For the industry as a whole, however, combating intellectual property theft has been an uphill battle. "You can shut the sites down but it's like pulling the top off a weed. It just pops up somewhere else," Kainrath adds.
"It's not mom and pop" thieves, says Fremer. "Organized sophisticated stealers can make millions -- or tens of millions -- from just one certification program."
So, test sites and certification programs try to react quickly to minimize the damage. CompTIA monitors online brain-dump sites and chat rooms for stolen test items, and uses analytics to determine whether any given question's effectiveness in measuring competency might have been compromised. "As soon as there's been any degradation we pull the item," Kainrath says. "We have huge item banks in reserve and can move questions in and out quickly."
Attacking pirates from the cloud
The traditional computer-based testing approach of having full copies of IT certification tests and answers stored in thousands of test centers worldwide has made test theft difficult to stop. To reduce the risk, IT certification providers are beginning to adopt Internet-based technology (IBT), cloud-based software as a service methodology that delivers questions, one at a time, in encrypted form, to a secured browser on each test taker's desktop.
This approach eliminates the need to download and store tests and answer keys at each testing site, which can have different levels of security depending on their size and where they're located. "The use of IBT is still relatively small but growing," Caveon's vice president Steve Addicott says, and big players such as Microsoft and CompTIA are already starting to adopt it.
At Microsoft, "We use the traditional delivery engine as well as just-in-time, Internet-based delivery," says Shelby Grieve, Microsoft's director of professional certifications.
Internet Testing Systems LLC sells software and online proctoring services that IT certification programs and test centers can use via a private-label portal to deliver content over the Internet to test takers anywhere. "We stream encrypted test items one at a time and only decrypt them when rendered on the screen," says Cabell Greenwood, vice president of business development.
Kryterion offers IBT and online proctoring for IT certification programs. With online proctoring, "There's no opportunity for any level of collusion between the proctor and the test taker," says Dave Meissner, chief operating officer at Kryterion Inc.
CompTIA is working with Pearson VUE to deploy IBT, possibly later this year, and Bryan Kainrath, vice president for certification operations at CompTIA, is bullish on the technology's prospects. "We don't have to send the answer keys. We pull the items back, take it offline, do the scoring and send the results to the candidate. We can secure items for a lot longer."
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