How to prevent and repair browser hijacking

Browser hijacking means that a malicious code has taken over and modified the settings of your browser, without your permission. There are several ways a hijacking software can reach a computer. It may come as part of a freeware installation that is supported by adware or spyware, so always read carefully the disclaimers appearing during the install process, and watch for additional programs that are being installed along with the main software (toolbars, add-ons and so on) – make sure you uncheck them, and if this is not possible give up on installing the program alltogether. It can also come through an infected or misleading e-mail, file share or a drive-by download. Rogue security software developers are also known for browser hijacking, usually pretending that your system is infected and redirecting to their download page.

How can you tell your browser has been hijacked? There are several symptoms: the browser’s home page has been changed, most commonly directing to a website you never intended to visit; new unwanted bookmarks have been added to your favourite pages, usually directing to pornography websites or ad-filled websites; a lot of pop-up windows flood your browser, turning your surfing experience into a nightmare; your computer runs slower than usual; unsolicited new tools (such as search bars) are added to your browser; you cannot access certain web pages, such as anti-spyware, anti-virus and other security related sites; your browser has become unstable and exhibits frequent errors; the default settings have been changed in the browser and/or your default search engine has been replaced by an unsolicited one. Here is a list of the most common browser hijackers to help you identify them.

Some browser hijacks (such as some of the ones coming in a bundle with freeware) can be uninstalled together with the freeware they came with, while others are far more difficult to remove. For that reason, preventing is always better than repairing.

How to prevent browser hijacking? Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software and keep the real time protection feature activated; keep your browser and other third party software up to date at all times; learn how to configure your browser for higher security, and keep it on a high security level; learn the basics about e-mail security; use caution when downloading and installing freeware, and read carefully the disclaimers and installation steps in order to detect additional software being installed ; avoid illegitimate or untrustworthy websites (use a website rating tool such as WOT); keep the automatic updates of your operating system on.

Browser hijacker removal.Some browser hijacking software is easily removed by uninstalling the freeware they came with, or by looking them up in the list of installed programs in your Control Panel, and using the Remove command in order to uninstall them. Manually restoring your browsers settings to the ones previous to the attack may also do the trick (see your browser’s Help section if you’re not sure how to do this). In addition, set your browser security level to “high”. However, other hijacking codes are not so easy to get rid of, as they go deeper into your operating system, altering settings such as start-up entries and the registry and causing the unwanted program to keep reloading every time you start up the computer. There is no „one-cures-all” solution, but the following common methods should work in most cases.

First, restart your computer in safe mode and perform a full anti-spyware, anti-adware and anti-virus scan on the system. If you are an advanced user, download and run a start-up control software to remove the unwanted entries of the hijacker from a Windows system start-up, and use a registry cleaning software to remove suspicious registry entries (be sure to backup the system before doing that). Also, if you are running Windows XP or later and are not able to remove the hijacking software, you may consider using the System Restore tool to restore the computer to an earlier date (your files will not be lost but a system backup is strongly recommended before running System Restore, and also before performing any changes to your operating system).

About AV-Comparatives

AV-Comparatives is an independent organization offering systematic testing that checks whether security software, such as PC/Mac-based antivirus products and mobile security solutions, lives up to its promises. Using one of the largest sample collections worldwide, it creates a real-world environment for truly accurate testing. AV-Comparatives offers freely accessible results to individuals, news organizations and scientific institutions. Certification by AV-Comparatives provides an official seal of approval for software performance which is globally recognized. Currently, AV-Comparatives' Real-World Protection Test is the most comprehensive and complex test available when it comes to evaluating the real-life protection capabilities of antivirus software. Put simply, the test framework replicates the scenario of an everyday user in an everyday online environment – the typical situation that most of us experience when using a computer with an Internet connection. AV-Comparatives works closely with several academic institutions, especially the University of Innsbruck’s Department of Computer Science, to provide innovative scientific testing methods.
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