Cisco takes fight against cheaters to new level

* Photo ID program, data forensics catch 1,400 suspected cheaters

Cisco's fight against cheaters is entering a new phase, with photo identification requirements and a data forensics program similar to the one announced by Microsoft. Pilot programs using the new detection methods have already uncovered 1,400 suspected cheaters, according to Cisco.

Under new rules, all people who take a Cisco certification exam must have their photo taken in a test center in advance of an exam, that is, on a different day. On the actual test day, each person will be checked against the photo. All score reports will have photos and unique authentication codes.

This measure is meant to prevent proxy testing, in which people hire others to take tests for them. In Cisco’s pilot program, one out of every 200 tests was reportedly taken by a proxy.

Even with photos, someone could theoretically pretend to be another person, but the scam would become obvious as they take tests for multiple people, even if they move from one country to another, Cisco officials say.

“Proxy testing occurs everywhere around the world. It does not just exist in one location,” says Erik Ullanderson, manager of global certifications for Cisco. “We believe it is something we can stamp out because it is pretty straightforward.”

Cisco has piloted the photo ID program in eight countries across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and also piloted a data forensics program that uses statistical tools to analyze test answers. This technology can identify people who knew the answers in advance, often because they purchased copies of the tests from braindump sites.

“When problems are identified with the validity of a test result, the candidate’s score will be invalidated,” Cisco said in a press release July 22. “Depending on the exact issue with the flagged exam, further consequences may range from having to retake the exam to the imposition of a one-year or lifetime testing ban.”

A candidate who enters answers extraordinarily rapidly in one section, then fails to correctly answer simple questions in another section might be flagged as a cheater. “We can’t say too much about how data forensics work because otherwise people will try to circumvent it,” says Cisco marketing director Fred Weiller.

Microsoft recently detailed its own data forensics program, along with a new policy under which any type of cheating will be punished by a lifetime ban. Microsoft and Cisco work together on sharing ideas, but developed their data forensics programs separately, Ullanderson says.

Cisco was satisfied with its pilot program, in which 1,400 suspected cheaters were identified with both the photo ID requirement and data forensics. After a few months of trials, the number of cheaters being caught dropped by about a third, Cisco says. The photo requirement helped identify proxy testers jumping from country to country to evade the crackdown.

According to a Boston Globe story, the trial lasted eight months, monitoring hundreds of thousands of exams across the world, and one out of 200 test-takers were determined to be proxies.

“When we implement photo measures in “Country A,” we could see people from Country A go take the test in Country B, which was happening in volume before,” Weiller says.

Cisco actually considered fingerprinting all test-takers, but decided photo IDs would sufficiently address the cheating problem while being less intrusive.

The photo requirements and data forensics program will target high-volume exam centers initially, and will be rolled out throughout the Cisco exam program over the next year. In another change, all score reports will be considered “preliminary” for 72 hours, giving Cisco investigators enough time to “scrub through [the tests] with a fine-toothed comb,” Ullanderson says.Candidates will initially receive paper score reports, and then after analysis the official results will be posted to the Web within 72 hours. Then candidates can access their official scores online at this site using their personal authentication codes.

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