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Understanding End-user Decision Making for Securing Online Accounts

Project: 17
Name: Robert D'Ovidio, PhD (; 215.895.1803)
Department: Criminology & Justice Studies


Online service providers (e.g. Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat) often give users options on how to authenticate their identity when signing into an account. Multi-factor authentication options and options that require the use of biometric identifiers (e.g. fingerprint and facial recognition) are generally considered more secure when compared to the use of a single-factor authentication method that is solely based on some knowledge held by the user (i.e. a password). We will begin this research by cataloging current and future methods for authenticating identity when it comes to online account access and the approaches currently offered by popular online service providers. We will then examine what drives end-user decision making when selecting an online account authentication method from available options by surveying students who regularly use online services. The goal of this survey is to shed light on why less secure authentication methods are chosen by end-users when more secure authentication methods are offered. The findings of this project will inform the second phase of our research. In the second phase, we will design and conduct an experiment to examine how language and content formats can be used to guide people towards the selection of authentication methods that provide better account security.

Associated Independent Study

If elected by the student, an independent study project connected to this course will examine three streams of literature. The first stream will explore the current and future methods for authenticating end-user access to online accounts. In the second stream, the student will explore the theoretical approaches to explain the decision behind selecting a specific authentication approach when options are given. The third stream will look to the literature in communication to understand how the use of language and media can impact the selection of an authentication method by end users.

Gained Experience

Through this research, the student will develop an understanding of current and future methods for authenticating identity when it comes to accessing online services and accounts. Additionally, this research will look to enhance the student's knowledge in the following methodological areas: survey design, sampling, and quantitative data analysis. The student will also gain an understanding of research ethics since the use of a student sample for our survey will require an application to and approval by Drexel's Institutional Review Board. We will explore a funded research assistantship for the student to participate in the second phase of this work if the research team is successful at securing external support.


The project will result in a paper submitted to a peer-reviewed journal and will work towards the development of a grant proposal to support phase-two of the study.


The student will work closely with the research team and will be involved in the following project tasks:

  • literature review
  • vignette and survey creation
  • preparation and submission of a research protocol to IRB
  • data collection and analysis
  • writing of a paper for a peer-reviewed journal
  • writing of a grant proposal for external funds to support phase-two of the research


The project will take place on Drexel's University City campus, as we will look to use Drexel students as a sample for our study. The student will have workspace in the Department of Criminology & Justice Studies suite (#110) at 3401 Market Street.


I will meet with the student twice a week, preferably during late-morning hours. We will have a set meeting date on Thursdays during the summer. I will be flexible with the other meeting date and can even accommodate a virtual meeting through Skype.

Interview Availability

April 10, April 11, April 12