The team from the University of Bath and Goldsmiths University of London are investigating a device that plugs into a computer. It would signal when action – such as changing a password or updating anti-virus software – is needed with sound, lights and vibration.
Future uses could include alerts when an employee is using a work computer for activities such as social media or shopping.
Dr Emily Collins, research associate at the University of Bath’s School of Management, said: “Humans are the weak link in cyber security.
“We know that people feel overloaded with data breaches reported in the news and overwhelmed about what they should be doing to protect themselves.
“Many of us know we’re not on top of security, but translating that nagging worry into positive action just isn’t happening. It’s leaving us all open to serious security threats.”
The researchers are currently focusing on how best to ensure people lock their computer screens when they leave their desk. This could involve a sensor being fitted to the person’s chair, with the device activating when they stand up.
It could also work through proximity sensors and cameras that detect the lock status of a computer screen.
Researchers are aiming to ascertain which of the alerts – light, sound or vibration – is most effective.
Dr Collins said: “Work-based training on cyber-security is generally very conventional, often just delivered as a one-off when people join an organisation.
“There’s scope to learn from health psychology to pinpoint what motivates people to take action to protect their cyber-security.
“Our project recognises that people can respond to a gentle, well-timed nudge and is investigating the most effective way of doing that.”
The project, with funding from the Home Office through the National Cyber Security Programme, uses Adafruit Circuit Playgrounds.
A working prototype with open-source code will be developed through the research and be available to businesses.
Dr Sarah Wiseman, lecturer in computer science at Goldsmiths, University of London, said: “The Adafruit Circuit Playgrounds are a fantastic opportunity to do some rapid prototyping with participants.
“The inbuilt functionality on the boards means that you don’t need much experience with electronics to take a concept from idea to reality.”