Hacks targeting British exam boards raise fears of students cheating
Police in Britain are investigating multiple incidents in which national exam papers for school-leavers were stolen by hackers and sold online to students seeking to cheat on their tests.
The exam season in England and Wales — running between May 15 and June 27 — usually sees a surge in attempts to sell fake exam papers online, as the BBC recently reported, but it is rare for genuine data breaches to impact exam boards.
However in an incident affecting the OCR and Pearson Edexcel examiners, it is suspected a hacker was able to access a school's internal email system to request papers from the exam boards, as first reported by Schools Week.
A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire Constabulary confirmed to Recorded Future News they were “investigating a data breach where two examination boards have had exam papers extracted from their systems and sold online.”
The spokesperson added that the investigation was still in its early stages and that the force was collaborating with the government and the National Crime Agency’s cybercrime unit.
Another cyber incident affecting AQA, the largest exam board in Britain, also was confirmed this weekend.
The affected exam boards declined to comment individually, instead responding collectively through the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) which said: “Exam boards have reported a small number of contained incidents of alleged fraud to the police.”
A spokesperson for Surrey Police told Recorded Future News: “We are currently investigating an allegation of fraud and computer misuse involving a data breach at AQA, whose main office is based at the University of Surrey.”
Surrey Police said the incident was reported to them on June 16, toward the very end of the exam season, although it is not clear when it actually took place. They added that no arrests have yet been made.
The main examinations in Britain are GCSEs (typically taken by 16-year-olds at the end of compulsory education) and A-Levels (equivalent to AP exams in the U.S.) which form part of university entry requirements.
Students who are found to have purchased the stolen exams could have their results disqualified and be banned from re-sitting the exams for a set period, potentially missing out on their university placements.
The spokesperson for JCQ said: “As the police are actively investigating, it would not be appropriate for us to provide further information. As in any year, those found to have been involved in malpractice will face severe consequences.”
In late May, a cyberattack disrupted national end-of-year high school exams in Greece.
Alexander Martin is the UK Editor for Recorded Future News. He was previously a technology reporter for Sky News and is also a fellow at the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative.