Half of web users click on virus links out of “curiosity”, research finds

  • 56 per cent of web users fell for fake emails
  • Scienists sent out messages with link to party photos
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Half of web users click on links from unknown senders even though they know it could infect their computer with a virus, new research has revealed.

Scientists believe the biggest reason about ignoring warning about emails is curiosity, with half of us too intrigued to ignore junk mail.

I don’t think one hundred percent security is possible.

Dr Zinaida Benenson

Dr Zinaida Benenson, chair of computer science at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, and her team came up with the findings after studying more than 1,500 students in Germany.

The team ran two studies in which they sent emails or Facebook messages under a false name.

Each contained a link which promised pictures from a party the previous weekend, and was signed off with one of the 10 most commonly used names.

A total of 56 per cent of students fell for the fake emails while 40 per cent were fixed by the Facebook message, despite admitting they knew the risks involved.

In the first study researchers addressed the recepient by their first name, and in the second they did not address the subject by person but included more detail about the photos.

When asked afterwards why they had clicked on the link, many participants said they were curious about the photos or the identity of the sender.

Others said they knew someone with the sender’s name or had been to a recent party where there were people they did not know.

Dr Benenson said: “Conversely, one in two of the people who did not click on the link said that the reason for this was that they did not recognise the sender’s name.

“Five percent stated that they wanted to protect the sender’s privacy by not looking at photos that were not meant for them.”

She concluded that most people can be easily fooled by fake messages.

She said: “I think that, with careful planning and execution, anyone can be made to click on this type of link, even it’s just out of curiosity.

“I don’t think one hundred percent security is possible.

“Nevertheless, further research is required to develop ways of making users, such as employees in companies, more aware of such attacks.”