Spy equipment, cheap spy equipment, spy gear

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Spy equipment cheating at school

Putting Tech to the Test: As Students Turn to High-Tech Gadgets to Cheat, Schools Consider Turning to High-Tech Gadgets to Stop Them

CHEATING HAS entered the digital age. Around the world, students have stopped hiding crib sheets and whispering to their neighbors -- and started swapping test answers by cellphone, camera phone and PDA.

In January 2003, the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business failed a group of accounting students for using cellphones to receive text-message answers during a test. In England last summer, proctors caught 254 secondary-school students illicitly using cellphones during tests, according to the Assessments and Qualifications Alliance, a testing administrator. In June, five students in China were caught text-messaging answers for a national university-entrance exam. The students face criminal charges of stealing state secrets. Other e-cheaters have cropped in Ireland, South Korea, New Zealand and Canada.

Now a handful of tech firms and software developers, many of them in Europe, have begun hawking high-tech countermeasures to put the cheaters out of business. The most aggressive gadgets block cellphone signals. Others simply sound an alarm when a signal is detected.

Many schools and testing centers are shunning the devices, saying they don't want to turn their facilities into high-tech surveillance zones. But some high-profile names in education think electronic solutions are rapidly becoming a necessity.

Electronic cheating is "definitely a major problem. We deal with it every day," says Bud Wood, president of the National College Testing Association, a trade group for testing professionals, and manager for testing services at Brigham Young University, the largest university- testing center in the U.S. "We are trying to find ways to detect it. I think we will definitely go ahead with" purchasing cellphone detectors.

He says his center is looking at a handheld cellphone-signal detector developed by Global Gadget Ltd. of England. The device's manufacturer, Zetron, also builds detectors for Cellbusters Mobile Security Products, of Phoenix. The devices can pick up radio waves emitted from any cellphone or wireless PDA within 30 meters. When the waves are detected, the gadget flashes a red light, sounds an alarm or broadcasts a prerecorded message asking the cellphone user to turn off the phone.

Safe Haven Technologies Ltd., based in England, has developed a software application that would disable the camera function on cellphones. The blocking function kicks in whenever the phones pick up a signal from a wireless server, which would be installed in schools.

The company says it hasn't found a phone maker to install the software in its products, although there are "progressed negotiations with a growing number of handset manufacturers and network operators," says Patrick Snow, chief executive of Safe Haven.

Cell Block Technologies Inc., based in Fairfax, Virginia, is currently developing Quiet Cell, a device that would automatically reroute incoming calls to voice mail and block outgoing calls. "There is a tremendous amount of concern in schools -- everything from the bar exam to you name it," says J. David Derosier, president and CEO of Cell Block. "We have even talked with some schools that have offered to be test sites." Mr. Derosier says that from February to May, his company's Web site saw a 50% increase in hits from U.S. schools over last year.

But his product faces a big hurdle: It would be illegal in the U.S. under Federal Communications Commission regulations, which prohibit interfering with licensed telecommunications. Mr. Derosier says he plans to launch a grass-roots effort to change the rules, by taking his company public and having shareholders work as a lobbying team. For now, he says he will also focus on markets outside the U.S.

For some of these tech companies, anti-cheating is a relatively new sideline. Their original business was preventing cellphone use in prisons, government and military facilities, hospitals and movie theaters -- anyplace that had imposed phone-regulation policies.

Cellbusters CEO Derek Forde says he originally thought that the detector would be best used in schools to prevent cellphones ringing in class. He didn't realize that there was a market for anti-cheating devices until he noticed that "converged" cellphones -- which can take pictures, store lots of data, send e-mail and surf the Web -- were becoming cheap enough for students to afford.

"Students are able to text in their pocket without seeing their phone," says Mr. Forde. "They are able to do it almost blindfolded."

Currently, few schools or testing centers in the U.S. will admit to officially using electronic devices to prevent cheating. Mr. Forde says educational facilities currently account for about 5% of his sales, but adds that many potential customers are testing the device, including a large U.S. testing center.

