Page last updated at 12:30 GMT, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 13:30 UK

Users fail to spot fake pop-ups

A pop-up
Pop-ups can be annoying but tend to be ignored

Internet users are unable to distinguish between genuine pop-up warnings messages and false ones, a study at North Carolina State University has found.

The study examined the responses of undergraduates to messages which popped up while they did other tasks on a PC.

Seeing the pop-ups as a mere annoyance the majority clicked 'OK'.

Fake pop-ups are a well-known vehicle for cyber-criminals to install harmful software on PCs.

"This study demonstrates how easy it is to fool people on the web," said co-author Michael Wogalter, professor of psychology at North Carolina State University.

"Be suspicious when things pop up. Don't click OK - close the box instead," said Dr Wogalter."

Legitimate message

Screen grab on how to block pop-ups
It is easy to block pop-ups

Participants were fooled by the fake messages 63% of the time, even when warned that some of what they would be seeing would be false.

It suggests that the wording on genuine messages needs to be rethought, said Dr Wogalter.

"I don't know if you could develop a legitimate message that could not be duplicated and used illegitimately," he said.

Tony Neate, managing director of the UK's Get Safe Online campaign advised users to install a pop-up blocker.

"Browsers and most anti-virus software offers them. Pop-ups are either downloading something malicious or trying to sell me something so I just don't want them there at all," he said.

Computer viruses hit one million
10 Apr 08 |  Technology
Net criminals shun virus attacks
20 Jul 07 |  Technology
Staying safe without anti-virus
09 Mar 07 |  Technology

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific