BYU, Google Chrome researchers promote security warnings

When messages appear at random times, they are often ignored, with users disregarding the messages between 74 and 87 percent of the time.
When messages appear at random times, they are often ignored, with users disregarding the messages between 74 and 87 percent of the time. | File photo

Researchers from Brigham Young University, working with contemporaries from Google Chrome, found that computer and mobile device security warnings should be carefully timed to maximize user response, according to a recent study in Information Systems Research.

“We found that the brain can’t handle multitasking very well,” study co-author and BYU Information Systems professor Anthony Vance said. “Software developers categorically present these messages without any regard to what the user is doing. They interrupt us constantly and our research shows there’s a high penalty that comes by presenting these messages at random times.”

When messages appear at random times, they are often ignored, with users disregarding the messages between 74 and 87 percent of the time when closing a web page window, watching a video or transferring information. To combat this, software developers can set their warnings to appear at times that do not demand as much multitasking from users, like after watching a video, while waiting for page to load or after interacting with a website.

“You can mitigate this problem simply by finessing the timing of the warnings,” study lead author Jeff Jenkins said. “Waiting to display a warning to when people are not busy doing something else increases their security behavior substantially.”

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