Despite knowing that e-mails and Facebook messages from unknown senders can contain dangerous links, most people click on them anyway mainly due to their inability to contain their curiosity, says a study.
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The researchers found that up to 56 per cent of e-mail recipients and around 40 per cent of Facebook users clicked on a link from an unknown sender although they knew of the risks of their computer becoming infected with a virus.
For the experiment, Zinaida Benenson from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) in Germany and her team sent around 1,700 students e-mails or Facebook messages under a false name.
They adapted the fake messages to the target groups by signing them with one of the ten most common names for the target group's generation.
The text claimed that the link in the message was to a page with images of a party the previous weekend.
If the recipient clicked on the link they were directed to a page with the message 'access denied'.
This enabled the researchers to register the click rates.
They then sent a questionnaire to all of the participants which first asked them to rate their own awareness of security before explaining the experiment and asking them about the reasons they did or did not click on the link.
The researchers found that 56 per cent of the e-mail recipients and 38 per cent of the Facebook message recipients in the study clicked on the links.
"The overall results surprised us as 78 per cent of participants stated in the questionnaire that they were aware of the risks of unknown links," Benenson said.
When asked why they clicked on the link, the large majority of participants said that it was due to curiosity about the content of the photos or the identity of the sender.