assessment assets. By working alongside an assessment design team and those responsible for delivery, they can become an essential part of any team that takes a proactive approach to identifying and responding to risks.
How the Hackers Work
Exam hackers employ a range of methodologies to evaluate assessment design. Their techniques can include:
- Vulnerability Scanning: Exam hackers use automated tools and manual analysis to identify potential vulnerabilities in assessment platforms, such as weak authentication mechanisms, insecure data storage, or unencrypted communication channels.
- Penetration Testing: By simulating real-world attacks, exam hackers attempt to exploit identified vulnerabilities to gain unauthorised access to assessment software, or to manipulate exam data. This helps reveal potential weaknesses that could compromise the integrity of the awarding system.
- Social Engineering: Exam hackers may employ social engineering tactics to assess the effectiveness of the assessment process against manipulation by individuals attempting to cheat. This can include testing response time to suspicious behaviour, evaluating monitoring systems, attempting to interact with legitimate candidates, and assessing the effectiveness of anti-cheating measures.
- Code Review: Some exam hackers may also analyse the underlying code of assessment platforms to identify potential vulnerabilities such as injection attacks, insecure session management, or other technical flaws that could lead to a system compromise and potential data breach.
What the Hackers Think
We spoke to one exam hacker and asked them how they had found their way into this work and what they thought about the ethics of exam hacking:
“I’ve been hacking exams since I was in high school and I realized that I could use my computer skills to my advantage. I would find weaknesses in assessment technology or the exam design, and I would use those weaknesses to cheat my way to success. At first I thought it was really fun that I could do this, but as I got older I realized that this was a serious issue.
One day, I was hacking an exam for a fellow student who was applying to a prestigious university. I found a weakness in the exam software platform that allowed me to see all of the answers. I knew that if I used this weakness, I could guarantee the student a spot at the university.
But then I had a change of heart. I realized that I didn’t want to help people to cheat their way into education and that I could use my skills to help make exams fairer for everyone.
So I decided to do the right thing. Now I work with organizations all over the world who want to improve the security of their assessments and I love being able to use my skills like this. Like most people, I’m still learning and growing, but I’m committed to being a force for good in the world.”
The Benefits of Exam Hacking
The rise of exam hackers offers many potential benefits to exam owners and assessment designers, including:
- Enhanced Security: By proactively identifying vulnerabilities in assessment design, exam hackers enable educational institutions to bolster the security of their examination systems. This minimises the risk of data breaches, cheating, or any compromise that could undermine the credibility of exams.
- Improved Validity: Exam hackers help ensure the integrity and validity of assessments by uncovering flaws in the design, structure, and implementation of exams. By identifying and mitigating potential cheating avenues, they uphold the fairness and accuracy of the assessment process.
- Educational Quality Assurance: The involvement of exam hackers as part of a comprehensive assessment development programme, can instil confidence in students, educators, and institutions by ensuring that the results obtained through exams accurately reflect students’ knowledge and abilities. This strengthens the educational quality assurance mechanisms and enhances the value of certifications and degrees.
- Innovation and Adaptability: Exam hackers’ insights and recommendations aid educational institutions in adapting to the evolving landscape of assessment methodologies. By understanding potential weaknesses and emerging threats, institutions can stay ahead of malicious actors and implement measures to counteract their tactics.
The involvement of exam hackers in assessment design marks a positive change for global awarding organisations by demonstrating a proactive approach to enhancing assessment design and security. By employing white hat hacking techniques, exam hackers bring invaluable insights that help educational institutions protect the integrity of exams and ensure fair evaluation of students’ abilities. Embracing the expertise of exam hackers paves the way for a robust, innovative, and adaptable assessment ecosystem, promoting a genuine learning and assessment experience for students while upholding the credibility of educational qualifications.
Join our Hackathon!
To find out more about the work that VICTVS does to protect the integrity of assessments, please contact us here.
Alternatively, join us at the Federation of Awarding Bodies Conference on 30 November – 01 December 2023 where we will be hosting a live Exam Hacking event!
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- The VICTVS Podcast: Episode 4 – Remote Invigilation, AI, and the Business of Exams
- The Rise of the Exam Hackers
- Artificial Intelligence as Prediction Machines. How AI may Enhance Performance in Assessments and Exams.
- Empowering Children with SEND: Unlocking Potential with Remote Invigilation by VICTVS
- Mind Hacks. How Neuroenhancement Technology Fuels Cheating in Exams and Assessments