Editor's Desk

Guilty as Charged

Quick test: Have you ever used a "braindump" for exam preparation? The answer to that question may not be as simple as a "yes" or "no."

If you haven’t had the chance to read the remarkable series of articles written by Editor Becky Nagel and posted on sister site CertCities.com regarding Robert Keppel, you’ll want to at http://certcities.com/editorial/

This story has all the makings of a lowbrow Dominick Dunne exposé in Vanity Fair. In a case that brought in the FBI Computer Crimes Division, Keppel pleaded guilty to selling Microsoft exam questions through a couple of braindump sites he ran in Oregon. In a plea agreement, Keppel gave up a Lexus, a Ferrari and $56,000 in cash. He received a year and a day in prison for his crimes, plus a hefty fine.

For a while, there were rumors that the company might hand over its customer lists, too. Could thousands of MCPs face decertification for doing the unthinkable, buying from a braindump? A lot of you will be disappointed to learn that now it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. (And a lot of you will be just as relieved, too, I’m sure.)

What’s truly salacious are the contents of the motion for a reduced sentence filed by Keppel’s attorney. Many of the facts are dubious: that one well-known practice test vendor came under fire from Redmond after canceling an unprofitable licensing agreement. Others are plain wrong: that the exams cost $150. And still others are intriguing: that the FBI agent in charge of the case has since gone to work for Microsoft; and that the source of the braindump material came from a mysterious, unreachable individual in Pakistan.

But what strikes me as most thought-provoking is the defense attorney’s charge that the real reason Microsoft’s mad about all of this is because it couldn’t control the business. She writes: “Microsoft is a highly visible and active participant in this cheat industry providing its own practice manuals, offering on-line practice exams, licensing agreements with a dozen other vendors and even generously offering a ‘boot camp’ to help test takers prepare...”

Interesting point, though a tad exaggerated. The document cites Microsoft Press books that include mock test questions. Her point? “It is clear that even if the test contents are proprietary, they may not be ‘trade secrets’…Microsoft has taken only superficial steps to keep test information secret. Actually any attempt to keep the tests and questions ‘secret’ are obviated by their own conscious and overt participation in making tests and questions public.”

Where does the boundary lie between what’s allowed and what’s not? It’s something I’ve asked myself through the years of my involvement with this publication. I cringe at some of the advertising we’ve accepted. Haven’t we been party to the “cheat industry,” too?

A year and a day in prison. That puts a new light on the matter. Maybe it’s time to discuss just where the wall between legitimate help and prosecutable activities lies. Tell me your thoughts at [email protected].

About the Author

Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.


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