A browser hijack is no joyride
Oct 21 2013
What is a browser hijack?
According to the Microsoft Safety & Security Center website, some symptoms of a browser hijack are:
l Your browser home page and other settings, such as your default search engine, have changed.
l You have ads popping up on your screen.
l You may not be able to navigate to certain sites, such as those related to security.
l You find new toolbars and bookmarks been added without your knowledge.
l Your computer has slowed down.
Not all browser hijacks are dangerous, in the sense that they may not damage your system. However, they are still malware and have got into your system underhandedly; they could be adware, try to force you to visit certain websites, give you doctored search results, and, in a worst-case scenario, may direct you to sites that contain malware, or spy on your browsing and computing habits.
How does it happen?
Unfortunately, it mostly happens because of our own carelessness. Like most other kind of malware, browser hijacks enter our system piggybacking on software downloaded from the Web. Most of us tend to blindly click the ‘Next’ button while installing application, not really reading what the screen is telling us. This is a weakness that the makers of dubious software exploit.
Browser hijackers are typically bundled with freeware as add-on software. The wording may be tricky, making it seem like what you’re installing is an integral part of the package, but you are usually given a chance to opt out—provided you’re paying attention. As a rule of thumb, look out for dialogs during installation that have the the term “offer” and opt out of these; also, look out for steps where the installer offers to install browser toolbars, a new browser or a search engine, or anything else you didn’t ask for. If in doubt, stop the installation and search the Web to see if you might be installing malware.
How do I get rid of it?
If you’ve already been hijacked, don’t worry, it’s not a situation you can’t get out of, although it may take some doing. Some hijacks are easy to remove—just go to your browser settings and remove the offending toolbar, add-on or extension, and then change your home page and search engine back to your preferred ones. Repeat this for all your browsers, even if you don’t use them. Also, go to Control Panel à Programs and Features, and see if the hijacker has an application listed there. If so, get rid of it. You may have to do some research to find which programs are associated with it.
Some of the more insidious types of hijackers will not budge so easily and wresting control of your browser back will be a bit of a tussle. Usually, a good anti-spyware should take care of a browser hijack. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, Microsoft Safety Scanner, CCleaner, Spybot Search & Destroy, SuperAntispyware and AdwCleaner are some examples of programs that should find and/or clean the infection. You might even need a registry cleaner to wipe up after.
For hijacks that are resistant to security software, you will need to do some more research for specific removal techniques. Don’t blindly download any app that offers removal—do independent research. BleepingComputer.com is a good resource for help with security issues. Also try Microsft.com/security. It is recommended that you do your research from a different—uninfected—computer since browser hijacks often doctor search results. zz
(The author is a freelance