Some schools outside of the U.S. have already put the technology in place. At Heathland School in Hounslow, England, Senior Deputy Head Nigel Roper uses a Taiwanese cellphone detector. "Mobile-phone technology is becoming more sophisticated," Mr. Roper says, explaining that some children have been caught using cellphones to send text messages and photo images of the test answers.

He has found that the detector is best used as a deterrent rather than an active alarm. All in all, he considers the detector to be "quite a good investment."

Another British school found detectors useless. "We tried it out as an experiment, but it wasn't much use to us," says Tony Hacking, deputy head of All Hallows High School in Preston, England.

Mr. Hacking complains that the detector, from Global Gadget, isn't sophisticated enough to identify the student who is using a device -- just the general area from where the signal is coming from.

Other potential users express concerns that the detector would be prone to false alarms. Moreover, they argue, the process of hunting down an offender would be disruptive to honest test takers, and would take so long it would allow a student ample time to illicitly access a cellphone or PDA.

Michael Menage, CEO of Global Gadget, says the device is used best as a deterrent. "It is not designed to track somebody down and hone in on the exact desk," he says, adding, "Even the best cellphone detector" can't automatically pinpoint a cheater.

Still, he suggests that cheaters are intimidated by the presence of the gadget in the test room. If you received an illicit message and a proctor was patrolling with a detector, "I think you'd look pretty damned guilty," he says.

As far as disruptiveness, he says that the device can be switched to vibrate instead of sounding an alarm. But he concedes that it could be distracting to have a teacher walking down aisles pointing the device at people.

Ultimately, though, Mr. Hacking booted the device because he didn't like the reputation it gave his school. It "made our school look as if it was the cheat center of the universe."

Many schools share the concern about image. Some parents say cellphone detectors, like metal detectors, would make schools come to resemble prisons.

Diane Waryold, executive director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, thinks the prospect of electronic monitoring devices in the classroom is "a little bit troubling." She says, "We are trying to create a trusting relationship between faculty and students. I don't want to see an arms race with our students."

For the time being, most schools dictate that cellphones must be switched off during the day -- and some have banned them outright. But bans carry their own image problem. With the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks still fresh in their memory, many parents want to keep constant lines of communication to their children.

Since schools have proved tough to crack, Cellbusters is turning its attention to large testing centers, which have a hefty financial stake in the integrity of exams. According to Tom Ewing, spokesman for Educational Testing Services, a single SAT test -- an American university entrance exam -- takes almost a year to create, and costs between $250,000 and $350,000 (204,000 euros and 285,000 euros).

The Law School Admission Council, the official administrator of the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT, became intimately aware of the threat in 1997, when a University of Southern California test taker ran out of the exam room with his test book. A proctor chased him, but couldn't stop him from hopping into a getaway car.

Hours later, the thief sent the LSAT answers to two test takers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa -- where the test was just commencing -- via electronic pager. The proctor became suspicious when she noticed the test takers frequently looking at their pagers. She let them finish their exams, then contacted the LSAC, which turned the case over to the Los Angeles Police Department.

All three students were prosecuted in California Superior Court on charges of conspiracy to commit robbery. They were sentenced to a year in jail each and forced to pay $97,000 in restitution to the LSAC.

The LSAC retains experts in electronic surveillance equipment from Securitas Security Services USA Inc. to provide staff to administer tests, carry out security investigations and alert testing companies of the latest cheating gadgetry and trends.

But, for now, it doesn't use electronic detection devices. Jim Vaseleck, executive assistant to the president of the LSAC, notes that astute proctors, not gadgets, foiled the USC plot.

"We instruct test takers and train proctors that folks are not allowed to bring electronic devices into testing centers," he says.

Plus, he believes that low-tech cheating schemes, which can be combated only with astute proctors, remain a bigger problem. He notes incidents where test takers carved exam answers into No. 2 pencils, selling them on the black market for close to $1,000, or lined up different-colored M&Ms on a desk to correspond to answers of multiple- choice questions. "Electronic devices present more of a nuisance than a security problem," Mr. Vaseleck says.

Wall Street Journal. (Europe). Brussels: Sep 17, 2004.  pg. R.6