Vertical Markets

Grade-hacking services and fakes online

by Mark Rowe

Exam pressure? Cyber criminals are offering black market grade-hacking services and fake qualifications online, and ensuring these opportunities are easy to find with a quick internet search, a cyber product company’s researchers have found.

Reports of young people breaking into school IT systems to change grades, improve attendance records or disrupt test processes are not new, and nor is the availability of fake certificates and diplomas. Over the years, a thriving underground industry has grown up to facilitate cheating in academic exams, says Kaspersky. This includes discussion fora and how-to guides and videos. The firm’s researchers decided to take a closer look at such education fraud.

A single online search on June 12 at once found a supplier of grade hacking services and fake diplomas, with an easy-to-follow order form enabling the customer to select the subject, level of degree and issuing institution of their choice. School certificates covering a long list of subjects were also available.

The researchers also looked at some of the most widely used school information systems and found that alongside a history of reported bugs, many relied only on user names and passwords to authenticate access for students, parents and teachers – making them worryingly easy to hack using stolen or re-used credentials.

David Jacoby, security evangelist at Kaspersky said: “As education becomes more digital and connected, the information systems that support learning provide new opportunities for even moderately skilled hackers, and if you don’t want to do it yourself you can find a hacking service online to do it for you. Our research also uncovered a black market vendor who, in return for a fee, would create a certificate of your choice. For the majority of young people, working hard to prepare for and take exams, and the schools and colleges supporting them, such cheating can be very demoralising – and that’s aside from the fact that education fraud is a criminal offence. Teachers are not security specialists and may not naturally know or remember what to do, but fortunately there are some simple steps educational institutions, and employers looking to verify achievements can take to stay safe.”

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