Researchers at the University of Bath are looking to recruit organisations in the Bath and Bristol area to take part in a six-week trial to find out whether a simple desktop device can help to change human behaviour, and encourage better protection of privacy and data.

People routinely put off, ignore or forget cyber security measures such as changing passwords, updating privacy settings and locking computer screens. And traditional cyber security training is failing to galvanise people to act on straightforward security measures.

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

Over the last five years the cost of cyberattacks is reported to have risen by 67%, with the majority of these data breaches being traced back to human error. It is anticipated that 75% of UK companies plan to address human factors in cyberattacks in the next three years in an attempt to mitigate this.

Dr Emily Collins Research Associate at the University of Bath’s School of Management, said: “Technology used in exercise and lifestyle apps may hold the key to getting people to better protect their online privacy and data.

“We’d love to get office workers in local organisations on board with the project – to help us test out whether this little device can really make a difference by gently nudging people into action without it becoming an annoyance or distraction. We’ll be able to give organisations taking part some tailored advice on how they can improve computer security.”

The researchers have programmed the device, known as an Adafruit Circuit Playgrounds, to detect when people leave their desks and remind them to lock their screen through a sequence of lights, sounds or vibrations.

To take part in the project, the device will need to be plugged in to desktops for 6-8 weeks and the research team will monitor impact on screen locking. They will ask staff to complete a questionnaire or carry out short interviews with them before and after the trail to help judge the effect of the device.

The project, which is funded by the Home Office via the National Cyber Security Programme, aims to 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.

To find out more about taking part in the project please email researchers Dr Emily Collins or Dr Joanne Hinds in the University of Bath’s School of Management.