Is Curiosity Putting You at Risk of a Cyberattack?

Is Curiosity Putting You at Risk of a Cyberattack?

Curiosity endangers more than the proverbial cat, new research shows.

It can cause us to click on links in messages from unknown senders even when we know such links can be dangerous, according to a recent study out of one of Germany’s largest research universities, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU).

For the study, researchers conducted two experiments in which they sent emails or Facebook messages to about 1,700 FAU students.

The correspondence, which was sent under a fake name, claimed that the link in the correspondence was to a page with images of a party the previous weekend.

In the first experiment, the students were addressed by their first names. In this case, 56 percent of email recipients and 38 percent of Facebook message recipients clicked on the links in the correspondence.

In the second experiment, the students were not addressed personally but were given more details about when the photos were supposedly taken. This time, 20 percent of email recipients and 42 percent of Facebook message recipients clicked on the links.

One of the most surprising overall findings, however, was that 78 percent of participants stated they were aware of the risk of clicking on unknown links, according to lead researcher Zinaida Benenson, from FAU’s Chair of Computer Science 1, whose research focuses on the human factors in information technology security.

The main reason participants clicked on unknown links despite knowing the risk of doing so was curiosity — in this case, curiosity about the photos or the sender, the study found.

Perhaps the scariest conclusion is that we may be unable to escape our curious nature, according to Benenson. Although she notes that additional research is needed to find ways to help make people more aware of security attacks that can result from clicking on unknown links, she also concludes:

“I think that, with careful planning and execution, anyone can be made to click on this type of link, even [if] it’s just out of curiosity. I don’t think one hundred percent security is possible.”

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