TurnItIn.com – Setting A Few Things Straight

Over the last 2 days, my previous TurnItIn.com entry has gotten two comments that are somewhat worrisome. One asks for more details on one of the methods listed (I am assuming he is talking about one of Mike’s). The other is more blatant:

<br />
i need, help..?<br />
how do i make a paper turned into turnitin.com<br />
come out to 0 plagiarized

Taking a quick look over my log files, I also turned up the following items in my Search Terms summary list (followed by the position this blog comes up in Google):
“Please note that I do not endorse plagiarism or cheating in any way, shape, or form”

turnitin (56)

turnitin.com + tricks around it (1)

trick turnitin.com (2)

how to beat turnitin.com (6)

beating turnitin.com (1)

ways around turnitin.com (1)

Update: I forgot about domain specific search, and apparently some of the turnitin queries are for Dal specific domain searches. You can quickly see what happens here.

Please note that I do not endorse plagiarism or cheating in any way, shape, or form. Cheating and plagiarism is a serious offence. Any articles concerning TurnItIn.com are exploratory exercises regarding its effectiveness. I do not advocate the practical usage of any ways in which to defeat the system. In the case of the previous article, the intent was to point out deficiencies in the TurnItIn.com system, which do NOT catch plagiarism, thus failing any professor that uses it as an indicator of potential plagiarism.

E stands for Elite

So the DSU’s annual Student Appreciation Night was last Saturday. This is a time that the DSU uses to acknowledge the contributions of the students and societies which it is composed of. Part of the night is composed of awards, including best A, B, C, D and E level societies, best new society, and others.

Last year, I had the distinction of accepting the A-level Society of the Year Award along with other members of the Computer Science Society, as well as watching Mike Smit win the Lilly Ju Lifetime Achievement Award, for his many contributions over the years.

This year was different. No A-level Society of the Year for the CS Society. Instead, I ended up accepting the E-level Society of the year Award with members of the Dal-ACM. I also got to see Ann win whatever Ann won (sorry Ann, until they name it the Ann Elizabeth Beringer award, I am probably not going to remember the name off the top of my head). Note: I have since discovered that it was the Level Chan Award for a student who takes initiative in student advocacy).

Awards asside, the night was fun as always and I am glad that the DSU takes the time to run them every year.

TurnItIn.com – Beating The System Part 4: Denying Our Corporate Overlords

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?”

However, not everyone can write software, or own MS Word. I began thinking to myself ‘how can I trick the system with free tools that are readily available?’. First step: take a look at OpenOffice. Can the same hidden text trick work? A quick test shows………… no. Hidden text is a field attribute in OO, and a character attribute in MS Word. The two are not compatible. Macros? Keeping the macro as is and saving as a MS Word file doesn’t work. This is largely due to MS Word using their own scripting language or VB for their macros, while OO has their own scripting language, as well as using javascript and a few other options. Either way, the macro option is out, especially since TurnItIn.com doesn’t accept OO documents, making an effort to create a similar macro for OO pointless (at this time).

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:

<span style="position:absolute;left:-10000px">fgahlhgk</span>
“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.