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Study: Consumers Don't Use Anti-Phishing Defenses

Much-ballyhooed 'green bar' is lost on most end consumers

"Across the globe, Windows Internet Explorer 7 has more than 100 million users seeing green," VeriSign said in a press release about Extended Validation SSL technology earlier this month. About 5,000 sites are using the new technology, which gives users a "green bar" in their browsers when they prepare to click on a legitimate link. (See Nearly 5,000 Sites Now Using EV SSL.)

There's just one problem, according to a report issued yesterday: About 70 percent of consumers either don't use the green bar or don't know what they're looking at.

"Whilst approximately half of those surveyed said they would be prepared to spend up to [$1,000] online, 70 percent of shoppers don't understand the significance of the green browser bar, and 20 percent of those questioned do not understand what the golden security padlock represents," said NetBenefit, a U.K. hosting service provider.

The report casts further doubt on the value of EV SSL, which was hailed as a key anti-phishing defense embedded in Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7 browser. EV SSL, which displays legitimate URLs in green on the browser, is designed to help users distinguish safe sites from phishing sites before they click on a link.

"We’re invested in helping people feel confident about keeping their personal information protected from falling into the wrong hands,” said Craig Spiezle, director of Internet security and privacy at Microsoft, in a statement earlier this month. “Advancements like the ability to spot the green address bar when visiting a site protected by EV SSL Certificates -- as well as uncompromising protection from the phishing filter, which blocks one million attempts to visit phishing sites each week -- are major differentiators for Internet Explorer 7."

So far, however, the new features aren't much help, according to NetBenefit.

“Secure Website technology has been in place for some time now, but it is staggering to find that so few consumers actually know how to make sure a Website is secure," said Jonathan Robinson, chief operating officer at NetBenefit. "The industry has put standards in place to provide the online shopper with confidence, but in actual fact, many shoppers simply do not know what they are supposed to be looking for."

The NetBenefit study isn't the first to question the value of the new features. In laboratory experiments conducted last spring, researchers at Harvard University and MIT found that most users ignore green bars and other browser security cues, even after they are instructed on what they mean. (See Study: Browser Warnings Don't Work.)

NetBenefit said it isn't giving up on the new features, but it encouraged users to pay more attention to the cues. "It is of the utmost importance that Internet users start to check up on their favorite shopping sites’ security, and if it’s not up to scratch, then walk -- or click -- away," Robinson said. "The consumer needs to vote with their mouse."

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  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)
  • VeriSign Inc. (Nasdaq: VRSN)

    Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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