Last Friday Dark reading published a story "Study: Browser Warnings Don't Work". It references a new study out of Harvard and MIT that strongly indicated that users ignore browser warning and images used for authentication.
Here's the Dark Reading article's summary of the test:"
In the study, 67 customers of a single bank were asked to perform common online banking tasks. As they logged in, they were presented with increasingly conspicuous visual clues that suggested they might be about to enter a phishing or other fraudulent site.
In the first test, the researchers "broke" the HTTPS security key. The lock-and-key icon at the bottom of the screen clearly was not in one piece, and the URL showed "http" rather than "https." After seeing these cues, all (100%) of the participants proceeded to log in anyway.
In the second test, the researchers removed the site authentication image from the users' browser screens. These images, typified by Bank of America's Sitekey, are supposed to authenticate the site for the user by presenting a pre-selected image that the user can recognize. The researchers did not reveal which site authentication image technology was involved in the test.
When both the HTTPS security key and the site authentication image were displayed in an unsecured state, only 3 percent of the participants stopped the logon process before typing in their passwords. The rest of the users -- 97 percent -- went ahead and logged on.
In the third test, the researchers presented the participants with a browser "warning page" stating that there was a problem with the target site's security certificate. Users were then given the option of closing the page or continuing to the Website.
In the presence of the broken HTTP key, a non-secure URL, an absent site authentication image, and a strongly-worded pop-up warning, 53 percent of the participants chose to continue to the banking site. Only 47 percent chose to abandon the logon before they had typed their passwords.
So what does this tell us?
1. There are a certain percentage of users who are going to ignore visual authentication indicators and logon anyways. In this case it's about 50%.
2. Transaction authentication is the best way of reducing risk of attack rather than stronger authentication. If people are going to ignore the warnings and provide their authentication information anyway, then financial institutions best risk reduction is to use other means at the time of the transaction to determine if the user is who they are logging on as. This includes the use of IP address, geolocation, time of day, user profile history, type of computer the user is using, etc.
3. Enterprises need to do more work constantly hammering home to their users the risks of clicking on links in instant messages, emails and opening document attachments. Once the user has clicked on the link, this study indicates the majority of people are going to provide their authentication information regardless of the security features used.