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."
- By Dian Schaffhauser
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.