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I have received many a phone call from my mother saying, “My computer is warning me that it’s going to install something. What should I do?”

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has received a similar frantic parental phone call.

“We understand that the warnings frustrate the user,” said Adam Shostack (@adamshostack), Principal Program Manager of Usable Security of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing. Warnings are often not clear and users don’t know what they should do.

Through the Trustworthy Computing group, Shostack is trying to help developers minimize these warnings and make them more appropriate. They should only be asked when you truly need the user’s knowledge and feedback.

To help developers create appropriate warning messages, Shostack’s group created a simple training tool, a card, that has a Memonic, NEAT, which asks developers these four questions. Is it:

  • Necessary?
  • Explained?
  • Actionable?
  • Tested?

If a developer produces a user alert, it should answer these four questions in the affirmative. If it doesn’t, then the user warning shouldn’t be included, said Shostack.

Shostack understands that both developers and users are busy. If they can help developers manage the simple task of creating a warning, then that value will trickle down to a positive experience for the end user.

Stock photo of grandma on the computer courtesy of Shutterstock.