Bitwarden had fixed its browser extension to support private window mode in Firefox. This brings a solution to an issue that was first filed in April 2017.
This isn’t a deal-breaker for the majority of users, but some people use the Private browsing mode for protecting their privacy. It can be quite useful to block trackers, and to prevent storing cookies permanently. It is handy for accessing and managing shopping, and banking accounts without worrying about cross-site trackers.
Personally, I prefer using a dedicated container per site or genre (shopping, banking, games, etc) in normal browsing mode. That, combined with uBlock Origin, provides solid security and privacy from cross-site trackers. That’s a different story, let’s focus on Bitwarden.
What was the issue?
Bitwarden’s pop-up panel wouldn’t work in Firefox private windows. Clicking the password manager’s button on the toolbar would display an empty modal, or show an error that it can’t work in private mode. The Chrome version of the add-on wasn’t impacted by the issue. This meant that users couldn’t access their logins, or save new usernames/passwords conveniently, as they could in regular windows.
The founder of Bitwarden pointed the finger of blame at Mozilla, claiming that Firefox did not allow background page communication in private windows, and this was preventing the add-on from functioning in said mode. The password manager’s pop-up panel is unlocked in a normal, non-private window, the contents of which wasn’t accessible in a private window.
Interestingly, the context menu works perfectly in private mode, and so does the hotkey Ctrl + Shift + L. The problem here is that you need to have unlocked the password manager in a normal Firefox window, and switch to the private window in order to access these other options.
So, it is Mozilla’s fault, or is it? Take LastPass for example, or any other password manager extension. Most, if not all of these add-ons, support Firefox’s Private mode. How is that possible if there are restrictions in place?
A member of the Bitwarden team recently mentioned that Bitwarden’s extension would be reworked in order to support Manifest v3. His statement explains that other password managers had been designed in such a way, they could work with the limitations in Firefox, but Bitwarden had to be rewritten to be functional. This refactored version will support Firefox’s Private mode as well.
This basically confirms that it was not a problem caused by Mozilla, and that the way Bitwarden’s extension was written indeed the cause of the issue. In other words, they didn’t bother to fix the concern.
I’m not saying Bitwarden is a bad product, far from it actually, I respect it for the fact that it is an open-source software sans the limitations imposed by the free tiers of its rivals. But the miscommunication from the company isn’t doing them any favors, this is what people call a lack of transparency. They should have, at the very least, acknowledged the issue, and worked on resolving it, instead of blaming others. As a company that offers premium services, it is the only acceptable approach in customer support, otherwise they are going to take their business elsewhere. Bitwarden has promised to keep its community up-to-date on the developments, by hiring a platform and community product manager. It seems like they learned their lesson, which is welcome news.
Bitwarden fixes its browser extension to support Firefox private windows
Bitwarden has managed to find a solution for supporting Private mode in Firefox.
The fix is not available for users in the current version of the add-on, v1.56.6. According to a commit made at the password manager’s GitHub, the workaround for private mode is currently being tested, it is expected to be made available in a future update scheduled to roll out in March.
Image courtesy: Bitwarden.
Limitations in Bitwarden’s support for Private Browsing in Firefox
While the workaround is welcome news, it is not without limitations. You need to unlock the vault every time you click the pop-up in private mode. Enabling the add-on’s sidebar circumvents this restriction.
To use PIN unlock, you will need to disable the “Lock with master password on browser restart” option from the settings. As I mentioned earlier, the autofill and right-click menus can be accessed in private mode, but only if you have unlocked the vault in a regular browser window. The extension’s icon will not update to reflect its status. The Biometric unlock and save password prompt are currently being tested for compatibility issues.
It’s good to see that the issue has been finally fixed, even though it took 5 years to arrive at the resolution.
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