Browser hijacking is a malicious code that has taken over and then modified the settings of the original browser with no permission from the user. The search page and the default home page might be changed, and a lot of advertisements might pop-up. The reason for all that is malicious software, which is called hijackware.
The browser hijacking is among the constant dangers on the web, and there is a serious risk for every Internet user to be subject to such an attack. The browser hijacking can reach the computer in several ways:
- It might come as part of a freeware installation, which is supported by adware or spyware. That is why the users should always read the disclaimers that come with the installation process. The additional programs that are to be installed with the main software in terms of add-ons and toolbars should be unchecked. In case it is impossible to uncheck them, then in order to avoid browser hijacking it is advisable for the user not to install the program.
- It might come through an infected email or a misleading email, download option and file share, infected site. The developers of rogue security software have reputation for browser hijacking. They make the system believe that it is infected and redirect it to a download page of their choice.
How to find out that your browser has been hijacked?
There are several symptoms that will show you that your browser has been hijacked. It might be a change in the home page, a common direction to a certain website, new favorite pages and new bookmarks, many pop-up windows, directions to websites with ads or pornography content. Often the browser hijacking is also associated with slower running of the computer, new search bars, denial of access to certain web pages including anti-virus and anti-spyware sites. Often the default settings are changed, and the default search engine is replaced.
In certain cases the browser hijackers can be uninstalled along with the freeware they come with, however others are more difficult to be removed. That is why the prevention is the nest policy when it comes to browser hijacking.
How to prevent browser hijacking?
In order to prevent browser hijacking, the user has to have an active anti-spyware and anti-virus software, to keep them updated and to apply real time protection. It would be very useful for the user to learn how to configure the browser used for higher security and keep it on that level. It would also be beneficial to learn the email security basics, as well as to be very careful when downloading freeware. The installations steps, as well as the disclaimers, should be carefully read to avoid additional software from being installed. The user should also avoid the usage if websites that are not trustworthy. Sometimes alternative browser should be used as well.
The Windows updates should also be done on a regular basis. Microsoft is quite active in the sphere of security and is constantly updating its program for vulnerabilities.
The Browser Hijacking Damages
When the browser has been hijacked, the cybercriminal can do a lot of damage to the user’s computer. Not only that the home page can be changed, but it can be set to lead to a malicious website and besides that spyware could be installed. The browser hijacker can slow the computer performance and reduce the ability of the user to surf the web. Sometimes the browser hijacker can make changes in the HOST file of the system, which maps the DNS address to IP addresses and thus direct users to sponsored search sites.
The cyber criminals use browser hijackers to collect money, and the browser hijacker usually redirects the homepage to other search engines and fake search results. As the user clicks on these links, the cybercriminal gets paid. The cybercriminals further use the information from the browsing habits of the users. They do that for marketing purposes and sell that information to third parties.
How to remove browser hijacker?
Some of the browser hijackers can be removed easily when the freeware they come with is uninstalled. Others can simply be uninstalled from the Control Panel with the ‘Remove’ command. Sometimes, the manual restoring of the browser settings is also suitable to remove the browser hijacker.
Unfortunately, there are other hijacking codes which are not that easy to remove, since they enter deep in the operating system and change important settings such as start-up entries and registry. These changes make the unwanted program reload with every new start of the computer. With the different browser hijackers the removal steps could vary, yet there are a few common methods that are expected to work every time:
- Start Computer in safe mode.
- Full system anti-adware, anti-spyware and anti-virus scan.
- Download and run of a start-up control software (possible for the advanced users).
- Usage of registry cleaning software for suspicious registry entries removal.
- Usage of System Restore tool (possible if running Windows XP or later version).
In order to remove the browser hijacker, users can run an ad-aware program, then run an antivirus scan in safe mode and use the tools Hijackthis and CWShredder. In case these programs were not good enough to handle the case, then the user can make a manual system search and open the HOSTS file
What to do after the browser hijacker has been removed?
Once the computer is clean from the browser hijacker, the user should be very careful not to browse dangerous websites and not to download programs that are suspicious. The browser hijackers are changing, and new ones are emerging, that is why the scanning programs should be always updated, and the computer should be scanned every week for viruses and spyware.