FBI partners with 'Have I Been Pwned' on breached password database

A shield with a keyhole on a radar system denoting cyber security
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Have I Been Pwned (HIBP), a website that allows users to check if their email addresses and passwords have been compromised, is collaborating with the FBI on feeding masses of data on compromised credentials into the wider HIBP catalogue.

The US law enforcement agency approached HIBP, according to its founder Troy Hunt, to discuss what it might look like to build channels to provide the FBIs intelligence on compromised passwords.

This would vastly expand the database, and surface more compromised credentials with the Pwned Passwords search tool, giving more users information on whether they need to change their credentials.

"Their goal here is perfectly aligned with mine and, I dare say, with the goals of most people reading this: to protect people from account takeovers by proactively warning them when their password has been compromised," Hunt said in his blog.

"Feeding these passwords into HIBP gives the FBI the opportunity to do this almost 1 billion times every month. It's good leverage."

The FBI will provide its passwords in SHA-1 and NTLM hash pairs, which aligns perfectly with HIBP's current storage arrangements. These will be fed into the system as they're made available, with the volume fluctuating depending on the nature of the investigations they're involved in at any one time.

The key to this collaboration is ensuring there's an established ingestion route through which the data can flow and be made available to users, at pace. Critical to this endeavour is Hunt's plans to make HIBP open source, which have now been achieved.

Work to convert the HIBP code base into open source, which began in August last year, became necessary after the scale and nature of the service made it difficult to manage it as a one-man project. This is especially true given Hunt has recently taken up a position at Microsoft as its regional director and MVP.

Hunt revealed in June 2019 that he was looking for a buyer for service, with the researcher struggling to cope with an explosion in the number of data breaches at the time.

"What I didn't know is how non-trivial it would be for all sorts of reasons you can imagine and a whole heap of others that aren't immediately obvious," he explained. "One of the key reasons is that there's a heap of effort involved in picking something up that's run as a one-person pet project for years and moving it into the public domain.


Don’t just educate: Create cyber-safe behaviour

Designing effective security awareness and training programmes


"I had no idea how to manage an open source project, establish the licencing model, coordinate where the community invests effort, take contributions, redesign the release process and all sorts of other things I'm sure I haven't even thought of yet."

To manage the open source transition, Hunt turned to the .NET Foundation, with its executive director Claire Novotny integral to the transition. Pwned Passwords, he added, is a perfect fit for the .NET Foundation model because of its reliance on the Microsoft technology stack.

For instance, it's a simple codebase consisting of Azure Storage, a single Azure Function and a Cloudflare worker. It also has its own domain, Cloudflare account, and Azure services, so can be picked up and open sourced independently of the rest of HIBP.

The nature of the search tool also means it's non-commercial, while the data that drives Pwned Passwords is already freely available in the public domain.

In order to fully realise the partnership with the FBI, Hunt claims that HIBP needs help from coders to establish that channel through which password data can be fed at pace and at volume. He's established two GitHub repositories to this end, with developers free to get involved and contribute to the system.

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.