Personalized Security Messaging: Nudges for Compliance with Browser Warnings (EuroUSEC ’17)


Decades of psychology and decision-making research show that everyone makes decisions differently; yet security messaging is still one-size-fits-all. This suggests that we can improve outcomes by delivering information relevant to how each individual makes decisions. We tested this hypothesis by designing messaging customized for stable personality traits—specifically, the five dimensions of the General Decision-Making Style (GDMS) instrument. We applied this messaging to browser warnings, security messaging encountered by millions of web users on a regular basis. To test the efficacy of our nudges, we conducted experiments with 1,276 participants, who encountered a warning about broken HTTPS due to an invalid certificate under realistic circumstances. While the effects of some nudges correlated with certain traits in a statistically significant manner, we could not reject the null hypothesis—that the intervention did not affect the subjects’ behavior—for most of our nudges, especially after accounting for participants who did not pay close attention to the message. In this paper, we present the detailed results of our experiments, discuss potential reasons for why the outcome contradicts the decision-making research, and identify lessons for researchers based on our experience.

Nathan Malkin, Arunesh Mathur, Marian Harbach, and Serge Egelman. Personalized Security Messaging: Nudges for Compliance with Browser Warnings. Proceedings of the European Workshop on Usable Security (EuroUSEC ’17), 2017.

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