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We ignore computer security alerts because we're terrible at multitasking

Finally, you have an excuse for not updating those files (although you really should)

Image: (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

GETTING PEOPLE TO take heed of security updates and changes isn’t the easiest task but it turns out there’s a reason for this: we’re terrible at multitasking.

People will end up ignoring security alerts up to 90% of the time, according to a new study from Brigham Young University. Carrying out the research with Google Chrome engineers, the study had participants use a computer while sensors measured their brain activity.

The study found 74% of participants ignored security messages that popped up when they were about to close a web page, 79% ignored them when they were watching a video, and 87% ignored alerts when they were entering a confirmation code.

The reason for this is because of what the researchers call “dual-task interference” – or multitasking to be exact – where our ability to focus on two simple tasks at the same time, like exiting a web page and heeding an alert, drops significantly.

“While these interruptions provide timely information, research shows they come at a high cost in terms of increased stress and decreased productivity”, wrote the researchers.

In comparison, the study found the times people pay the most attention to security messages happen when there’s less chance of a person multitasking.

Such examples include security alerts appearing after a person has watched a video, while they’re waiting for a page to load or after they’ve interacted with a website.

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