As many of you might know, a while back Mike Smit started taking a hard look at TurnItIn.com a while back. For those of you who follow his site, he has more recently begun an information campaign, pointing out failings, problems, and concerns with the service. Even outside of his site, the issue has been getting a lot of attention, including being covered in the current issue of the Dalhousie Gazette.
One of the things Mike is doing is investigating how effective it is, and how difficult it is to trick the system. Currently has mentioned three ways to beat the system. One involves his own program that manipulates the document to make it pass. The second involves using MS Word’s built in hidden text feature. The third to date is using MS Words built in macro functionality.
“How can we trick the system with free tool that are readily available?”
But wait…… what formats DOES TurnItIn.com accept? A quick check (verified by Mike a second later) gives me the following list: MS Word, WordPerfect, PostScript, PDF, HTML, RTF, and plain text. Plain text is out for obvious reasons, MS Word is being hammered by Mike’s own tests……. wait…… HTML? Instantly a few ideas come to mind. Idea the first: What happens if I replace all the spaces in a document with a & nbsp;? Thankfully TurnItIn.com DOES convert these to spaces. I would have laughed my ass off if they hadn’t.
Idea 2) What about inline style tags using spans? For example, this document. Note that this is what the professor would see. Now view the page source. You should see a number of lines like this:
“What is sad is the fact that we are not even trying hard yet.”
This basically takes these characters and shifts them WAY to the left out of site of people like your prof.
Result? 0% plagiarized according to TurnItIn.com.
Total time required to figure this out? < 5 minutes.
Tools required? Your favorite plaintext editor. So not only can cheap windows users use this technique, but now Linux users can too!!!
What is sad is the fact that we are not even trying hard yet.