Application Security // Database Security
4/24/2013
01:10 PM
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

When Education Gets Too Virtual

Students can use technology to undermine the integrity of education.

InformationWeek Green -  Mar. 4, 2013 InformationWeek Green
Download the entire May 2013 issue of InformationWeek Education, distributed in an all-digital format (registration required).


Hacking Higher Education

The visions of how technology can help students learn are promising. The reality of how students can use technology to undermine the integrity of education is already here.

The cover story of the new issue of InformationWeek Education begins with a recent news item about two students at Ohio's Miami University who used keylogger devices to capture professor passwords and gain access to an online grade book. They were arrested and expelled after admitting to changing grades for themselves and others.

In a similar case at California's Palos Verdes High School in January 2012, three students were charged with first breaking into the janitor's office to steal a classroom master key. They reportedly planted keylogging devices on multiple computers, mined passwords, and used them to alter scores on tests and homework just enough to bump grades up a bracket. The three students set up a commercial operation, charging $300 to boost a grade from a B to an A, according to the Los Angeles Times. They were charged with burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary.

My 12-year-old son has been known to do a little shoulder surfing to capture the "learning coach" password his mom and I use on the online educational website K12.com. He and his sister are in a virtual school, so getting the password let him grade some of his own schoolwork. The good news is that he isn't as clever as he thinks he is and routinely gets stopped when he tries a tactic like this one. My hope is that as he matures, he'll learn the lesson that it's more rewarding to actually do the work.

The Palos Verdes High School students were apparently smart kids, taking honors and AP classes. It's unclear whether they needed to inflate their own grades. None of the news stories I've read reports how they were caught, but it seems likely that news of their "enterprise" got back to school officials. At Miami University, a professor noticed that the grades in the online system didn't match her paper notes. To make such exploits easier to detect, the university's technology team is modifying its grade book software to send an email notification to instructors whenever grades are changed so they can confirm the legitimacy of those changes.

Academic cheating is nothing new. Like many of the ills associated with unauthorized use of computer systems, digitization just provides new techniques and temptations.

Do online education tools make cheating easier? Maybe, but in all of the examples cited above, cheating was thwarted by people who care about education and were paying attention. Should my son's grades get an inexplicable boost, or his latest essay show better spelling, grammar and vocabulary than he has produced before, his mom will know and have a talk with him. The Miami University students apparently tried to cover their tracks by changing grades for other students in addition to themselves. However, once investigators started looking at the pattern of grade changes across multiple courses, it wasn't hard to see a couple of students turning up as the common denominator.

As the digitization of education continues, "auditing a course" may take on a whole new meaning, as educators seek better ways to verify that grades reflect actual learning.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Dark Reading Tech Digest, Dec. 19, 2014
Software-defined networking can be a net plus for security. The key: Work with the network team to implement gradually, test as you go, and take the opportunity to overhaul your security strategy.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2014-3971
Published: 2014-12-25
The CmdAuthenticate::_authenticateX509 function in db/commands/authentication_commands.cpp in mongod in MongoDB 2.6.x before 2.6.2 allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (daemon crash) by attempting authentication with an invalid X.509 client certificate.

CVE-2014-7193
Published: 2014-12-25
The Crumb plugin before 3.0.0 for Node.js does not properly restrict token access in situations where a hapi route handler has CORS enabled, which allows remote attackers to obtain sensitive information, and potentially obtain the ability to spoof requests to non-CORS routes, via a crafted web site ...

CVE-2004-2771
Published: 2014-12-24
The expand function in fio.c in Heirloom mailx 12.5 and earlier and BSD mailx 8.1.2 and earlier allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary commands via shell metacharacters in an email address.

CVE-2014-3569
Published: 2014-12-24
The ssl23_get_client_hello function in s23_srvr.c in OpenSSL 1.0.1j does not properly handle attempts to use unsupported protocols, which allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (NULL pointer dereference and daemon crash) via an unexpected handshake, as demonstrated by an SSLv3 handshak...

CVE-2014-4322
Published: 2014-12-24
drivers/misc/qseecom.c in the QSEECOM driver for the Linux kernel 3.x, as used in Qualcomm Innovation Center (QuIC) Android contributions for MSM devices and other products, does not validate certain offset, length, and base values within an ioctl call, which allows attackers to gain privileges or c...

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Join us Wednesday, Dec. 17 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time to hear what employers are really looking for in a chief information security officer -- it may not be what you think.