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I was just tasked by my boss to make a certain SSN field to appear more secure. We currently are masking the first 5 numbers but he wants a greater feel of security behind the input.

He was thinking a background with lines through it, but left most of the creative work to me. I am wondering:

  1. Is it bad UX to place a greater emphasis on the security of a field?
  2. Are there any examples I can view that can show such an idea?
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Personally I'd put a * mark and note something like "we don't store/we encrypt/this is only used for verification purposes" –  Ben Brocka Jan 20 at 19:52

2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

This blog post is about making credit card fields appear more secure, but I think the same principles can be applied in your situation. Things that help: Adding a padlock graphic, citing your encryption protocol and/or third-party certificate authority (if applicable) and calling out the security of sensitive fields with a different background color:
Image from baymard.com blog post

And, though it is written with a view towards password entry during signup and login processes, I also think this post talks a lot of sense about masking, especially unmasking on focus:

Image from smashingmagazine.com blog post

I believe the practices above provide a sense of security to users who want or need it without cluttering the page too much. As for myself, I look at things like that little ess in “https://”, site certificates and maybe even a peek at how the form is coded (if I care enough to check, which I usually don't).

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I like this answer a lot! I like the locked icon and the obvious separation from secure/non-secure fields –  Phil Jan 20 at 20:16
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Don't unmask the password field when it has focus, if I have someone sitting next to me he will be able to read my password! –  Vincent Kok Jan 21 at 8:18
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@Vincent That blog also covers the use of a checkbox for unmasking, which I think is best for passwords. I'm recommending the method above for SSN, for which I think it's appropriate. Plenty of webforms offer no masking whatsoever on SSN and I feel the method above would be a nice addition to the visual cues from the other blog given the OP's situation. –  Tyler James Young Jan 21 at 16:19

Since, I believe, SSN is one of the most common ways of citizen identification in the US, it would be a good idea not to show it at all, unless explicitly asks for it.

If we are speaking of a website or an application, anything interactive - because I'm not sure whether we are - I personally recommend Microsoft's idea of masking password that they used in their Windows Mobile OS. What they do is they mask (substitute with a bullet or a star) every character in a short time after it's been entered, so the user can seamlessly observe entered input, but without exposing full input value. Also, a checkbox (unchecked, by default) letting user "show full SSN" should be somewhere around the input.

Hopefully this helps, Greg

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