Computer security alerts ignored 90 per cent of the time

Cyber Security

New research has indicated that we disregard up to 90 per cent of computer software security warnings. The reason? We’re rubbish at multitasking, essentially.

The timing of pop-up messages has a significant effect on whether appropriate action is taken, or whether the message is simply dismissed, it appears. Even if we are doing something as simple as watching a video, it was found that we lose focus significantly if a security alert pops up, and this affects our actions.

The study, conducted by Brigham Young University (BYU) in the US, observed brain activity among participants through the use of an MRI machine, while the participants used a computer.

They examined a number of specific events, and discovered that 74 per cent dismissed alerts that appeared when closing a web page. On the other hand, if the alert appeared when the participants had to enter a confirmation code, 87 per cent dismissed it.

The BYU team wrote: “While these interruptions provide timely information, research shows they come at a high cost in terms of increased stress and decreased productivity.

“This is due to dual-task interference (DTI), a cognitive limitation in which even simple tasks cannot be simultaneously performed without significant performance loss.

“Our findings suggest that although alerts are pervasive in personal computing, they should be bounded in their presentation. The timing of interruptions strongly influences the occurrence of DTI in the brain, which in turn substantially impacts alert disregard.”