How Better Design Could Help People Avoid Cyberattacks

Don’t understand the browser pop-ups that say certain sites aren’t secure? Better visual cues can ensure you don’t put your data in danger.

How Better Design Could Help People Avoid Cyberattacks

Most of us who spend vast amounts of time online aren’t entirely sure how this big series of tubes called the Internet works. This, of course, makes us particularly vulnerable to cybersecurity threats–if you can’t understand how hackers might access your information, it can be tough to protect yourself. But, according to a new study from Google and the University of Pennsylvania, better design can steer people toward the secure path.


Users are particularly baffled by SSL/TSL warnings–the browser warnings that pop up when you try to log on to a site that has issues with its encryption and authentication protocols. These text-heavy browser notifications tell you that the identity of the server you’re trying to access can’t be verified, or that the encryption is inadequate, and that someone could easily eavesdrop on your communications and access the data you store on that website (like, say, your emails or credit card numbers). But, people often think the warnings are merely associated with viruses, and click through to the sites anyway.

The Google and Penn researchers designed a new SSL warning for Google Chrome with easier-to-grasp, less technical text, and a new look that visually emphasized following the warning’s advice (not continuing to the site) rather than bypassing it. While the text changes by themselves had a minimal impact on user behavior, better design made people more likely to adhere to the warning.

According to Slate‘s Future Tense:

However, when they combined the new text with a new visual design—one which included de-emphasizing the button to click through to the site and making the button for following the warning’s guidance a ‘more visually attractive’ bright blue—they saw a much more dramatic drop of nearly 30 percent in the click-through rate.

The button to click away from the site was blue, as are most primary buttons in Google products like Gmail, making users perceive that as the default choice. The button to choose the more risky option of logging on to the site was a dark gray text link–not something that begs to be clicked on.

As the author at Slate observes, “strategic use of color and other visual cues can persuade users not to visit potentially dangerous website.” It may not help people figure out what exactly the warnings mean (most study participants still couldn’t answer basic questions regarding what might happen if they ignored them) but more thoughtful design can at least steer the cyber-confused away from risking their data on unsafe connections.

[via Slate]

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.