Have you ever opened your browser with the intentions of scrolling through your Facebook feed or checking out some videos on YouTube only to discover that your homepage is something entirely different from your new tab page and it seems to lead to all sorts of misclicks? Well, if you have, you’ve been a victim to a cyber malpractice known as “browser hijacking”.
It is more common than you think and believe it or not, effects more computers than you think. Sometimes, you may not even realize that the malware is installed – simply because you may not realize that your browser settings have been compromised.
Browser Hijacking is one of the most common form of malicious software. It gets access to your browser’s settings and modifies them without your consent and knowledge. There are several methods of doing this and the perpetrator is often motivated by monetary gain. It is extremely easy for a hacker to install a browser hijacking software on someone’s computer. They usually infiltrate your computer by sending spam mail or in some cases, include them as part of installation processes of other software that a user is trying to install.
It is not always harmful for your computer, but sometimes browser hijackers come with spyware that records keystrokes and mouse clicks to gain access to details like bank atake proactive steps to prevent it. There are times when all the hijacker does is change your homepage or browser opening page in order to direct traffic towards their website and earn money out of it, but this isn’t always the case.
For example, the browser hijacker CoolWebSearch changes your default search engine to theirs and a hacker using this hijacker can alter search results to direct your clicks to websites and information they want you to see. They can also track your searches and information and sell them to other websites for marketing purposes and monetary gain.
How do you know that you have been infected with a browser hijacker?
While it might be difficult at times to know whether your machine has been compromised, you need to look out for any abnormal behavior to determine if you have been a victim. Here are some of the things that you need to look out for.
– You might see that your searches are getting redirected to different websites that aren’t what you entered.
– Your homepage or search engine changed without you deliberately making any changes, and you are directed to a new page each time you open the browser.
– Webpages load slower than usual. (This could also be due to slow connection speeds, so if that’s the only issue check your speed first).
– You see multiple toolbars on your web browser at the top or the side – which you did not install. In fact, most of these toolbars may be malware that you do not need.
– You get multiple pop-up alerts for advertisements regardless of which web page you open up. Do note that some pages offer pop ups inherently and it would open through any browser so you need to know if it was happening before as well – perhaps login to a site you frequently visit.
There are several examples of Browser Hijackers. Chances you’ve come across a lot of them multiple times. Here are a few notable ones:
● Ask Toolbar. The Ask Toolbar is usually bundled with important software like Oracle’s Java. Users must disable it in the installation process to stop it from installing. If you don’t, the toolbar gets installed, replacing your browser’s homepage and default search engine with the Ask Search Engine page. It has been widely regarded as malware by users and is an extremely annoying Browser Hijacker that Oracle has been criticized for including in a bundle.
● Babylon Toolbar. The Babylon Toolbar gets installed as a part of several program and software installations, including CNet’s Download.com. It changes the default search engine to isearch.babylon.com which also happens to be a form of adware. The search engine displays several advertisements, sponsored links and a large number of paid search results. The program collects information on your search terms from your search queries.
● Conduit. Conduit is a PUP (Potentially Unwanted Program) / Browser Hijacker that steals personal and confidential information, then transfers it to a third party. The toolbar was identified as a Potentially Unwanted Program by leading malware research center, Malwarebytes. It usually comes bundled with free downloads and it’s very hard to notice that it is being installed along with the download. Toolbars like this modify several parameters of your browser settings in order to collect personal information as well as alter search results and settings. This is one of the more dangerous Browser Hijackers out there and you would do well to steer clear of it if you can.
● CoolWebSearch. CoolWebSearch was one of the first browser hijackers. It is not particularly harmful for your privacy but it still does track your personal information as well as change your default search engine to the rogue CoolWebSearch search engine. This search engine delivers search results with several sponsored links and advertisements. Even antivirus software can have a difficult time removing it, and it’s tough to uninstall on your own.
How To Prevent Browser Hijacking?
There are several things you can do in order to keep your computer safe from Browser Hijacking techniques. Here are the most useful ones:
1. Pay Attention to The Installation Process of when you install new software. Pay attention to the installation process and don’t just blindly run through steps to speed up the process. This is the easiest way to get an unwanted browser hijacker on your computer. Most of these browser hijackers come bundled as part of free downloadable software, and are labeled as “offers” during the installation process. You can avoid installing these by simply paying attention and unchecking these offers.
2. Read the User Agreements. User Agreements for many kinds of software are extremely long and take time to read, but it’s important for you to read so that you understand the software terms. Usually these user agreements contain details and conditions, the acceptance of which leads to you giving the software access to your personal data and permission to modify your files. This is another common way in which Browser Modifiers get access to your computer.
3. Try to avoid downloading from Free Sites. Avoid free download websites as much as you can. These websites are almost always filled with codes that lead to malicious malware installs like Browser Hijackers. The “free” download almost always contains a bundled software installer that includes a Browser Hijacker.
4. Keep Your Browser Up-To-Date. Ensuring that your browser is up to date is one of the best ways of keeping it safe. It does not guarantee avoiding browser hijackers, but it definitely helps keep your browsing secure. Browser developers periodically roll out updates with updated security features that help you avoid getting infected by malicious software.
5. Use a Good Anti-Virus Software. Anti-Virus software comes with anti malware toolkits and security programs that immediately detect and warn you of malware or spyware like Browser Hijackers. Ensure you have a good one so that it can protect you from dangerous malware.
What to do when your browser gets hijacked?
It’s not the end of the world if your browser has been hijacked. Unlike fatal viruses or malwares, browser hijackers do not block your access to the computer’s security and setting files. There are several methods with which you can get rid of browser hijackers. Here are some of the best ways to do it.
1. Uninstall and Reinstall Your Browser from an Offline Source. Perform a clean, complete reinstall of your browsers. First clear all its cache and cookies and then uninstall the entire thing through the “Add or Remove Programs” section. Delete any remaining files for that browser in the computer, then install it again using an offline version. Make sure you update it to the latest version after installing it.
2. Perform a full Virus Scan and Fix. Open your antivirus and perform a full scan and fix process. This may be time consuming, but a lot of good antiviruses nowadays are capable of reliably dealing with Browser Hijackers.
3. Delete all extra or suspicious plugins installed on your browser. Many times, through accidental clicks on websites that contain freeware, your browser tends to install plugins. These Browser hijacking programs can infiltrate your computer through these plugins, so a good place to start checking for browser hijackers would be to check out your browser’s plugins and extensions.
Why is it something that you need to worry about?
All in all, Browser Hijackers are the most common types of malware and in many cases, the most annoying ones to encounter. They can infiltrate your computer without you realizing it. They’re a threat to your personal privacy, as these programs have the capability to track your personal records once installed. Ensure you take preventive measures to avoid them, and if you’re infected deal with them quickly.