Students assigned to cheat on exam use doctored Little Brother cover and many other clever methods

The IEEE's Computer and Reliability Societies recently published "Embracing the Kobayashi Maru," by James Caroland (US Navy/US Cybercommand) and Greg Conti (West Point) describing an exercise in which they assigned students to cheat on an exam -- either jointly or individually. The goal was to get students thinking about how to secure systems from adversaries who are willing to "cheat" to win. The article describes how the students all completed the exam (they all cheated successfully), which required them to provide the first 100 digits of pi, with only 24h to prepare. The students used many ingenious techniques as cribs, but my heart was warmed to learn that once student printed a false back-cover for my novel Little Brother with pi 1-100 on it (Little Brother is one of the course readings, so many copies of it were already lying around the classroom).

James and Greg have supplied a link to a pre-pub of the paper (the original is paywalled), and sent along a video of a presentation they gave at Shmoocon where they presented the work. The students' solutions are incredibly ingenious -- the audience is practically howling with laughter by the end of the presentation.

(Thanks, Ben!)


  1. Meh, most just kept a cheat note, nothing impressive about that. Only a handful used innovative methods, which was clearly a waste of their time as even the most blatant cheaters went uncaught.

    1. Ironically, that sounds like a justification for cheating.  Why waste your time and learn something new when it’s so easy to cheat on the test?

      The point of the exercise was to learn to think like a cheater or to “think outside the box,” so the people who came up with the most innovative methods were getting the most from the exercise.  Just because it’s possible to blatantly cheat on a test doesn’t mean that learning the test material is a waste of your time.

      1. Technically though, going to extreme ends to cheat defeats the purpose of cheating, often making it less work to play fair. In this case there was little or no risk of being caught, so complex solutions were counter productive.

        1. “Technically though, going to extreme ends to cheat defeats the purpose of cheating, often making it less work to play fair.”

          Unless you’re really good at cheating. Just because the typical person would spend ten times as long duplicating your cheat as they would studying, it doesn’t mean that you put that much effort into it. You could just be better at cheating. Similarly, just because you put in ten times the effort at studying as a typical person doesn’t necessarily mean you will out-perform them. You could just be really terrible with the tested material.

          Cheating isn’t just about dodging work; it’s about shifting work from something you’re bad at (physics, math, history, etc.) to something you’re good at (cheating). And honestly, it’s not that bad a strategy when you consider that the ability to cheat is a more general skill. It translates well to any test, regardless of subject. Further, if you take the time to cheat at every opportunity, even when you don’t really need to, you can improve your cheating abilities for when you really need them. Then it definitely shouldn’t take that much effort to set up a cheat in the future.

          So long as you can avoid getting caught or being unprepared for a follow-up — a second test, a higher-level class, or a career that actually uses the subject — it makes a certain degree of sense. Alternatively, if you really want to make cheating unprofitable for everyone, have a test which is more closely linked to the material than it is to any previously test: assign a unique project to each person that actually requires them to use what they were supposed to learn.

    1. It’s the problem with embedding a joke on a slide and only getting to it after talking for three minutes. Most people will have already read it — but it would have been rude laugh while he was talking — and when he gets to it the impact is lost.

  2. The vid was awesome… the payoff of a VIP parking pass was motivation to cheat WELL.  There were a few good ones, although no audio ones

  3. All’s fair in love and war…and it is guaranteed that our enemy will *NOT* fight us using our rules of fair-play!

  4. “What’s the answer to number five, you ask me Professor? Well, I have a question for you on this fine Wednesday… How secure do you think the Happy Times Canary Song Day Care is? You know the one: where you left little Ashley at exactly 7:52 this morning. Aaaaaaah yes Professor, that IS the answer to number five. It is indeed.”

  5. Well, it’s a beginner’s class and all that but the combination of being allowed to bring extraneous objects into the examination hall, something they never allowed in my day, and the availability, also unavailable until recently, of colour printers with any fonts you like in them, make this a rather trivial exercise.  In my old Engineering school two of the students who were caught used handbuilt morse code radios in the shoe heels and carefully pre-planted rolls of toilet paper with answers printed on them.  Presumably the people who weren’t caught did better than that but  I wouldn’t know about such things.

  6. This could have been a great paper.  But where are the citations?  Especially sweeping statements as the opening 2 sentences that set up their premise:  “Adversaries cheat.  We don’t.”.   I am not sure if this is satire, or pseudo-science.   I loved their talk though!

  7. The temptation to cheat this test would have been HUGE!

    I mean, the temptation to break the *one rule* they gave for the class: don’t memorise it.

  8. Did anyone else notice that the student who made the Big Brother cover actually  did memorize the first 18 digits of pi?

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