The College Admissions Scandal: Dethroning Privilege

The College Admissions Scandal

The recent college admissions scandal making headlines is placing the spotlight on the inequitable treatment of children of privilege. Wealthy parents bribing college coaches and exam protectors to get their unqualified children into prestigious universities is reproachable. It has touched a chord that cannot be silenced.

Insider Threat or Fraud?

From an information security perspective, is this a case of Insider Threat or Fraud? The answer is C) All of the Above.

It’s certainly a case of insider threat because the college sports coaches used their privileged access to give fake athletic credentials to children of privilege. Ironic, isn’t it. Similarly, exam proctors allowed a third party to take the SAT/ACT exams of children of wealthy parents, or doctored the results themselves. As we often see with insider threats, a criminal outsider (Rick Singer) recruited insiders with privileged access – coaches and exam proctors – to perform illicit activities for profit.

It’s also fraud. Parents are being charged with felony counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Not only that, they face civil lawsuits. Their children are being kicked out of school and in some cases those who’ve already graduated will be stripped of their degrees. Qualified students who didn’t get into prestigious universities have filed a federal class-action lawsuit against eight colleges. According to Forbes, Singer has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering, tax conspiracy and obstruction of justice. It’s a massive dethroning of privilege.

Could This Have Been Prevented?

It’s hard to believe no one noticed the total absence of these fraudulent “athletes” at team sporting events. What’s harder to believe is that there was no digital oversight to catch these obvious anomalies. In the case of the malicious insiders, Gurucul’s Behavior Based Security and Fraud Analytics platform may have detected anomalous behavior on the part of coaches and exam protectors – depending on the available data. There would be definite patterns of behavior that would raise a person’s risk score, like:

  • Coaches with abnormally high numbers of student athlete recruits compared with their peers
  • Students receiving athletic credentials with no history of playing the sport
  • Athletes scheduling or attending classes during sports training or games
  • Exam proctors with an extraordinary number of students with very high test scores compared with their peers
  • Students with poor GPAs getting high scores on their SAT/ACT exams

Fraud was happening in admissions via special categories (such as sports). Many of the students were recommended from the same coaches, which would be out of norm for that peer group. Students were not even participating in the sports for which they were recruited. It is possible that with the right data we could have detected discrepancies in these special categories, by validating which students were actually registered in the same sports category.

Let’s Not Forget the Victims

The victims in all of this are students and athletes who may have been denied entry to prestigious universities or refused spots on collegiate sports teams. Those precious opportunities were instead given feloniously to children of privilege. Further, law-abiding coaches and exam proctors could have received the jobs that ended up going to criminals. Who knows how many victims are out there? This is likely not the first and only college admissions scandal of its kind. It’s just one that has been exposed.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

The real issue here is that no one with authority to stop it knew what was happening. One of the most effective methods to catch unknown threats is with advanced Behavior Based Security and Fraud Analytics powered by machine learning. Gurucul finds threats our clients don’t see happening, such as insider threats and cyber fraud. We know what you don’t know. And, we can provide you with the visibility you need to predict, detect and stop insider threats and fraud. Contact us for details.

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