Website Hijacking by Contract Cheating Companies

April 17, 2018

For a while now I’ve been working on projects related to preventing and addressing violations of academic integrity such as plagiarism and contract cheating. Contract cheating is a complex form of cheating, but it basically boils down to someone else doing the work on behalf of a student. The term “contract cheating” was coined more than a decade ago, in 2006, by Clarke and Lancaster in the U.K.

There are companies whose entire business model is focused on helping students cheat. They can go by different names depending on the services they offer. They have been called “essay mills”, “paper mills” or “homework completion services”. The companies make their money in different ways. They might charge by the page or charge a flat fee for an entire assignment.

To the surprise of many teachers and educational administrators, contract cheating is big business. Studies have found that this industry is likely worth a minimum of $100 Million USD in the United States (Owings and Nelson, 2014). Studies in the UK and New Zealand also estimate the contract cheating industry to be worth millions in those countries, too (Draper & Newton, 2017; Yorke, 2017).

These companies lure in students with offers of “help” and promises of making their lives easier. Their rhetoric is that of persuasion and manipulation. They try to trick students into believing that there is nothing wrong with paying a company to do academic work on their behalf when nothing could be further from the truth. The language contract cheating companies use in their advertising seems benevolent, but the primary focus is for them to make money, not to help students. These companies are driven by profit first and foremost. They have sophisticated marketing methods that can be both aggressive, insidious, and sometimes, even illegal.

I had heard anecdotally that contract cheating companies sometimes hijack other websites, putting their own ads on the site. Presumably, it is cheaper for them to hire a hacker to get into a less secure site than to pay to have their ads posted legitimately online. Last week, I accidentally found one such website. The website seemed to belong to a small, well-meaning community organization in the United States.

I have redacted the information to avoid the possibility of legal action, but here is a screen shot showing what it looked like:

Contract cheating website hack

Figure 1: Screen shot of redacted webpage compromised by a contract cheating company.

Upon analyzing the situation more deeply, it looked like the hijackers had gone into the organization’s web site and created several sub-pages. The original pages of the organization such as the home page and sub-pages created by the legitimate website owner were completely intact and untouched. It looked to me as if the hijackers had gone into the background of the site and created additional, publicly available sub-pages where they then posted ads for a contract cheating company, complete with links that re-directed to the contract cheating company’s website. Upon inspecting the website further, I found that the metadata of the page had been populated hidden keywords such as “essay writing”, “plagiarism-free” and “thesis assistance”. This means that students searching for those terms might be led to the advertisement on the newly-created sub-pages, which they would then click on to be re-directed to the contract cheating website. If that was the case, then this an unsuspecting community organization might not have found the newly-created sub-pages for some time.

Small non-profits and community organizations often lack awareness and resources about how companies like this can compromise their websites. In an excellent article on nonprofit cybersecurity, Sheela Nimishakavi (2018) notes “all nonprofits need to implement appropriate security measures”. Julie Campbell (2018) offers some excellent tips on how nonprofits can fight cyber-attacks. Here are a couple of Campbell’s recommendations:

  1. Upgrade your computers and software.
  2. Train and inform employees and volunteers.
  3. Focus on passwords.

A website owner, whether they are an individual or an organization, may be completely unaware when a contract cheating company compromises their site. If you see an ad for a contract cheating company, look at the website address. If it looks like it might belong to a person or an organization who is not at all affiliated with exploiting students, contact the website owner to let them know. In this case, I found the contact information for the website owner and e-mailed them to let them know their site had been compromised.

References

Campbell, J. (2018). 8 ways nonprofits can fight cyber attacks. The Balance. Retrieved from https://www.thebalance.com/better-nonprofit-cyber-security-2502537

Clarke, R., & Lancaster, T. (2006, June). Eliminating the successor to plagiarism: Identifying the usage of contract cheating sites. Paper presented at the Second International Plagiarism Conference, Gateshead, United Kingdom.

Draper, M. J., & Newton, P. M. (2017). A legal approach to tackling contract cheating? International Journal for Educational Integrity, 13(1), 1-16. doi:10.1007/s40979-017-0022-5

Nimishakavi, S. (2018). It’s 2018: Do you know where your nonprofit’s cybersecurity is? Nonprofit Quarterly. Retrieved from https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2018/01/26/2018-know-nonprofits-cybersecurity/

Owings, S., & Nelson, J. (2014). The essay industry. Mountain Plains Journal of Business and Economics, 15, 1-21. Retrieved from http://www.mountainplains.org/articles/2014/General%20Research/Mountain_Plains_Journal_of_Business_and_Economics_Volume_15_2014_1-21_General_Research_Owings.pdf

Yorke, H. (2017, January 13). More than 20,000 university students buying essays and dissertations as Lords call for ban on ‘contract cheating.’ The Telegraph. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/01/13/20000-university-students-buying-essays-dissertations-lords/

Note: This blog post is a reprint of a full report that is archived in the University of Calgary digital repository. Here is the citation for the original:

Eaton, S.E. (2018). Website Hijacking by Contract Cheating Companies. Calgary: University of Calgary. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1880/106494

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

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New Journal: Canadian Perspectives on Academic Integrity

March 13, 2018

I’m so pleased to announce the launch of a new journal: Canadian Perspectives on Academic Integrity.

