Certification is big business these days... and therefore lots of people are looking for ways to capitalize on it, by making money selling plagiarized exam intellectual property (IP) or by cheating on exams to get a short-cut to certification. So, that is not ideal. Microsoft and others do a lot of work to protect certification from braindump providers, proxy test-takers, score-report fakers, etc. In yesterday's Live Meeting on the topic, these were things I enjoyed learning the most, in no particular order.

  • Individuals who "cheat" can be decertified and disallowed from ever taking cert exams. Even with the massive amount of due diligence that is involved in investigating and verifying egregious offenses, 89 individuals have been decertified this year
  • You can go to another country to take an exam. Except in the case of China and India, where you now need to prove citizenship to take your exam--this change was made because of trend analysis in which we found high levels of non-resident testing that tipped us off...
  • We have an anti-piracy team that regularly gets to use language like "perpetrators," "take-down", and "malfeasance." It's like, Magnum (MC)P.I. (sorry)
  • We get about 4 e-mails a day from people around the world, reporting shady cert dealings and possible cheaters
  • Under the exam Non-disclosure Agreement (NDA), you can show people your score report, but you can not discuss a certain question (even if you want to kick around your answer with someone to see what THEY would have said...) 
  • We send undercover investigators to confirm illegal activity and perps (see bullet 3) who are selling braindumps or proxy-testing
  • CertGuard has tons of info on this for all IT cert providers (not just MSFT) and a list of braindump providers to avoid (www.CertGuard.com)
  • We may switch up content on our exams, in particular if there is a hint that some of the content has been stolen... we do not announce these changes, because that would tip off the people who took it to start with. The only time we would announce changes to content is if it affects the outline of the exam.

Don't believe me? Here is a recording of the afternoon session. Thanks to Microsoft Learning's Shon and Rob for the great information and to Mitch, Michael, and Rob Williams for sharing their perspective and advice. You can find them here:

IMHO, it's tricky. Microsoft needs to do the right thing by our certified customers (of course it is in our best interest to have Microsoft Certified professionals have great reputations), but also be careful not to tread on your individual rights or free commerce in the industry. For example, if someone posts something illegal--or something we don't agree with--to a Microsoft-hosted newsgroup, or if a Microsoft search tool delivers the same--where is the line between doing what we think is right for certification versus "editing" or controlling the public's experience, when not everyone's perception is aligned with mine, or ours, or whoever is doing the editing? It's made even more delicate when we're talking about millions of people around the world who don't always share the same cultural understanding or laws... it's complicated. Don't mind me, I'm an old windbag, boring herself blog-less, mmm-hmm. If you are still reading this, WAKE UP! Go to bed, or something.

But first, report any NDA violations to TCTIPS@microsoft.com and check out CertGuard for more info on how to avoid braindumps and protect the value of certification.