NIST warns of dangers of 'security fatigue' and 'overwhelming weariness of data'

Just as an overabundance of alarms in hospitals can lead to alarm fatigue among clinicians, the need for constant security measures is leading to "security fatigue," or a weariness or reluctance to deal with computer security, according to a study from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The study focused on computer users' perceptions and beliefs regarding cybersecurity and online privacy both on personal and work-related computer use.

When people constantly receive messages alerting them of security threats and urging them to take precautions, they tend to start ignoring the alerts, having become desensitized to them. The more people have to make computer security decisions and are prompted to be on alert, they experience decision fatigue, and decision fatigue leads to security fatigue, according to the study.

"We weren't even looking for fatigue in our interviews, but we got this overwhelming feeling of weariness throughout all of the data," Mary Theofanos, co-author of the study, said in a statement. "Years ago, you had one password to keep up with at work. Now people are being asked to remember 25 or 30. We haven't really thought about cybersecurity expanding and what it has done to people."

Though the study focused on the general population, the same principles can be applied to healthcare employees. It is widely accepted that employees are an organization's strongest line of defense — human error is a top security risk. And with heightened scrutiny regarding privacy and safeguarding healthcare data, the likelihood of these employees experiencing security fatigue is more pronounced.

"If people can't use security, they are not going to, and then we and our nation won't be secure," said Brian Stanton, co-author of the study, in a statement.

More articles on cybersecurity:

This cybersecurity expert was shut down by hackers
President Obama deems October National Cybersecurity Awareness Month
Thoughts on big threats for hospitals today

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