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Simple device may help protect your online data, privacy

A simple device that functions like exercise and fitness apps may nudge people to change their passwords and better protect their online privacy and data, scientists say.

Over the last five years, the cost of cyberattacks is reported to have risen by 67 per cent, with the majority of these data breaches being traced back to human error, said researchers from the University of Bath in the UK.

Taking inspiration from exercise and fitness apps that successfully nudge people to make behavioural change, researchers are investigating whether a simple device that plugs in to a PC and signals when action is needed with gentle sound, lights or vibration could make the difference.

"Humans are the weak link in cyber security," said Emily Collins, Research Associate at the University of Bath.

"We know that people feel overloaded with data breaches reported in the news and overwhelmed about what they should be doing to protect themselves," Collins said.

The researchers hope the project will help to build better habits through a subtle desktop reminder designed to gently nudge people into action without it becoming an annoyance or distraction.

"Work-based training on cyber security is generally very conventional, often just delivered as a one-off when people join an organisation.

"There's scope to learn from health psychology to pinpoint what motivates people to take action to protect their cyber security," Collins said.

"Our project recognises that people can respond to a gentle, well-timed nudge and is investigating the most effective way of doing that," she said.

The project will use Adafruit Circuit Playgrounds, which can be programmed to detect when people leave their desks for example and remind them to lock their screen through a sequence of lights, sounds or vibrations.

The research team will create a working prototype with open-source code to be available to businesses later in the year.

It could be tailored for home use in the future, researchers said.