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Mozilla To Build Breach Notifications Into Firefox Browser

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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A planned feature, currently in early testing, would alert users when they use a site that’s recently been affected by a data breach

data breachMozilla developers are preparing a feature for the Firefox browser that would alert users who may have been affected by a data breach.

The feature, which is still in an early stage of development and is currently being tested as an add-on, is designed to give data breaches a higher profile for those who may have been involved in them, as well as offering users ways of protecting themselves.

As breaches grow larger and more frequent, “it’s desirable to keep track of them and communicate about them to web users when their credentials may have been compromised, and educate them on the repercussions, what they can do when such a breach occurs, and protect themselves in the future,” said Mozilla developer Nihanth Subramanya on the feature’s GitHub page.

He said the GitHub code, which uses the name “Breach Alerts”, is meant for testing possible approaches and shouldn’t be taken as indicating the way Mozilla’s final product will appear.

Breach notification

Australian security researcher Troy Hunt, who operates the Have I Been Pwned breach-tracking website, confirmed he is working on the project with Mozilla.

At present, users may only find out that their credentials have been stolen in a data breach when they’re notified by a vendor or by media reports.

Building notification directly into the browser would change that, notifying users as soon as an independent security service such as Hunt’s becomes aware of a breach.

In its present form the add-on produces an alert when the user visits a site listed in Hunt’s database of breached sites.

Subramanya said another approach could be for the alert to be triggered when the user begins the login process for such sites.

User protection

He said Mozilla intends to use the feature to provide more information about data breaches and to allow users to opt into services that could notify them about future incidents.

Subramanya acknowledged the project needs to address issues including protecting the privacy of those who use the feature to sign up for notifications.

“Who is the custodian of this data?… Can we still offer useful functionality to users who opt out of subscribing (with) their email address?” he wrote. “The idea is to offer as much utility as possible while respecting the user’s privacy.”

The test code is available for anyone to download, but only supports Firefox’s developer version.

For development purposes it uses an older plugin structure that Mozilla abandoned with Firefox 57, released last week, a significant update that brings together speed improvements and adds a new user interface.

Subramanya said the legacy format would make the feature easier to import into Firefox’s main development code in the future.

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