Understanding users’ perceptions of suspected computer-security problems can help us tailor technology to better protect users. To this end, we conducted a field study of users’ perceptions using 189,272 problem descriptions sent to the customer-support desk of a large anti-virus vendor from 2015 to 2018. Using qualitative methods, we analyzed 650 problem descriptions to study the security issues users faced and the symptoms that led users to their own diagnoses. Subsequently, we investigated to what extent and for what types of issues user diagnoses matched those of experts. We found, for example, that users and experts were likely to agree for most issues, but not for attacks (e.g., malware infections), for which they agreed only in 44% of the cases. Our findings inform several user-security improvements, including how to automate interactions with users to resolve issues and to better communicate issues to users.
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