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Firefox 14 Secures Google Search Queries

Security, interface, and gaming improvements debut in the latest version of Mozilla's Web browser.

Mozilla released Firefox 14 Tuesday, an updated version of its popular open-source browser that adds several security improvements and support for APIs that enhance Web gaming.

Firefox 14 comes just six weeks after the release of Firefox 13. In February 2011, responding to Google's release cycle for Chrome, Mozilla said it would shift to a rapid release cycle, distributing updates more often, with fewer new features.

The latest incarnation of Firefox brings a significant improvement in search security: Searches submitted through the Firefox location bar, search box, or the right-click menu will be sent to Google using a secure (HTTPS) connection.

"While Google users may expect Google to know what they are searching for, Firefox users may not be aware these search terms are often transmitted to sites they visit when they click on items in the search results," explained Mozilla lead privacy engineer Sid Stamm in a blog post in May. "Enabling HTTPS search helps sites like Google strip this information from the HTTP referrer string, putting the user better in control of when and to whom [his or her] interests are shared."

[ Learn more about Mozilla's mobile browser. Read Firefox For Android Reborn. ]

Mozilla's decision to support search security doesn't please some website operators, who fear the move will make publishers more dependent on Google: As a result of the change, Web publishers won't see the search keywords that attracted Firefox users in their website log files. To obtain that information, website owners will have to use Google Analytics.

Google has already implemented HTTPS search support in Chrome.

Firefox 14 also includes some user interface enhancements designed to communicate information about website security more effectively. For sites that support SSL encryption, Mozilla has restored the previously removed lock icon, now displayed to the left of URLs, along with the "https://" URL prefix. Websites with an EV (Extended Validation) Certificate display a green lock icon as well as the name of the website owner.

Another new security-oriented feature is that plug-ins can now be configured so that they only load after a click. In addition, Firefox 14 fixes 14 browser vulnerabilities.

To make games work better in Firefox, Mozilla has added support for the Pointer Lock API, formerly known as Mouse Lock, and support for native full-screen mode in OS X 10.7 (Lion). Pointer Lock helps keep mouse movements associated with an active browser-based game; without it, moving the mouse pointer past the browser boundary shifts the input device focus from the browser canvas to the underlying operating system, a potentially disruptive experience.

Firefox 14 is available for download, as always, for free.

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