Watchdog: Helping Users Manage Passwords and Privacy

Ben Adida

Mozilla is one of few organizations that is truly user-centric. Our principles include these important statements:

Individuals’ security on the Internet is fundamental and cannot be treated as optional.

and

Individuals must have the ability to shape their own experiences on the Internet.

When it comes to managing your passwords and privacy preferences, we think there’s an opportunity to do much better than the current state of the Web. That’s why we’re starting the Watchdog Project, a set of experiments to help users manage their online identity and privacy on existing web sites. Watchdog is a research project within Mozilla Identity which is meant to complement existing products like BrowserID.

With Watchdog, we are looking for ways to proactively nudge the user to make better, more informed password and privacy decisions. We want users to know if they’ve reused a password too often. We want to make it easier for users to select the privacy preferences that match their needs. We want to automate as much of this as possible. When you’re browsing with Watchdog, you should feel safer because you are safer: you’ve got a watchdog.

The main developer working on Watchdog is Paul Sawaya, who interned at Mozilla this past summer and continues to work with us this year for his final project at Hampshire College. We’re excited to have him leading the charge.

photo of a watchdog

Watchdog will be structured as a series of independent add-ons, developed for Firefox and, in some instances, for other modern browsers too. The first add-on is Watchdog Visual Hashing for Firefox or Chrome. Paul has a detailed description on his blog:

“With that in mind, my first step to a smarter password manager was to experiment with visual password hashing. As a feature, it’s almost entirely unobtrusive–and worth an explanation, in case you haven’t seen it before. Visual hashing allows your computer to display something about the password you’ve entered without actually showing your password on the screen. The idea is to map the set of all possible passwords to a (smaller) set of visual cues. For now, I’m using four colors.”

Try it out for Firefox or Chrome, check out the source code, and please send us feedback.

Photo credit: watchdog by aye_shamus