Instrumenting Simple Risk Communication to Enable Online Self-Protection


It is difficult for most people to know if they are working with a secure remote system or facing an online threat. The popularity of Fake Antivirus is a testament to the role of human confusion in high-risk online behavior. To address this, we tested a tool using simple cartoons that functioned both as the risk communication and the controller for browser security settings. In a 12 week experiment, we monitored participants’ behaviors as well as self-reported perceptions of their behaviors. Participants in the experimental group choose fewer online risks than those in the control group: scripts were blocked, passwords were not entered on unencrypted networks, and Flash was disabled. These participants also expressed more awareness of risk. Conversely, those in the control group felt more safe despite their unprotected high-risk internet browsing. Using simple images as the controller and the communication enabled participants to align their perceptions of risk with the actual online risk; they choose to be safer.

Federal Trade Commision