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Fear, Anger, Distrust

By Frank Hayes
July 11, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Can your users change when it comes to security? Yes, probably. At least that's what two surveys that came out last week suggest. The Pew Internet & American Life Project polled 1,300 Internet users about spyware and related problems (the results are online at Pewinternet.org). Meanwhile, Computerworld.com columnist Larry Ponemon reported on a Ponemon Institute survey of 400 people who were victims of a personal data breach .
Neither study is intended to be about changing what users do. But the lessons they offer in that line are pretty compelling.
Unfortunately, you may not much like those lessons.
See, the main thing that's clear from both studies is that fear, anger and distrust are what motivate users to change. In the Pew survey, 91% of users said fears about malware have made them change how they deal with e-mail, the Web, downloads and even software user agreements. And, according to the Ponemon survey, most of those whose personal information is leaked will dump the bank, credit card or other company that exposed their data.
So users will change -- if they get afraid, angry or distrustful. That might be useful in getting them to stop doing risky, insecure things. But only if you make sure they're not afraid, angry or distrustful in your direction.
So threatening them with punishment for breaking security rules won't work. Neither will trying to force them to obey or lying to them. No wonder IT's standard techniques for getting users to behave always fail. They're exactly the wrong approach.
Then what might work? Beyond fear, anger and distrust, there are some other useful insights to be gleaned from these studies:
Users like the personal touch. According to the Ponemon survey, users who got a phone call after their personal data was exposed were much more likely to trust the company than were users who just got a written notice. Lesson for IT: Memos don't work. Personal contact is expensive, and lots of IT people could use some polish on their people skills. But if you want to change behavior, you'll need to do it one on one.
Users drag their feet, but they want a quick response from others. The Pew survey says two-thirds of users will wait a week or more before dealing with a suspected spyware infection, and 20% will never deal with it. But the Ponemon results say users resent any delay in being informed of a security breach. Lesson: You need to respond fast, then convey that urgency to users so they'll call you as soon as



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