Fake popups are risky for computer users

Sept. 25, 2008 at 11:13 AM

RALEIGH, N.C., Sept. 25 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say they've found most Internet users cannot distinguish between genuine popup warning messages and fake ones.

The study by North Carolina State University shows the inability to distinguish between fake and real popup messages continues to exist, even after repeated mistakes.

"This study demonstrates how easy it is to fool people on the Web," said study co-author Professor Michael Wogalte.

The researchers examined the responses of undergraduate students to real and fake warning messages while they conducted search tasks on a personal computer connected to the Internet. The real warning messages simulated local Windows operating system warnings, whereas fake messages were popup messages emanating from an exterior source via the Internet.

The differences between real and fake messages were subtle, and most participants didn't discern them, the researchers said. Participants were fooled by the fake messages 63 percent of the time, hitting the "OK" button in the message box when it appeared on the screen despite being told some of what they would be seeing would be false.

The study led by psychology graduate student David Sharek and co-authored by undergraduate Cameron Swofford appears in the journal Proceedings of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

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