How to make PC security alerts better? Make them twirl, jiggle

Have you ever ignored a security alert on your PC? You’re not the only one.

The warnings are designed to save us from malware infections and hacking risks, but often times we’ll neglect them. It could be because we’re too busy or we’ve seen them too many times, and we’ve become conditioned to dismiss them — even the most serious ones, according to Anthony Vance, a professor at Brigham Young University.

Vance has been studying the problem and he’s found that introducing certain small, but noticeable changes, can make the alerts more useful and harder to ignore.  

“Our security UI (user interface) needs to be designed to be compatible with the way our brains work,” he said at the USENIX Enigma 2017 conference on Tuesday. “Not against it.”

Alert messages tend to appear on a PC or browser in the same, consistent manner. But what if you change the alert’s appearance over time? Say, make it twirl or jiggle when it pops up, or change its color?

Vance experimented with these “polymorphic” or changeable alerts and found that users did tend to pay attention them more over typical static alerts. He conducted his study by tracking the users’ eye movements and brain activity.

“It seems silly,” he said. “But when we applied this in the experiment, we looked at the results and found a dramatic difference.”

He proposes that vendors keep this in mind when developing security alert messages for their products. 

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