Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Nielsen: Let folks see passwords they're typing

Web usabilty expert Jakob Nielsen is out today with a call to eliminate password "masking" -- you know, that row of asterisks or bullets you get when you type your password into a Web form.

He makes a lot of sense.

Nielsen argues that masking passwords makes people less confident and more error-prone, and ultimately less likely to log in on your site. That might be a stretch. But I think his second argument is right on point:

The more uncertain users feel about typing passwords, the more likely they are to (a) employ overly simple passwords and/or (b) copy-paste passwords from a file on their computer. Both behaviors lead to a true loss of security.

As for fears of someone looking over your shoulder while you type, Nielsen essentially calls that balderdash.

Apple, for instance, has an option you can click when entering a wireless encryption password that lets you see all those mind-numbing hexadecimal characters as you type them in. And if you were afraid someone was looking over your shoulder, you could unclick it.

I think that's a great idea online.

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