Detect changed preferences, match from blacklist and suggest reverting

Saurabh Anand saurabhanandiit at gmail.com
Thu Jul 16 22:11:50 UTC 2015


Hey,

So I recently saw my friend, who's pretty non-technical, having his browser
completely wrecked. He accidentally installed some software which installed
some adware which made changes to the settings for new tab url, default
search engine, what page opens when Nightly starts and many other things. I
tried uninstalling the adware, the software which brought the adware and
the changes still remained. I then searched around and found a user.js file
in the profile which Firefox was using. I had to remove this file, reset
each setting changes and finally Firefox came back to a usable state.

Now this problem is faced by a lot of people and the most troubled are the
folks who are pretty much non-technical (which is a huge number). I think
there should be the following features to make life simpler for such users:

   - Automatically detect changes made to settings, by adware or when your
   setting are being controlled by an extension. This list would be all the
   changes made besides the ones we do when we manually go into options or
   even say go into about:config ourselves and edit a preference.
   - Allow a change in the setting, which is identified by the above step
   as made by a 3rd party, to be marked as spammy and sent to a central thing.
   - Maintaining a local list of blacklisted changes in Firefox and inform
   the user when their settings are set to these. For example, after we get
   enough data and we know that say when the new tab is pointed to open
   iAmSpammy.com or when the search engine default is set to
   iAmASpammySearchEngine, most of the people don't want it. So the next time
   the user installs an adware and their settings are changed to iAmSpammy.com
   or iAmASpammySearchEngine then we can warn the user (just like we do with
   unsigned extensions) that there might be something fishy and even suggest
   an option to revert the settings to default or something previous to the
   adware installation.

I'm not exactly clear how to go about implementing this but this is
certainly an issue that needs to be fixed or at least tried to be fixed. In
the meanwhile I've also filed a bug:
https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=1177628

Looking forward to interesting ideas,

Saurabh
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