CPAI

We officially launched the journal on March 3, 2018 at the annual conference of the International Center for Academic Integrity, held in Richmond, Virginia.

Focus and Scope

The objectives of this online, open source journal is to provide Canadian practitioners working in the area of academic integrity with a venue to share experiences and insights about their work.

This journal is focused on the Canadian context. Submissions are accepted from those with an e-mail address from a Canadian educational institution. Independent scholars without a Canadian institutional address should contact the editor before submitting a manuscript.

Open Access Policy

This journal provides immediate open access to its content on the principle that making research freely available to the public supports a greater global exchange of knowledge.

Inaugural Issue

The inaugural issue features articles from some wonderful expert Canadian practitioners. The first, from Leeanne Morrow is, “Academic integrity outreach: Supporting high school students for success in higher education“. In this article, Morrow talks about the outreach she does with local secondary students to help them understand what academic integrity is and how knowing about it will benefit them once they are in university.

In the second article, Loie Gervias, talks about “Launching an institutional academic integrity campaign“. She offers practical tips on what works, what doesn’t and also shares some of the marketing materials her team used in their own campaign.

Brandy Usick and I also offer tips and advice in our “Writers’ guide for prospective contributors“. Our objective is to encourage those who work in the field of academic integrity as professional practitioners to share their knowledge, insights and wisdom.

We are looking forward to adding more contributors and articles as the journal continues to evolve.

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.


How parents help their kids cheat in school

March 6, 2018

I recently heard an acquaintance complain about how tired they were at work one morning. The reason? “I was up all night working on my kid’s science project.”

The parent was adamant that their child had to “do well” on the science project. To that parent, “doing well” meant getting a good grade and receiving praise (and possibly a prize) from the judges. It wasn’t about if or how much their child learned during the process.

That got me thinking about the various ways I’ve observed parents helping their kids cheat in school. Here are a few:

Doing the work for them

When parents do their kids’ homework for them, students don’t learn.

Fixing all the mistakes

When parents fix all the mistakes so their child can hand in a perfect assignment, it doesn’t show the teacher how the student needs to improve.

Re-writing it

When parents re-write a student’s work to make it sound better, the end product does not reflect the student’s current writing ability.

Re-designing it

When parents re-work the slide deck or improve the design of a project, the end product shows what the parent can do, not the child.

Doing all the research

Parents are not helping their kids learn when they do all the background research for a project.

5 Ways parents help their kids cheat in school.jpg

Parents need to stop equating doing their children’s school work as an act of service that shows their children how much they love them. Doing a child’s school work does not send the message, “I love you!” Instead, it enables the child to avoid learning things for themselves.

When parents to school work on behalf of their children, it is a form of cheating. In fact, it is part of special kind of academic dishonesty called “contract cheating”. This is when a student has someone else do their work on their behalf. Contract cheating can happen when students buy their school work off the internet for money, or when they agree to have anyone else do their work for them, even if no money is exchanged. There is still an implicit contract in place: Someone else is doing the work on behalf of the student.

Parents can be active partners in their child’s success when they focus on learning as a process, not as an end product. That is why it is important for parents to help children learn skills like writing, designing and researching and to improve their skills over time. Learning isn’t about being perfect; it is a lifelong process that keeps going long after students leave school.

I am not saying this is easy. The temptation to “help” a child succeed can be strong. It is important for parents to understand that helping does not mean doing the student’s work for them.

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

 


21st century definition of plagiarism

January 23, 2018

Not long after I started getting interested in academic integrity, I began wondering how different universities defined plagiarism in their official policy documents. That led me to do an analysis of policy documents from 20 Canadian higher education institutions, and the results were published in the peer-reviewed scholarly journal, Interchange. Basically, what I found was that there was no consistent definition of plagiarism across Canadian post-secondary institutions. In other words, we don’t agree about what actually constitutes plagiarism.

This makes it confusing for students and for professors, especially considering that students might attend one school to do their undergraduate degree and another for their graduate degree, or that professors sometimes change jobs, leaving one institution for another.

It used to be that the definition of plagiarism was simple: literary theft, but it is a lot more complicated than that in the 21st century, where digital outputs account for as much, if not more than, printed products. Students and professors have asked me, “So, how do you define plagiarism in plain and simple terms?” The answer is actually quite complex and a bit messy. But in the interest of demystifying the issue, here is a straight forward infographic that may help.

Let me say that this resource is simplified — perhaps overly so. My goal here isn’t to be reductionist and I fully acknowledge that not everyone may agree with these simplified explanations. But sometimes it can be easier to wrap your head around something simple to start and then tease out the complexities once you are more comfortable with the basic concepts.  I offer these not as the be-all-and-end-all definition, but rather as a starting point to help educators and students clarify and demystify basic concepts and also to engage in productive conversations about how to cultivate academic integrity and reduce plagiarism.

