Verena Distler, Tamara Gutfleisch, Carine Lallemand, Gabriele Lenzini, Vincent Koenig
Complex, but in a good way? How to represent encryption to non-experts through text and visuals – Evidence from expert co-creation and a vignette experiment

Computers in Human Behavior Reports, 2022: 5, (article no. 100161), pp. 1-26
ISSN: 2451-9588

An ongoing discussion in the field of usable privacy and security debates whether security mechanisms should be visible to end-users during interactions with technology, or hidden away. This paper addresses this question using a mixed-methods approach, focusing on encryption as a mechanism for confidentiality during data transmission on a smartphone application. In study 1, we conducted a qualitative co-creation study with security and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) experts (N = 9) to create appropriate textual and visual representations of the security mechanism encryption in data transmission. We investigated this question in two contexts: online banking and e-voting. In study 2, we put these ideas to the test by presenting these visual and textual representations to non-expert users in an online vignette experiment (N = 2180). We found a statistically significant and positive effect of the textual representation of encryption on perceived security and understanding, but not on user experience (UX). More complex text describing encryption resulted in higher perceived security and more accurate understanding. The visual representation of encryption had no statistically significant effect on perceived security, UX or understanding. Our study contributes to the larger discussion regarding visible instances of security and their impact on user perceptions.