Exploring Older Adult Susceptibility to Fraudulent Computer Pop-Up Interruptions

Conference paper
Part of the Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing book series (AISC, volume 782)


The proliferation of Internet connectivity and accessibility has been accompanied by an increase in cyber-threats, including fraudulent communications. Fake computer updates, which attempt to persuade people to download malicious software by mimicking trusted brands and/or instilling urgency, are one way in which fraudsters try to infiltrate systems. A recent study of young university students (M 18.52-years) found that when such pop-ups interrupt a demanding cognitive task, participants spent little time viewing them and were more likely to miss suspicious cues and accept these updates compared to when they were viewed without the pressure to resume a suspended task [1]. The aim of the current experiment was to test an older adult sample (N = 29, all >60 years) using the same paradigm. We predicted that they would be more susceptible to malevolent pop-ups [2]; trusting them more than younger adults (e.g., [3]), and would attempt to resume the interrupted task faster to limit forgetting of encoded items. Phase 1 involved serial recall memory trials interrupted by genuine, mimicked, and low authority pop-ups. During phase 2, participants rated messages with unlimited time and gave reasons for their decisions. It was found that more than 70% of mimicked and low authority pop-ups were accepted in Phase 1 vs ~80% genuine pop-ups (and these were all approximately 10% higher than [1]). This was likely due to a greater tendency to ignore or miss suspicious content when performing under pressure, despite spending longer with messages and reporting high awareness of scam techniques than younger adults. Older adult participants were more suspicious during Phase 2 performing comparably to the younger adults in [1]. Factors that may impact older adult decisions relating to fraudulent computer communications are discussed, as well as theoretical and practical implications.


Cyber security Susceptibility Older adults Task interruption 



The reported research forms part of a United Kingdom BRACE funded project (2016–17) – Measuring executive functioning predictive of real world behaviours in older adults. We thank a number of people for assistance with preparing materials and data collection including: Emma Gaskin, Hardeep Adams, Janet Watkins, Kiren Bains, Laura Bishop, Michael Carmody-Baker, Zahra Dahnoun, Ellie MacFarlane, Katerina Stankova, and Rose Vincent.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyCardiff UniversityCardiffUK
  2. 2.School of Experimental PsychologyUniversity of BristolBristolUK
  3. 3.University of the West of England – BristolBristolUK

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