Australia blocks biggest cheating sites

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Australia’s higher education regulator has made major progress in its war on the test mills, shutting down dozens of allegedly cheating university websites after brokering a co-operation deal with the industry trade association. communication.

The Higher Education Quality and Standards Agency (Teqsa) said it had blocked Australian access to 40 websites which collectively attracted almost half a million visits each month.

While Teqsa monitors nearly 600 suspicious websites, it said the targeted 40 were by far the largest and controlled about two-thirds of the traffic. “Blocking these websites will seriously disrupt the operations of the criminals behind them,” said Federal Education Minister Jason Clare.

The move represents a major escalation of Teqsa’s compliance action under anti-cheating legislation introduced in 2020. Last October, the agency won a federal court order requiring Australian telecom companies to block the access to two websites believed to be operated by an Indian syndicate.

This time, Teqsa was able to jam 20 times more websites without resorting to legal action thanks to new “protocols” negotiated with Australia’s major internet service providers (ISPs) through their representative association.

Helen Gniel, director of Teqsa’s higher education integrity unit, said the 2021 experiment served as a test case in demonstrating “what kind of evidence would satisfy a court”.

Under the protocols, which were finalized in June, Teqsa must demonstrate that websites violate its cheating laws. This allows it to make “legitimate requests” to ISPs to “disrupt access”, a spokesperson said.

The approach draws on Section 313 of the Australian Telecommunications Act as well as the anti-cheat provisions of the Teqsa Act. “Blocking all of these sites at once will impact business models,” Dr. Gniel said.

“It’s not a one-time request. We have established these relationships with the communications industry in order to be much more agile. We don’t need to have time to go through the court system. We can block them very quickly.

She predicted that Teqsa would take similar steps several times a year, usually during peak valuation periods. The agency also had the ability to thwart cheat websites that reopened with new web addresses – a common practice that leads commentators to liken the battle against the test mills to “whack-a-mole”.

“Web traffic analysis…means we can identify where traffic is moving,” Dr. Gniel said. “If we see a new site pop up that suddenly has all the traffic, it will go to the top of the list.”

Students who try to access blocked sites are automatically redirected to a Teqsa page advising them how to protect themselves from cheating services and the risks of blackmail.

“You get students just when they’re trying to interact with the service,” Dr. Gniel said. “It’s much more targeted than general communications to students.”

She said Teqsa negotiated separately with major social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, to remove ads for commercial cheat services.

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