Exams

Police investigate stolen exam papers after cyber-attack 

Officers are working with the DfE and National Crime Agency

Officers are working with the DfE and National Crime Agency

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Police are investigating a cyber-attack where it is thought a hacker posed as a school to obtain exam papers before selling them online.

Cambridgeshire Police said they are in the “early stages” of investigating a “data breach” involving exam boards Pearson and OCR. The boards had exam papers “extracted from their systems and sold online”, the police said.

Officers are working with the National Crime Agency and the Department for Education on the investigation.

FE Week understands the incident relates to a school’s email system being hacked and then used to request papers from the exam boards – before the exam was taken. It is not known which exams this relates to.

Centres usually receive exam papers weeks in advance. However, there is also a process to request “emergency” papers sent electronically, if there is not enough time to post the papers.

The individual exam boards refused to comment. Instead, they sent a joint statement from their membership organisation, the Joint Council of Qualifications.

A JCQ spokesperson said that “every year, awarding organisations investigate potential breaches of security. When investigations are complete, sanctions, which may be severe, are taken against any individuals found to be involved”. 

Most summer exams series, rumours circulate online about certain papers being leaked. 

But boards told the BBC earlier this year that it was extremely rare for genuine papers to be leaked. Any attempts to obtain confidential material is malpractice. 

Exam boards are required to report to Ofqual when there has been an actual or potential security breach of confidential material. 

Last summer, there were 28 leaks of material, including a Pearson GCSE maths question leaked on social media before the exam. 

Ofqual’s annual report stated the board quickly identified the person involved and carried out “immediate inspections and extra supervision of exams” at the centre. 

AQA’s A-level chemistry paper last year was stolen from a delivery van. Students who had access to the paper were disqualified and the theft was reported to the police. 

On the latest breach, an Ofqual spokesperson said it “requires exam boards to investigate any alleged breaches of security and to take appropriate action.  

“This year, as in every year, Ofqual has received reports from exam boards about alleged breaches of security. We would not comment on any investigations being carried out by boards.”

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