People who want to shield their use of Google's web search engine from network snoops now have the option of encrypting the session with SSL protection.

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) technology is designed to prevent unauthorised parties from sniffing data travelling between a user's computer and a server.

In the case of Google search, SSL will protect the transmission of search queries entered by users and the search results returned by Google servers.

Google will begin rolling out the encrypted version of its web search engine on Friday. It will be available by typing 'https' instead of 'http' in the URL address bar.

"We think users will appreciate this new option for searching. It's a helpful addition to users' online privacy and security, and we'll continue to add encryption support for more search offerings," wrote Evan Roseman, a Google software engineer, in an official blog post.

The SSL web search will be in beta, or test, mode for now and the user experience will vary from the regular service in a few ways. For instance, it will likely be slower because a secure connection has to be established. Initially, the SSL option will be available only for web search and will not cover Google's specialty engines like image and maps search.

Google offers SSL protection for other of its services, like Gmail and the hosted Docs office productivity suite.