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article imageSoftware security alerts are ignored 90 percent of the time

By James Walker     Aug 18, 2016 in Technology
A study has found security warnings displayed by software programs are routinely ignored by users. The alerts can help you to keep your computer clean and safe but are usually dismissed immediately. Most people have insufficient time to pay attention.
Phys.org reports the study was conducted by researchers from BYU in conjunction with Google Chrome engineers. It explored how people respond to common software warning messages that aim to protect people from malicious websites, unsafe file downloads and potentially compromised connections.
These alerts are designed with the intention of helping people to stay safe. Whether it's your browser warning you that the site ahead may house a phishing attack or your antivirus software alerting you to an infection, the notifications carry important messages to help you keep your machine secured. However, the researchers found the alerts are being designed in the wrong way and this is leading the majority of people to completely ignore them.
The problem is that most alerts appear while you're already using your PC. You'll get a notification just as you've started typing in your browser's address bar, opened a new app or begun to watch a video. This interruptive nature means people instinctively dismiss the messages without even looking at their content. Up to 90 percent of users studied totally disregarded important security messages they were shown.
74 percent of people dismissed security messages displayed as they were about to close an open web page. An additional 79 percent ignored alerts that popped-up on their screen during video playback. An overwhelming 87 percent closed them while they were already busy transferring information.
According to the researchers, the effects are caused by the human brain's inability to multitask. The interruptions caused by the alerts are enough to distract the brain from its work. Even the most accomplished multitaskers are unable to simultaneously perform two simple tasks without significant performance loss in each, leaving people reluctant to take action on a security alert even if they do read it.
The team pointed out that it isn't hard to find more effective times to display security alerts. It suggested they are held until after a user finishes interacting with a website or while they are waiting for it to load. If the user is watching a video, the alert could be displayed after it finishes, when they are more likely to spend a few seconds engaging with it before watching the next clip.
"You can mitigate this problem by finessing the timing of the warnings," said Jeff Jenkins, lead author of the study. "Waiting to display a warning to when people are not busy doing something else increases their security behavior substantially."
The researchers' partnership with Google Chrome engineers means more considered security alerts could soon be integrated into at least one major browser. Chrome includes a wide range of notifications and warning messages advising users on how to stay safe online. Their effectiveness is currently limited by their timing, however.
Based on the results of the study, the engineers will now be able to rethink the alerts so they display when users are inactive. Users will benefit from a less frustrating browsing experience and will be able to take a more proactive approach to online security.
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