2012 ICT: Unauthorized Question Access

As part of its focus on increased security, National Academic Quiz Tournaments has been reviewing server logs covering the past several years; as a result of that review, NAQT has uncovered evidence that Joshua Alman of MIT frequently accessed pages on NAQT's administrative website that contained clearly marked, substantive information about questions on which Joshua was intending to—and subsequently did—compete. Advance access to any non-public information about the question content would, of course, provide an unfair advantage in the contest and invalidate any affected games as fair competitions.

Joshua was a writer primarily for NAQT high school competitions and had access to NAQT's administrative website in that capacity; prior to the discovery of Joshua's access, NAQT had already improved its online security measures to prevent active college players from being able to see collegiate sets, but Joshua's access predated this corrective action.

NAQT has therefore vacated all of the wins of MIT A for the 2012 Region 1 Sectional Championship Tournament and for the Division I MIT team at the 2012 Intercollegiate Championship Tournament. Ohio State University, the second place team in the Undergraduate division, is now the 2012 Undergraduate National Champion.

There is no evidence that any other MIT player engaged in any conduct of concern. Indeed, NAQT commends the other MIT student-players on their prompt and thorough cooperation in this matter and their acceptance of the outcome. Although Joshua is now subject to a lifetime ban from participating in NAQT events, no other sanctions will be imposed on any other MIT player or on its program (besides the vacation of the wins). We regret that his teammates—who invested enormous amounts of time, energy, and money in their pursuit of a championship—can no longer be commemorated in our records as national champions.

NAQT believes Joshua's conduct, among other things, violates Section K of our rules, which outlines our honor code, as well as the trust we placed in him as a contract writer.

According to NAQT's server logs, Joshua accessed the "topics" page for the 2012 Division I SCT 180 times, 85 of which were in the 15 days prior to the event. The pattern of access shows increasingly frequent access to the topics page leading up to the SCT on February 4, 2012.

Viewing the topics page provided not only a detailed list of titles, people, places, and other concepts referenced in the set, but also provided the ability to see the entire text of questions and answers to be utilized in the competition.

Similarly, in the time leading up to the 2012 ICT, Joshua accessed the topics page for the ICT 85 times, giving him a chance to see the subjects that would be referenced in the actual tournament. The pattern of that access shows increasingly frequent access to the topics page leading up to the ICT on March 31, 2012. For both the SCT and ICT, Joshua's access essentially stopped after each event: He accessed the SCT topics page 5 times after the SCT and the ICT topics page 0 times after the ICT.

NAQT believes that Joshua's repeated access of pages with clearly marked, substantive information about questions on which he was intending to—and subsequently did—compete is sufficient grounds to justify NAQT's response.

Joshua provided an explanation of his access that involved his having written a computer script (which was not authorized or permitted) to access questions for practice purposes which simply malfunctioned. NAQT considered this explanation and found it implausible, but ultimately irrelevant: Whether the access to the pages was manual or automated, it resulted in detailed, advance access of tournament questions. If Joshua accessed such pages by accident, he should have immediately notified NAQT of the breach the first time and appropriate remedies could have been taken at the time. Instead, he continued to access unauthorized pages with increasing frequency up to the dates of the events, with few or no views thereafter.

NAQT also examined statistical evidence of Joshua's performance at the 2012 ICT. NAQT looked at a number of metrics of historical performance, such as ratio of power tossups to regular tossups for players with a minimum of 1.5 questions answered per game played and improvement from prior ICT performance for players who in a subsequent year achieved a points per game average of at least 30. In these two analyses, Joshua's performance in each case singularly stood out and was in each case more than 10 standard deviations above the norm for relevant defined subsets of participants throughout the history of the ICT going back to the 1990s.

When provided the summary of NAQT's findings, Joshua engaged litigation counsel and threatened legal action against NAQT. NAQT provided to Joshua and his attorney a substantially more detailed version of the information above as well as detailed server logs with time stamp, IP address, and other information. Joshua was afforded an opportunity to provide additional information for NAQT to consider, but he failed to do so. Joshua was also afforded an opportunity to admit to the facts outlined above and to make a joint statement with NAQT.

Given these, and other, facts, it was the unanimous decision of NAQT's members that Joshua's conduct warranted the vacation of all of his team's wins at the 2012 SCT and 2012 ICT and a lifetime ban.

NAQT is sorry to have discovered that its trust in a writer was misplaced and deeply regrets that its administrative website could be exploited to allow unauthorized access to information for its premier collegiate tournament. We are undertaking another review of our website security and all related question-security policies to ensure that future tournaments cannot be compromised in this fashion.