Cybersecurity And Privacy Risk Of Web Accessibility Features

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By Jackie Edwards

Due to current regulations, many businesses will be implementing website accessibility adaptations over the next few years. How do web accessibility adaptations intersect with cybersecurity?

One significant way is found when we examine the visually impaired user experience. An estimated 14 million people who are 12 and older in the US experience some form of visual impairment. Cybersecurity for the visually impaired is a growing concern for businesses and individuals.

Importance Of Web Accessibility

The internet is a place where business interactions take place, social relationships are formed, and life on all levels happens, twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. With all of this activity, it makes sense that web accessibility is becoming a priority in today’s society.

The Americans with Disabilities Act Title III states that all people, no matter what kind of disability they have, should have fair and equal access to public spaces. Though the wording is somewhat ambiguous with regards to the web, it is expected to get clarified in 2018.

Despite any ambiguity, the ADA has the right to file claims against businesses that are not taking the steps necessary to make a website accessible. One example of this was a lawsuit filed in June 2017, in which a client filed a lawsuit against Winn Dixie. The plaintiff, who is visually impaired, stated that the website did not allow him equal access to the Winn Dixie services, such as coupons, pharmacy resources, and locating stores.

Not only is web accessibility legally mandated, but it also comes with business benefits. Websites that are accessible create ways for a broader audience to access their goods. They also come across as moral, socially conscientious, and responsible.

Blindness Is A Common Disability

There is a diverse range of disabilities, including hearing, vision, cognition, and physical impairments. Web accessibility programs such as W3 are focused on helping websites make content available and accessible to all different kinds of users. One of the most common accessibility challenges vision impairment. 14 million people in the United States have vision impairments.

Screen Readers Are Widely Used

The vision impaired used tools such as screen readers that speak information, or screen readers that send info to a refreshable braille display. This is one of the most prevalent ways for people with vision impairments to access information on the web. A person with vision impairment might also use additional tools, like screen magnifiers, to help them navigate.

What Are The Privacy Risks Of Screen Readers?

Screen readers carry security risks. Two of the main weaknesses lie in the limited security information that the reader provides to the user and the potential for audio eavesdropping. These two risks potentially make blind internet users vulnerable to cyber-attacks and hacking.

Limited Security Information

Screen readers were tested on various web pages. The data that was collected showed that often the screen reader did not provide security information for the page automatically. Screen reader software works with the web browser that it is set up for, and some reader and browser combinations gave the user no means of finding out how secure a sight was.

Audio Eavesdropping

People who use screen readers in public spaces are vulnerable to audio eavesdropping. This is especially threatening when they are completing business that requires identification or bank account information.

One challenge to consider is that headphones can be hard to use with hearing aids, so if someone has both a hearing aid and a vision impairment, as many seniors do, they may not be able to use headphones with their screen reader.

Analytics Vs. Privacy

Another privacy risk of screen readers comes from the seemingly harmless desire of website producers to know more about their website traffic. Websites are commonly put up by businesses. The website functions as a part of the business model. Website analytics is a helpful tool for the business.

Analytics allow the business to see who is using the site so that they can allocate money in a wise way. Business owners who have to spend money on website accessibility might want to know how many people with screen readers are using their sight.

This desire is a threat to user privacy because it is allowing the website producer to know about the user's disability. People who navigate the web have a right to do so with a degree of privacy.

Security-Related Inconveniences: CAPTCHA

We have seen that the visually impaired are vulnerable to cyber-attacks because of the limitations of screen readers when it comes to awareness of a site's security. Screen readers also open the blind up to audio eavesdropping, and potential invasions of privacy from well-meaning business owners. Another issue with screen readers is inconvenienced.

One common security measure found on many websites is CAPTCHA, which can make sure that the person moving through the site is a human and not a robot. CAPTCHA presents a difficulty to those with visual impairments.

The traditional CAPTCHA shows an image of text, and the user is told to type the letters that they see. An adaptation for those with screen readers is for the letters in the image to be spoken so that the user can then type them. However, this audio alternative is often slow or doesn’t work, which causes frustration and difficulty for the visually impaired.

Moving towards a universally usable CAPTCHA system that is quick and easy to use for everyone is a possible solution.

Website accessibility is a rising issue for many people who operate websites. The intersection of web accessibility and cybersecurity is involved. One way to start to break it down is by looking at the user experience of one subset of disabled users.

Visually impaired people often use screen readers to access the web, and these devices come with a unique set of security challenges. The challenges include increased vulnerability to attacks, loss of privacy, and security-related inconveniences. Examining each problem separately gives us a map towards solutions.


About Jackie Edwards

Jackie writes full time on topics ranging from business, finance, and management to health and wellness.

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