In Depth

Pirates, cheats and IT certs

Cheating is on the rise, but IT certification programs are fighting back.

Current Job Listings
1 2 3 4 5 Page 2
Page 2 of 5

Even people who cheat and don't get caught during the exam still have reason to worry. Pearson VUE records every session to digital video and reviews it after the fact. Recently, scrutiny of unusual head movements tipped off the team that one test taker had an embedded camera in his glasses. "The way people are cheating is changing. They're using technology more," Poyiadgi says.

But the most common ways people try to cheat aren't always the most high-tech, says Shelby Grieve, Microsoft's director of professional certifications including the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert and Microsoft Technology Associate. "The trend has moved from taking exam answers into a testing center to more passive methods of cheating, such as using 'brain-dump' sites and proxy testing services," she says.

Grieve says Microsoft has caught candidates who colluded online through question and answer sharing, as well as people who used low-tech approaches such as copying off other peoples' exams, texting answers and even modifying someone else's printed score report.

Brain-dump sites don't just provide a place where users can share answers, says Caveon's Addicott. "These websites aggressively sell pirated test content and package it as test prep materials -- and they guarantee that you'll pass. It's a real problem with IT certifications," he says. Most of these sites are based in Asia, where it's more difficult to shut down the sites and prosecute the offenders. Overseas test center franchises with lax controls have been a source for test theft and cheating because tests and answer keys are typically always downloaded and stored at each location, giving cheaters easier access, he adds.

"The single biggest factor in how much cheating you have is if you test internationally, and IT certification programs are virtually all international programs," says John Fremer, president of Caveon's Consulting Services group.

Rise of the hired gun

Proxy test-taking is growing concern for Bryan Kainrath, vice president for certification operations at CompTIA, which owns the A+, Network+ and other popular IT certifications. "We're seeing more proxy testing than we have in the past. Most proxy scams involve hiring someone in China to take a test for someone in the U.S. That happens all the time," he says.

A few years ago, a large IT certification provider engaged Caveon to hire a proxy and attempt to pass the test without being caught. "The certification program paid us, we paid a proxy service and one of my colleagues earned this prestigious certification even though he had no background," says Addicott. The price to cheat: A $1,000 check wired through Western Union. The terms were 50% down, with the balance paid after the job was completed.

Proxy test-taking services are big business overseas, in part because what Americans consider cheating is culturally more acceptable in some other locations, Caveon's Fremer says. The buyer signs up and the proxy goes to a test center and takes the test. It's good money, says Fremer. "In some parts of the world you can earn six months' salary with one proxy test-taking event."

Proxy test taking
A sample letter from Caveon LLC's interaction with a proxy website. By paying the site to hire a proxy to take the test in his place, a Caveon staff person "earned" a prestigious IT certification for which he had no background. Caveon removed the name of the test to protect the client. Source: Caveon LLC.

In some cases, proxies have been able to skirt security protocols by visiting corrupt testing facilities overseas that operate both a legitimate "front room" test area and a fraudulent "back room" operation. "Those stringent protocols aren't followed when the test center runs its own proxy ring," which can be very lucrative, Addicott says.

To address proxy test-taking, test centers typically require candidates to present a photo ID, and a few centers, including those directly managed by Pearson VUE, have added biometric identification and digital signatures, as well as taking the candidate's photo. Once a person has registered under one identity, he can't act as a proxy for someone else. What's more, the person who hired the proxy will be caught if she tries to take another test, since her photo and biometric data won't match.

1 2 3 4 5 Page 2
Page 2 of 5
How collaboration apps foster digital transformation
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon