In January 2003, Robert Keppel was sentenced to 12 months and a day in prison and fined $500,000 for hosting a braindump Web site, The now-defunct site sold Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) and Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) exam questions.

Does the thought of Keppel’s customer lists being revealed make you sweat like a Heidi Fleiss client or giggle with delight at the prospect of seeing cheaters get their just desserts? Although Keppel was not ultimately required to reveal his customer list, the possibility does raise interesting questions. For instance, if selling test questions is deemed a felony, what consequences should face those who buy them? And should those who pass exams on the strength of braindump information be decertified? One thing’s for sure: Even though the contents of braindump sites are at best unethical and at worst illegal, peddlers of the illicit information persevere, like the Hollywood madams of the IT world.

Braindump basics

Braindumps are collections of certification exam questions, often illegally communicated, that are posted on the Web for future exam-takers. Before taking an exam, candidates must sign a nondisclosure agreement. So if they later contribute to these sites, they’re violating that agreement. Further, many say that use of the sites devalues the certifications. Tech novices can memorize the answers to oft-posted, straight-from-the-exam, multiple-choice questions and get certified without even breaking a sweat.

Microsoft control issues
According to MCP Magazine, Keppel’s defense attorney, Michelle Burrows, wrote that Microsoft is an active participant in the cheat industry because it provides practice manuals, online practice exams, and boot camps for test takers. In defense of Keppel, Burrows wrote that while the test contents are proprietary, they might not be trade secrets because Microsoft has taken only superficial steps to keep the information secret.

MCP Magazine editor Dian Schaffhauser called Burrows’s accusations thought-provoking, even if they’re a bit exaggerated, and asked, Where does the boundary lie between what’s allowed and what’s not?

Keppel’s conviction provides a guideline for those who might post or attempt to sell certification test questions, but what are the ramifications for those who have posted test questions or passed exams using illegally purchased braindump materials?

The temptation to cheat
Even if you’ve invested time, money, and effort to prepare for the exam in the right ways, you may be tempted to take a peek at one of a zillion braindump sites on the Web. A quick search on Google reveals a plethora of sites, with names like, which offer items such as CramSheet for Windows 2000 Professional, for under 30 bucks.

Many of these sites actually guarantee that you’ll pass your exam on the first try or your money will be refunded to you. In fact, boasts that its guides are the only preparation you need to pass the official exam on your first try.

That’s why braindumps get TechRepublic members like Michael Updike so angry. Updike is a network engineer and desktop architect for Analysts International, SSG, in Auburn Hills, MI, and has earned his A+, Network+, MCSE, MCSA, MCP, and CWNA certifications. In a discussion on TechRepublic about the best cert prep sites, he responded to another member’s recommendation for with a declaration that braindumps should not exist.

A braindump is not a good studying tool; it is a good cheating tool, he wrote. The only way to help eliminate those paper-certified MCSEs is to eliminate the people who post: Remove their certifications, ban them from future certifications, and prosecute the worst offenders.

Do you believe Microsoft can effectively punish cheaters?

Do you have an opinion about the Keppel conviction? Do you foresee a time when those who have purchased braindump materials or cheat sheets for certification exams will be actively pursued and punished by Microsoft?Send us an e-mail or post your thoughts to the discussion below.