Why people ignore security warnings

Employee IT security awareness training is one of the most effective weapons CSOs can have in their armoury. But old habits are hard to break.

That’s what Google realized recently about warnings the Chrome browser is programmed to issue when suspicious SSL certificates are found on Web sites. Most Chrome users ignored the warnings and clicked through, it found. So Google redesigned the warnings to make them simpler — eliminating technical terms like certificate and using background colours to represent different kinds of threats.

Which begs the question why do computer users continue to engage in risky behaviour? By now everyone knows there are malicious people in cyberspace.  The Guardian has tried to answer the question by interviewing researchers in the field.

For example, Anthony Vance, assistant professor of information systems at Utah’s Brigham Young University, leads a team that has put test subjects in a magnetic resonance imaging machine to see what happened inside their brains when faced with software security warnings.

After flashing some 40 typical computer-related warnings to subjects they found the visual processing part of the brain stopped analysing the warnings after seeing them more than once. The research suggests the best warnings should change often so the brain doesn’t get used to them.

The problem becomes more complex on smart phones, where screens are small. As the article points out, many Android apps ask on installation for permission to access the contact list, camera, turn on the GPS and so on. Most users click yes. Mozilla, on the other hand, makes mobile apps ask for permissions when they’re about to carry out a task. More bothersome to users? Perhaps. Safer? Yes.

So what does your organization do to ensure users pay attention to warnings?

Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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