Urgent Sea-Slug Security News From USENIX Enigma Con

What’s the difference between you and a sea slug? When it comes to your attention span for security alerts, the answer is, ummmm… “Not much.”

COOL: According to Iain Thomson over at the Register. Several academics presented papers on applying brain scanning methods to see how people process computer security incidents. NOT SO COOL: Apparently, we have approximately the same attention span as a 1/2 billion-year-old slime monster.

At the Enigma 2017 conference today, Brigham Young University professor Anthony Vance described a series of experiments on people looking at security warnings online. Strangely, human reactions correlated well with those of Aplysia californica. (Aplysia californica is the California sea slug, proud member of the 550 million-year-old phylum of invertebrates known as Mollusca.)

Vance and his team ran a series of volunteers in a functional MRI system and displayed 40 real-world security warning windows. After just the second warning, the amount of attention the subject invested dropped significantly… and kept dropping. This happened to the humans AND the sea slugs.

Information was not provided on whether the sea slugs and the humans were together in the MRI at the same time. 

Attention rates improved somewhat when the team changed up colors and fonts and added motion to the warnings. Unfortunately, as the researcher noted: “That’s awkward – one of the fundamental bases of (good) user interface design is consistency.”

What’s the moral of this story? The folks at Verodin see it this way: It’s not enough to generate alerts. It’s not enough to even generate important alerts. You need a platform like Verodin to generate important alerts IN THE CONTEXT of your idiosyncratic network environment. Remember: Unique alerts get noticed. Even by slugs.

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