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1/03/2012

How To Stop Kids Hacking iPads In Digital Exams [iPad@School]

By Charlie Sorrel.

A Scottish School is prepping its iPads for exam season. Cedars School of Excellence in Greenock, Inverclyde, was the first school in the world to deploy an iPad to every one of its pupils. Now it may become the first school to try to stop its pupils from iCheating in exams.

The brains behind Cedars’ iPad program is Fraser Speirs, who you may know from his iOS and OS X apps. Now he’s faced with trying to stop a school full of 15-18 year-olds from hacking their way to exam success.

When I was in school, we weren’t even allowed to use pocket calculators in our examinations, and invigilation duties required little more than watching for pupils passing notes and whispering to each other. Cedars will instead use PDF exam papers loaded into PDF Expert, which are then printed onto paper via AirPrint to be graded.

This brings a whole slew of new “cheat vectors” to the game.

Speirs starts off by wiping spare iPads and starting from scratch. Using the configuration utility that lets you administer large fleets of iPad, he switches off almost everything, including Safari, YouTube, app installation and iCloud. Mail remains active, but is locked to prevent new accounts from being added, which leaves iMessage as the main weakness.

The trick is that iMessage needs a connection to set up. The schools servers have blacklisted the MAC addresses of the exam iPads, preventing internet connections, which fixes that. To wirelessly print the papers at the end of the exam, a printer is connected to a Mac Mini with an ad-hoc wireless network enabled. It is not connected to the internet.

It’s a fascinating problem, and as iPads become more prevalent in schools these issues will surely become more common. Speirs’ article is a great read, and as he points out, “I’m defending this system against 15-18 year old kids from Greenock, not GCHQ and the NSA. It’s important not to go overboard with the paranoia.”

And remember: even if the kids can hack the system, they’re still going to have to do it fast enough to leave time for the exam itself.

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