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People ignore software security warnings up to 90 percent of the time, according to a new study from Brigham Young University.

The cause, according to the study, is an inability to multitask.

“While these [alerts] provide timely information, research shows they come at a high cost in terms of increased stress and decreased productivity,” BYU team said in the study’s abstract. “This is due to dual-task interference (DTI), a cognitive limitation in which even simple tasks cannot be simultaneously performed without significant performance loss.”

The study, which had participants use a computer while attached to sensors measuring brain activity, found that focusing on a security alert drastically reduces our ability to keep on doing whatever it is we were doing before the alert — even something simple, like watching a video.

Seventy-four percent of participants shunned the alert if they were in the middle of closing a webpage, and 87 percent ignored an alert that popped up while they were entering a confirmation code.

Jeff Jenkins, lead author of the study said that the problem can be fixed simply by changing the timing of the warnings.

“Waiting to display a warning to when people are not busy doing something else increases their security actions substantially.”

http://pubsonline.informs.org/doi/10.1287/isre.2016.0644

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