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INI Students Teach Japanese Youth about One-Click Fraud

July 30, 2009

He feels guilty, hesitates, and then a teenage boy clicks "yes" to become a registered member on an adult Web site. Curiosity is sometimes too hard to resist. Cybercriminals in Japan are exploiting this weakness of human curiosity for profit through a kind of scam called one-click fraud.

After the boy enters the Web site, it flashes notifications that demand a registration fee. The boy is also threatened with legal actions and told his family will be contacted if a payment is not made. Although the threats are meaningless, without any legal backing, the victims of one-click fraud are led to believe the single click they made to enter the Web site puts them at fault. They often pay the fee.

"In most cases, the content of the Web pages is such that the user would not like to have their spouse or parents know, so to avoid the embarrassment factor, they end up paying the money because it is not a significant price," reports Sally Yanagihara, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon's Information Networking Institute (INI). "But when you add up all the money from all the users, it comes up to an impressive sum. In 2005, there was a group caught where the money obtained through their one-click fraud Web site was said to be over 600 million yen [over six million U.S. dollars]."

Ms. Yanagihara is conducting a summer project on the topic of one-click fraud, supervised by Dr. Nicolas Christin, Associate Director and faculty member of the INI, for her graduate work in the Kobe MSIT-IS program. Her classmates along with the Women@INI student organization designed a cyberawareness program to make Japanese youth aware of one-click fraud and some of the typical tricks used by scammers.

"Today, as more students under 18 get their own cell phones, they are more exposed to such threats and it is a serious social problem today in K-12," reported Ms. Yanagihara. 

On July 9, the group of Kobe MSIT-IS students gave a presentation to approximately 280 senior high school students at Sakai Higashi High School, speaking to seven classes of around 40 students. The audience was taught how to protect themselves from a scam, what steps to take when it occurs, and how to contact the proper authorities. Two teachers assisted the Carnegie Mellon students: Mr. Masakazu Yamaoka, who is an auditor of courses at Carnegie Mellon CyLab Japan, and Mr. Kousuke Inoue, the school coordinator and chemistry instructor.

Japanese high schools are required to teach an information technology course, and Sakai Higashi High School’s course covers Internet ethics, basic software, such as Microsoft Office, and some programming languages, such as HTML and C. The amount of emphasis placed on cybersafety topics, however, varies by school and teacher, according to Mr. Yamaoka.

"Teachers who are interested in programming languages tend to put more effort into teaching them. I'm interested in computer security, so I will offer more chances for students to learn about computer security," said Mr. Yamaoka, who was pleased to schedule the presentation, which was the first of its kind for the school.

In addition to a lesson in one-click fraud, the presentation was in English, which gave the audience a unique opportunity to practice their English speaking and listening skills. Some high school students later inquired about taking extra-credit English classes.

One-click fraud is growing quickly in Japan, according to the Information-Technology Promotion Agency in Japan (IPA), which documented a record high of 694 reports for the month of June 2009. The Carnegie Mellon students hope to help reduce the number of incidents. Overall, they received a positive response at Sakai Higashi High School, and the homeroom teachers plan to put more effort in IT education for the next semester.

Group photo for one-click fraud presentation

Group photo including, from left to right, Mr. Kousuke Inoue, Mr. Masakazu Yamaoka, Taro Manabe, Johanna Crisostomo, Cindy Pei-chun Su, Chris Yu-Lu Liu, Yuki Osawa, Eddie Yu-Fang Tsai and Sally Yanagihara.

High school classroom in Japan

Classroom photo at Sakai Higashi High School.

Pictured at top: Johanna Crisostomo, Cindy Pei-Chun Su, and Sally Yanagihara, all members of Women@INI and Carnegie Mellon students in the INI's Kobe MSIT-IS program.

Sources: Johanna Crisostomo, Sally Yanagihara and Masakazu Yamaoka