Research on the Timing of Security Warnings
fMRI experiments show that we are more likely to ignore security warnings when they interrupt other tasks.
A new study from BYU, in collaboration with Google Chrome engineers, finds the status quo of warning messages appearing haphazardly — while people are typing, watching a video, uploading files, etc. — results in up to 90 percent of users disregarding them.
Researchers found these times are less effective because of “dual task interference,” a neural limitation where even simple tasks can’t be simultaneously performed without significant performance loss. Or, in human terms, multitasking.
“We found that the brain can’t handle multitasking very well,” said study coauthor and BYU information systems professor Anthony Vance. “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.”
For part of the study, researchers had participants complete computer tasks while an fMRI scanner measured their brain activity. The experiment showed neural activity was substantially reduced when security messages interrupted a task, as compared to when a user responded to the security message itself.
The BYU researchers used the functional MRI data as they collaborated with a team of Google Chrome security engineers to identify better times to display security messages during the browsing experience.