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


How do you stop kids from cheating on exams in an iPad age? Photo Brad Flickinger/Flickr CC By 2.0

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.

  • Brendan Donovan

    Maybe the test should simply be to hack the test. Everyone loves creative problem solving. :)

  • VGISoftware

    What’s really stupid (as well as detestable) about this whole hacking/cheating thing is that schools seem oblivious to administering REAL exams which consult students’ ability to APPLY what they’ve supposedly learned through individual live demonstration, not just by ticking off multiple choice answers.

  • joewaylo

    Now if they could do that for doctors who are using “recalls” on the test questions and cheating on their systems, that’ll be cool.

  • Clark Wallace

    An article about Scotland?! GO US!

  • Jordan Clay

    you forgot an “A”

    GO USA!!

  • joewaylo

    If it was a USA school, I’d cheer with you as well.

    GO Scotland!

  • Jordan Clay

    Why not create a program that requires a pass code to get OUT of.  On exam day the student brings in Their iPad, the administrator opens up a program, types in a password to get to a test bank,  selects a test bank, That program would lock out all cell signals.  If the iPad were turned off it would open up default to that program until the exit button were selected and a passcode was once again typed in?

    Just hashed it out in about 5 minutes. What is your take

  • Timothy Murphy

    So, turning off school wifi, big whoop. All you do is get a phone with hotspot, have your friends connect, and your done. Talk to a good student that is good or decent with technology, they will find loopholes.

  • Rob

    They don’t need a bunch of extra software, just use Profile Manager found in Lion Server to create a “test” profile that locks down whatever you want on the iPad. The students simply register their iPads before the test, just like Law students have to do in the USA with their PCs, and you’re ready to go. After the test, the instructor removes the test profile, applying whatever profile the school normally uses (since these are school property) and the student is ready for their next class. This doesn’t take a long time to do. 

    As for multiple guess tests, I agree with the others. Use the iPad for what it’s meant to be used for, not just a replacement for a paper test and please don’t simply print out the pdf to grade it by hand. iBook Author has the ability to create different types of tests and should have the ability to grade them automatically, collecting the results for the student and the teacher. This is where iTunes U can be expanded to lower grades for the benefit of everyone. 

    As for cheating, there’s no way to stop everyone from cheating so accept that fact and provide a good learning experience for those students who want to learn. You might find a reduction in cheating if the educational environment is conducive to real learning instead of just passing tests.

    (3 brothers, my wife, and 3 sister-in-laws are teachers but not me; I spent 25 years managing publications systems)

  • deadmanfred

    You took the words outta my mouth…though I would hope the teachers understand the concept of wifi and understand someone’s cheating when a new wifi name pops up in the listing. 

  • Shaunathan Sprocket

    Everything I wanted to point out was done so by Rob, excellent comment!

  • al friede

    “Using the configuration utility that lets you administer large fleets of iPad, he switches off almost everything”

    WHAT config utility do you speak of charlie? on the server or where? please hyperlink those two words and share the love [on this day of amore]!

  • wonword

    It is trivial to turn off the broadcast name (but also useless from a security standpoint).

  • wonword