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Your typical registration page for a web site will ask you for a password, then ask you to confirm to make sure you typed it correctly. In doing so, they typically mask the two fields:

Create Password
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| ********                |
---------------------------

Confirm Password    
---------------------------
| ********                |
---------------------------

As a user, I don't like masked password fields--at least when I'm creating them. Instead of retyping it, just let me see the pwd so I can see that I typed it in correctly:

Create Password
---------------------------
| K#4jsie!                |
---------------------------

What are the arguments for not doing the latter? Is it just habit? Or are there very big security reasons for not allowing it?

UPDATE:

What are thoughts on this hybrid solution? One field, but let the user opt in to unmask it? Is this a viable compromise?

Create Password
---------------------------   
| ********                |     Show Password
---------------------------    
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migrated from stackoverflow.com Apr 1 at 20:32

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I would think for the same reasons that they're masked anywhere. If you don't want someone to have access to your password when you're logging in, why would you allow it when you're creating the password? –  Ross Tajvar Mar 31 at 18:14
    
@RossTajvar I see those as different use cases. I can see needing to log into a web site with someone watching. But if I'm registering, I don't think I'd ever do that while someone is watching me. –  DA01 Mar 31 at 18:16
    
maybe you don't, but it's in the best interests of the site owner to enforce security (e.g. password complexity restrictions). –  Ross Tajvar Mar 31 at 18:17
    
@RossTajvar sure...though I don't know how complex pwd restrictions mesh with the issue of whether you show the characters or not as they type. Maybe I'm missing the connection there? –  DA01 Mar 31 at 18:19
1  
Unless someone is using an autofill like LastPass, mixing complex passwords and hidden input results in a LOT of failed logins and people opting to use simpler passwords. –  RagingCelt Mar 31 at 18:20

3 Answers 3

There's a good case against using masked passwords: NNG: Stop Password Masking.

Summary: Usability suffers when users type in passwords and the only feedback they get is a row of bullets. Typically, masking passwords doesn't even increase security, but it does cost you business due to login failures.

All it does is prevent people from seeing your password as you type, but dedicated hackers/thieves can easily get around that. It hurts UX more than it helps prevent password theft.

Update: Your option to allow the customer to show their password if they wish is a good compromise.

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Good info! (I updated the answer with a summary. Hope you don't mind) –  DA01 Mar 31 at 18:25
    
Now that my indignant rage has subsided, no. I don't mind. :) –  RagingCelt Mar 31 at 18:29

One solution is to give your user the option to choose which is best for them.

Luke Wroblewski wrote a post that covers this issue well:

enter image description here

By default Polar displays your password on our Log In screen as readable text. A simple, Hide action is present right next to the password field so in situations where you might need to, you can switch the password to a string of •••• instantly.

Wait... what? You’re displaying people’s passwords by default? Simply put, yes. We decided to optimize for usability and ease of log in over questionable security increases. On a touchscreen phone, its trivial to move the device out of sight of prying eyes. Or easier still to simply hit the Hide action to obscure a password.

But not that it matters, there’s a visible touch keyboard directly below the input field that highlights each key as you press it. These bits of feedback show the characters in a password at a larger size than most input fields. So in reality, the •••• characters aren’t really hiding a password from prying eyes anyway. As a result, we opted for usability improvements instead.

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The obvious reason is, that you can type the password, even if other people are watching the screen. Often i have this situation when i publish my desktop in a presentation, or if i need to give support to other users.

Besides hiding of the characters, the browser (or desktop application) will also prevent copying the content from the password box. This is one possibility less for other applications to misuse the passwords.

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re: first paragraph, I think that's a good point, but not really applicable to registration. Rarely would you be registering on a web site while letting people watch your screen. re: second paragraph...that's an interesting point! –  DA01 Mar 31 at 22:16

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