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Firefox 14 tabs no longer sneak a peek at users' privates

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Mozilla has plugged a privacy-related security hole in Firefox 13 and released a fixed version of its web browser. The flaw allowed the software's speed-dial-alike "new tab" feature to take snapshots of supposedly secure HTTPS sessions.

Punters sounded the alarm over the feature that, for example, revealed online bank account details or private messages in webmail sessions to the next user of a shared PC. Mozilla quickly acknowledged the behaviour was undesirable and issued a workaround and privacy advice in early June.

The browser maker bundled in a more comprehensive fix with Firefox 14, which stops the caching of content from sensitive websites, as a statement by Mozilla explained:

The new tab feature that displays thumbnails of your favorite and recently visited sites in Firefox now omits privacy-sensitive websites like banking or webmail sites. The new tab thumbnails are based on your browsing history and you can easily control the experience by moving or deleting the thumbnails.

Firefox 14, released on 17 July, automatically encrypts web searches through Google, while leaving the back porch accessible to advertisers, as explained in our earlier story here.

Firefox 14 also changes the way the globe icon (to the left of the URL in the address bar) works. The icon remains a globe when the browser accesses a site that is unencrypted, but becomes a a grey padlock icon if a site uses SSL encryption. If a site is secure with the added benefit of an EV (extended validation) certificate, the browser flashes up a green padlock icon and includes the name of the site's owner. These changes are also designed to make spoofing harder, as Mozilla explains here.

Firefox 14 also introduces other features and performance tweaks (listed here) as well as fixing various security bugs, five of which Mozilla lists as critical.

The "new tab" page introduced alongside Firefox 13 is comparable to the Speed Dial feature already present in other browsers displaying cached copies of a user's most visited websites. ®

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