Study shows pop up warnings ineffective

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A study by the Department of Psychology at North Carolina State University has shown that computer users largely ignore pop up windows warning them of unsafe computing use.

A team of 42 students were given computers to go online and were exposed to four pop up windows which warned them that something was wrong with the computer.

One warning was real and the others varied from warnings of programs executing or terminating to a black and white flashing pop up that added a browser status bar.

The students were not told the purpose of the experiment, but were under the impression they were rating medical web pages for clutter. The researchers wanted to see how students dealt with the pop-ups.

Over half of the students simply clicked OK on the pop up window buttons almost automatically. The reaction time barely varied for each type of box, showing that users weren’t digesting the contents.

Around 12 per cent of participants said they clicked on the OK button in the pop-up because the box said that was what was needed and nearly a quarter said they did this with any pop up. Over 40 per cent said they just wanted to get rid of the box as quickly as possible.

Less than a quarter actually attempted to close the pop ups manually and one in six just dragged the box off the screen and carried on as normal.

The study is bad news for operating systems like Vista, which rely heavily on pop up windows to protect users. It also poses a challenge for education for IT administrators in making sure staff don’t download from infected sites.
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