Definition of plagiarism (jpg)

Here is a free, downloadable .pdf of this infographic that you are welcome to use with your students for teaching purposes. Feel free to use it as a conversation starter to help students understand what plagiarism is and how to prevent it in their own work.

Related post:

Comparative Analysis of Institutional Policy Definitions of Plagiarism: A Pan-Canadian University Study https://wp.me/pNAh3-1LD

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


New article: “Credit where credit is due”

December 19, 2017

Credit where credit is due - coverIn my latest article, “Credit where credit is due: How to prevent plagiarism in the 21st century classroom” I tackle the tricky question of what it means to plagiarize in the age of copy-and-paste. I also offer K-12 teachers five practical tips on how to prevent plagiarism among school-age children.

Most of my research and writing is focusing more and more on academic integrity and plagiarism prevention in higher education contexts. But it is important for K-12 teachers to be able to talk about these topics to their students, too. That’s what inspired me to write this article.

The full article was published by the EdCan Network and it is a web exclusive in their most recent edition. You can check it out here: https://www.edcan.ca/articles/credit-where-credit-is-due/

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Understanding academic misconduct: Special event

November 21, 2017

University of Calgary logoIn my role as Interim Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning for the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary, I am pleased announce we will welcome Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes to our campus for a special visit on November 24, 2017.

We have two events that are open to the public that I wanted to share with all of you:

Lunchtime Keynote: Understanding academic misconduct: Creating robust cultures of integrity

Time: 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

Location: University of Calgary, Taylor Institute Forum

This keynote will draw from Christensen Hughes’s research with the late Don McCabe, founder of the International Center for Academic Integrity. Their work was published in 2006 the Canadian Journal of Higher Education (see http://journals.sfu.ca/cjhe/index.php/cjhe/article/view/183537 and http://journals.sfu.ca/cjhe/index.php/cjhe/article/view/183525), and they were awarded with the Sheffield Award from the Canadian Society for Studies in Higher Education (CSSHE) for their contribution.

Afternoon workshop: Strengthening a culture of integrity at the University of Calgary

Time: 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Location: University of Calgary, Taylor Institute Forum

This workshop will provide a deeper analysis of why academic misconduct is happening on Canadian university campuses, including from the perspectives of faculty and TAs. Working in groups, participants will discuss their experience at the University of Calgary and generate specific suggestions for what the University might do to strengthen its culture of integrity.

About Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes

jch-colour-photoDr. Julia Christensen Hughes is Dean of the College of Business and Economics (CBE) at the University of Guelph. With a career defined by advocacy, Julia has addressed the United Nations General Assembly on the need for business schools to contribute to advancing the UN’s sustainable development goals, including quality education. Previously, Julia served as President of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, a predominantly Canadian organization committed to enhancing the quality of teaching and learning in post-secondary institutions. During this same time, she served as the Director of Teaching Support Services at the University of Guelph.

Julia Christensen Hughes’s scholarly work includes the edited book, Taking Stock: Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (2010), McGill-Queen’s University Press. She has also written on ethics and integrity in the academy, with papers published in the Canadian Journal of Higher Education. Julia has received a number of awards and recognitions, including the Gold “educator” award from the Ontario Hostelry Institute (OHI); the Sheffield Award from the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education, for excellence in research; the University of Guelph’s John Bell Award, for distinguished educational leadership; and the “Woman of Distinction Award” from the Guelph YMCA, for outstanding contributions to education and training.

These events are open to all members of the campus community and the public.

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Universities unite against the academic black market

October 17, 2017

The ConversationOn the TV show Suits, Mike Ross’s character charges a hefty fee to students to take the LSAT (law school admission test) for them. Ross has a stellar memory and a remarkable ability to take tests without getting crushed by stress — he is the perfect “contract cheater.” Later, Ross builds a career as a lawyer based on fake credentials, presumably from Harvard.

Mike Ross may be fictional, but his business is only too real within universities globally. “Contract cheaters” such as Ross complete academic work on a student’s behalf — for a fee. This work includes test taking and homework services. It includes essay-writing and even PhD thesis-writing services, also known as “paper mills.”

In my role as interim associate dean of teaching and learning at the University of Calgary, and as a researcher who specializes in plagiarism prevention and academic integrity, I have been writing about contract cheating since 2010. Since then, it has become rampant at high school and post-secondary levels.

This black market for academic work is vast and little understood. Universities in Canada, and around the world, are having a very hard time trying to police it.

On Oct. 18, 2017, many universities have committed to the second International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating. This aims to tackle the issue head on — by raising awareness and sharing prevention strategies.

Read the whole article in The Conversation (originally published on Oct. 16, 2017).

Check out the radio interview I did on CBC: http://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/calgary-eyeopener/segment/14438512

Related posts:

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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