Cyber attacks: Exam boards told to introduce new security measures

Ofqual chief Sir Ian Bauckham said regulator will undertake 'rigorous' checks on exam board plans to move tests on-screen

Ofqual chief Sir Ian Bauckham said regulator will undertake 'rigorous' checks on exam board plans to move tests on-screen

Exams regulator Ofqual has asked exam boards to introduce new security measures, its chief regulator has said. 

It follows police investigations being launched after cyber attacks at three exam boards last summer. 

Sir Ian Bauckham, Ofqual chief regulator, said “clearly examinations cannot be fair if some people get access to secure examination materials beforehand”.

He said it was “critically important” that the sector focused on “maintaining the security of the IT systems that are used to hold and communicate important examination materials”. 

“I know that all of you, if you’re running schools or trusts or colleges, will be very focused on the security of your own systems as well as the resilience of those systems under pressure.

“We’ve asked exam boards to introduce additional security measures this year, including multi-factor authentication for accessing exam sites to make sure that those are only accessed by people who are authorised to access them.”

He recognised this could be “a bit annoying” when you’re “working under pressure and add a few minutes of extra time”. 

But he added: “I think all of us would understand that is an important process to go through to ensure that these materials are secure”. 

Police investigating the cyber attack at AQA said there were “no further positive lines of enquiry” to pursue. 

A separate investigation by Cambridgeshire Police into cyber attacks at exam boards OCR and Pearson is continuing. A 16-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of theft, fraud and computer misuse. He has been released under investigation.

‘Rigorous checks’ on digital exams

All exam boards have set timelines to move towards on-screen examinations. But AQA announced this week that it has delayed its plans to “get this right and maintain public confidence in our exam system”. Ofqual has to approve the plans. 

Bauckham said the regulator will make “rigorous checks” to make sure they are fair and the stability to make sure “systems are not going to be at risk of falling over and messing up examinations”. 

He pointed to the Oxford University admissions test, where candidates were unable to sit entrance tests properly after problems with the online assessment, The Times reported.

“Lo and behold schools were beset with freezing screens and impossible log-ins and refusals to move onto the next question,” Bauckham said. “In fact the whole thing had to be abandoned.” 

“We cannot afford either a large-scale failure nor can we afford to have innovations in assessment which accidentally introduce unfairness. 

He added: “You only get one chance when you’re 16 taking your GCSEs. Failures in IT systems are not going to be acceptable as an excuse for your child’s GCSEs being messed up.” 

Asked by Schools Week how long the approval process would take, Bauckham said they “can’t be certain” at the moment but they are going to “make absolutely sure that we don’t take any risks with any of those areas.” 

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