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Windows Users Are Stupid: Proof!

Be grateful they don't get their hands on good systems.

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This is a typical Windows alert box. Things like this happen all the time. The addresses given are even authentic 32-bit hex values. All is proper and kosher. Almost. The box actually has too much.

Can you see it?

Researchers at North Carolina State University did a twist on the ordinary 'something is crashing again' Windows diagnostic. Or three twists to be more exact. They ambushed a focus group with a real 'crash' dialog and with three others deliberately constructed to look obviously 'fake'. As in the screenshot above.

  • One of the three adds a browser status bar to the bottom of the dialog window.
  • Another of the three alternates between black text on white and white text on black.
  • The cursors do a bit of 'shapeshifting' when hovered over the 'OK' button like browsers do over hyperlinks.
  • The dialogs have minimise and maximise buttons - which ordinary alerts don't have (and for a very good reason).

The NSU researchers crafted an SWF app that mimics loading a number of medical websites. They called in 42 fellow students and told them they were to watch as the sites loaded and then would be asked questions about what they saw. But it was an ambush. Instead of medical websites the fabulous 42 saw the four alert dialogs loaded in a random order. And the sly researchers recorded their reactions.

  • Only 26 clicked 'OK' in the real dialog.
  • 25 clicked 'OK' in two of the fake dialogs.
  • 23 clicked 'OK' in the dialog with the status bar.
  • Only 9 closed the fake windows without clicking 'OK'.
  • Some users just minimised or moved the dialogs out of the way.

Response times weren't significantly different for the fakes - indicating no one wasted time trying to figure out what was going on. Followup questions revealed the 42 were mostly annoyed by the dialogs and didn't think much more about them.

Nearly half the 42 admitted they didn't much care what happened to the computers - they just wanted the alerts out of the way. The researchers conclude poor Windows users are so inundated with dialogs of this type they don't even bother reading them anymore. But what's worse: they don't even bother noticing when they're being hacked.

Conclusion? Windows users are stupid? We needed a academic study for that?

See Also
Ars Technica: Fake popup study sadly confirms most users are idiots

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