"We're on the Same Page": A Usability Study of Secure Email Using Pairs of Novice Users

Scott Ruoti, Jeff Andersen, Scott Heidbrink, Mark O'Neill, Elham Vaziripour, Justin Wu, Daniel Zappala, Kent Seamons

Secure email is increasingly being touted as usable by novice users, with a push for adoption based on recent concerns about government surveillance. To determine whether secure email is ready for grassroots adoption, we employ a laboratory user study that recruits pairs of novice users to install and use several of the latest systems to exchange secure messages. We present both quantitative and qualitative results from 25 pairs of novice users as they use Pwm, Tutanota, and Virtru. Participants report being more at ease with this type of study and better able to cope with mistakes since both participants are "on the same page". We find that users prefer integrated solutions over depot-based solutions, and that tutorials are important in helping first-time users. Hiding the details of how a secure email system provides security can lead to a lack of trust in the system. Participants expressed a desire to use secure email, but few wanted to use it regularly and most were unsure of when they might use it.

34th ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 2016. (ACM CHI 2016, 23% acceptance rate, Honorable Mention for Best Paper)


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