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We ignore computer security alerts up to 90% of the time, study says

Humans aren't so good at multitasking, even if one of those tasks is reading a security alert and the other is watching a video.

Symantec

We as a society may be more concerned about privacy and cybersecurity than ever, but that doesn't mean we're paying more attention to security alerts.

People ignore software security warnings up to 90 percent of the time, according to a new study from Brigham Young University. The cause? Our inability to multitask.

"While these [alerts] provide timely information, research shows they come at a high cost in terms of increased stress and decreased productivity," BYU team said in the study's abstract. "This is due to dual-task interference (DTI), a cognitive limitation in which even simple tasks cannot be simultaneously performed without significant performance loss."

The study, which had participants use a computer while attached to sensors measuring brain activity, found that focusing on a security alert drastically reduces our ability to keep on doing whatever it is we were doing before the alert -- even something simple, like watching a video.

Seventy-four percent of participants shunned the alert if they were in the middle of closing a webpage, and 87 percent ignored an alert that popped up while they were entering a confirmation code.