Blame it on your brain: Researchers discover why we ignore PC security warnings

This is the reason so much security work goes on in the background, without your knowledge.

If you’re the type of person who absolutely hates Microsoft’s practice of downloading and installing Windows 10 security updates late at night—well, new research says you have only yourself to blame.

A study conducted by Brigham Young University in conjunction with Google found that 90 percent of all computer users ignore security warnings and other alerts, especially while we’re busy performing some other task. In fact, being interrupted actually results in lower neural activity, researchers found, after conducting MRI tests.

Specifically, 74 percent of users ignored security messages that popped up while closing a web browser window, according to Jeff Jenkins, the lead author of the study. About 79 percent ignored messages if they were watching a video, the BYU team found. Finally, 87 percent ignore a pop-up if it came as they were concentrating on typing a confirmation code correctly.

“We found that the brain can’t handle multitasking very well,” said study coauthor and BYU information systems professor Anthony Vance, in a statement issued by BYU. “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.”

windows 10 settings update Mark Hachman

Windows 10’s Windows Update downloads patches in the background, then installs them when your PC is not in use.

Jenkins, Vance, and the other researchers found, however, that users were more likely to pay attention and respond to a warning when it was delivered after watching a video, while waiting for a page to load, or after interacting with a website. The findings have been submitted to Google, who, according to BYU, may incorporate some of the research inside of its Chrome browser for Windows to better alert users of malicious websites.

Why this matters: There you are, in the zone: absolutely hammering away on that major task, when—oh, no—what’s that warning message on your computer screen? Well, you’ll get to it once you’re finally done. Even worse, however, is when a developer decides that it’s time to upgrade an app (or worse, an operating system) right now—we all saw what happened when Microsoft tried that with Windows 10. I know I personally hate it when my PC spontaneously reboots in the middle of the night, but maybe that’s the most effective compromise between convenience and security.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Windows 10

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?