Security Fatigue Leads to Reckless Computing Behavior

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By Jimmy H. Koo

Oct. 4 — Risky and reckless computing behavior happens when computer users grow weary of dealing with computer security, according to an Oct. 4 study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

When users have to make more computer security decisions than they can manage, “they experience decision fatigue, which leads to security fatigue”—weariness or reluctance to deal with computer security—the study found.

Average computer users felt tired of being on “constant alert” and adopting safe behavior, it said.

To minimize security fatigue and help users maintain secure online habits, the study suggested limiting the number of security decisions that users need to make, making it easier for users to choose the right security action and designing for consistent decision making.

The general public's security fatigue is critical because many important daily tasks are done online and more sensitive information is being moved to the internet, cognitive psychologist and study co-author Brian Stanton said.

“If people can’t use security, they are not going to, and then we and our nation won’t be secure,” Stanton said.

Adam K. Levin, chairman of IDT911 LLC and Credit.com Inc., told Bloomberg BNA in July that consumer fatigue over data breach issues is one reason the presidential candidates haven't made cybersecurity a more prominent feature of their campaigns (15 PVLR 1476, 7/18/16). But the first presidential debate did turn some attention to the issue (15 PVLR 1941, 10/3/16).

Avoiding Decisions, Choosing Easy Path

The study interviewed 40 computer users, ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s, hailing from urban, suburban and rural areas and holding a variety of occupations. The interview questions addressed computer security perceptions, online activities and the knowledge and use of security tools and terminology.

According to the study, security fatigue led to users avoiding decisions, choosing the easiest options, making decisions influenced by immediate motivations, failing to follow security rules and behaving impulsively. These include updating the password for an online account to a combination that the user used before or giving up on an online purchase to avoid creating a new account.

Interview participants also wondered why they would be targeted in a cyberattack, saying that they didn't feel “important enough” or knew anyone who had ever been hacked.

Participants said that “safeguarding data is someone else’s responsibility, leaving computer security up to their bank, online store or someone with more experience,” according to NIST. They also questioned how they could protect their data when large organizations are frequently targeted in cyberattacks.

NIST said its researchers will interview additional computer users to obtain a clearer picture of computer security behavior.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jimmy H. Koo in Washington at jkoo@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald G. Aplin at daplin@bna.com

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