File Under: Browsers

Firefox 14 Hides Your Searches from Prying Eyes

Mozilla has released Firefox 14, a modest update with some small new features and support for encrypted searching, which will keep your Google queries safe from anyone snooping around your network.

Firefox 14 has already been pushed out to the stable release channel, but if you’re not using Firefox, you can download the latest version from Mozilla.

The most visible change in this release — at least for those who keep an eye on the URL bar — is the new secure search feature. The change means that Firefox’s built-in search bar now sends searches to Google’s SSL-encrypted HTTPS address by default. That extra bit of security keeps anyone snooping on your network — or any bored hackers sniffing packets on your local coffee shop’s network — from seeing what you’re up to when you search Google.

At the moment the secure search feature only applies to Google so if you use another search engine you’re out of luck using stock Firefox. Fortunately this same feature has been available for ages via plugins. Our favorite is the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s HTTPS Everywhere plugin. Mozilla says it plans to work with other search providers to bring SSL to more of the stock options, but in the mean time install the HTTPS Everywhere plugin and you’ll automatically connect via HTTPS to dozens of search engines, social networks and other popular websites.

To further beef up security in this release Mozilla has ditched the favicon in the URL bar for secure connections. Now Firefox will show either a padlock icon for SSL connections or a globe icon for unencrypted connections. The change prevents malicious sites from using a padlock as a favicon and tricking users into thinking a connection is secure.

Firefox 14 also manages to pack in some small but welcome new features, including URL auto-complete for the Awesome Bar, click-to-play for plugins like Flash (requires a trip to about:config where you can search for plugins.click_to_play) and fullscreen support for Mac OS X Lion. A list of smaller changes and various bug fixes can be found in the release notes.

To go along with the desktop release, Firefox 14 for Android is also available with a number of bug fixes, including several surrounding Adobe’s Flash Player plugin.