My family and I traveled for the Thanksgiving holiday; we visited some of my wife’s family in Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte is a great city with much to do, including beautiful outdoor spaces and great restaurants. We even got to see our beloved Providence Bruins play the local Charlotte Checkers hockey team. I’ve also never seen so many car washes in one city!
Soon after we returned, Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte resides, was attacked by a hacker (A hacker is holding Mecklenburg County’s computer files for ransom). This was a result of a phishing attack in which an employee unknowingly gave a hacker their credentials. The attack encrypted files and asked for a ransom of two Bitcoins (valued at about $30,000-$35,000 in the market as I write this) to unencrypt.
Phishing is a technique used by hackers to take advantage of human behavior to unlawfully gain access to systems, networks and technology assets. These damaging attacks are fascinating in terms of how they use social engineering methods to defraud people and organizations. I recently attended a seminar on ransomware where the main speaker indicated these types of attacks cost businesses an estimated $5-$6 billion a year.
At Trilix, we employ security best practices when developing solutions for clients and, at times, bring in cyber security partners to improve client outcomes. We are not a cyber security firm, but we are students of such matters because they help us to better understand how people interact with technology in general.
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Behavior and Technology
Knowing that technology use, adoption and acceptance is profoundly affected by human behavior, here are some things we keep in mind while working with our clients:
Get Users Involved Early
What better way to understand what users want than to ask them? Once we establish their wishes, we need to ask probing questions to get at the root of their needs and then involve them as an active participant in the solution. When involved in developing a solution, users (and I mean actual users, not managers of actual users) are invested and will use the technology as intended.
Take Advantage of Natural Human Tendencies
Humans are ingenious creatures; if there is an easier workaround, we will find it. To avoid these workarounds, it is important to use technology to make the most frequent tasks the easiest to perform.
Sometimes workarounds are not the safest. For example, as password changing requirements became more stringent, the incidence of easily found sticky notes with passwords on them increased. Therefore, help the users to not make mistakes by designing systems to avoid potential pitfalls.
Know Your Users
Not all users have the same technical proficiency, use tools with the same frequency, nor access them on the same device. That is why we need to focus our user experience design on these factors. Are users generally proficient or technology newcomers? Do they trend older or younger? Are they using a solution frequently or occasionally throughout the day? Are they more likely to use a computer, tablet or mobile device to access a system?
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These questions lead to key design decisions that will make the system easier and more likely used.
Don’t Gold Plate
In technology, “gold plating” is a term used to describe the addition of features or effort that add little or no value. Not only is this a wasted effort, but it also makes a system harder to maintain, upgrade and enhance. It can also introduce defects as these features are often not well planned. Further, it runs contrary to the philosophy of getting a system or solution into your users’ hands with the minimum number of features possible, because their use will indicate what is needed and provide an invaluable source of features and enhancements.
This list is not exhaustive and it takes experience to execute correctly, but if we recognize the influence of behavior on technology usage, we can go a long way to improving its use. Even the hackers that attacked Mecklenburg County realized it! Keeping human behavior in mind helps to create a better outcome for clients and users.