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Revealing hidden context: Improving mental models of personal firewall users

The Windows Vista personal firewall provides users with a simple interface, obscuring many operational details. However, this concealment of the network context’s impact on the firewall’s security state may lead users to form an inaccurate mental model of the firewall’s protection. Our study examines participants’ mental models of the Vista Firewall (VF), exploring changes to these models and their understanding of firewall settings after interacting with both the VF basic interface and our prototype. Our prototype aims to foster a more comprehensive mental model by including information on network location and connection. The results showed that after using the prototype, participants had significantly more accurate and richer mental models than when working with the VF basic interface. Drawing on these results, we explore methods to enhance user understanding of underlying system states by revealing hidden context, while balancing interface complexity and system security.

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