What's in the latest Firefox upgrade? New defense against supercookies

Firefox 85 patches 13 vulnerabilities and strengthens Mozilla's emphasis on privacy by isolating supercookies used to track users' online movements.

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Firefox 84

Mozilla on Tuesday upgraded Firefox to version 84, adding native support for Apple's new ARM-based Macs and declaring the browser the last to support Adobe's Flash Player.

Security engineers also patched 14 vulnerabilities, one pegged "Critical," Firefox's most-serious label. Six other flaws were marked "High," the next lower threat level.

Firefox 84 can be downloaded for Windows, macOS and Linux from Mozilla's site. Because Firefox updates in the background, most users can just relaunch the browser to get the latest version. To manually update on Windows, pull up the menu under the three horizontal bars at the upper right, then click the help icon (the question mark within a circle). Choose "About Firefox." (On macOS, "About Firefox" can be found under the "Firefox" menu.) The resulting page shows that the browser is either up to date or displays the refresh process.

Mozilla upgrades Firefox every four weeks, with the last refresh reaching users on Nov. 17.

Made for M1

Easily at the top of Firefox 84's change log was its native support for Apple's home-grown silicon, the M1 system-on-a-chip (SoC) that relies on the same ARM architecture which has long powered the company's iPhone and iPad.

Firefox, like Chrome and Safari before it, now comes in a native-to-M1 version that does not need to be translated by the Rosetta 2 technology baked into macOS 11, aka Big Sur. (Big Sur uses Rosetta 2 to translate existing Intel-based code into code that runs on the M1 SoC.)

Firefox 84 changes Mozilla

Firefox 84 gets Apple M1 support.

According to Mozilla, the native version of Firefox boasts superior performance on the newest MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini, the models Apple has released with its own SoC. "Native support ... brings dramatic performance improvements over the non-native build that was shipped in Firefox 83: Firefox launches over 2.5 times faster and web apps are now twice as responsive," Mozilla asserted in Firefox 84's release notes.

The comparison was to November's Firefox 83, which as an Intel-based application, was translated by Rosetta 2 before running, a process that, at minimum, resulted in a longer launch the first time it was opened.

It was unclear whether Mozilla was packaging both the ARM and Intel versions of Firefox into a single Universal App, or if it was updating the browser with separate binaries.

Last call for Flash

Firefox 84 will also be the last of its kind to support Flash, the plug-in that launched the multimedia web even as it was excoriated by security professionals.

Adobe will disable Flash Player on Jan. 12, 2021, when the software will refuse to run content. Adobe made the announcement of the date on Dec. 8, when it issued the final update to Flash.

Mozilla will sync Firefox with that schedule, more or less. Firefox 85, slated to ship Jan. 26, 2021, will ship without support for Flash of any kind. "There will be no setting to re-enable Flash support," Mozilla said in a support document, referring to the configuration settings it had long left in Options (Windows) and Preferences (macOS).

Flash Player, if it's on one's personal computer, will remain even after Adobe and Firefox halt support. However, Microsoft plans to delete the plug-in from Windows 10 and Windows 8.1 in 2021, on a multiple-step schedule outlined here. Mac users with Flash Player — and they will be in the minority, what with Apple's anti-Flash attitude — will have to manually uninstall the plug-in. Adobe has provided uninstall instructions here.

The next version of Mozilla's browser, Firefox 85, will be released Jan. 26.

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