If you are one of the millions of people who have suffered a browser hijacking, you likely know it, and you clearly remember what you were doing when it happened. The best known form of browser hijacking is when a sudden flood of pop-ups, many of them obscene, explode over your screen and you are forced to use the CTRL-ATL-DEL sequence to close your browser and regain control of your computer. Here is a quick guide you can use to identify the different kinds of browser hijackings and how you can rid yourself of them once and for all.
What is a browser hijack?
A browser hijack is exactly as it sounds: an attempt from a third party to take control of your web browser and use it for their own nefarious purposes. Some browser hijacks can be done to spread awareness of a particular website, but aren’t actually dangerous. In some cases, though, they can be malicious, and they can steal information like passwords you have saved into your browser automatically. Perhaps the most common type of browser hijack is done by a program that installs itself on your computer without you knowing. The program will add several favorites to your list without your knowledge, and it will change the start page of your browser and even some registry keys. When you attempt to reset your browser, you will be unable to do so.
With these types of hijacks, you are also falling victim to keyloggers that record passwords for sensitive sites like online banking and email. How can you tell if you have a browser hijacking program on your machine? Lets look.
What might you notice?
The most obvious sign of a browser hijack is that your start page has been changed and you cant change it back. You may notice a complete slowdown in the performance of your computer since many browser hijacks work as fully functional programs that run in the background of your computer from the time you turn it on to the time you turn it off. These programs are often resource hogs that cause everything else on your machine to run slower.
You may also notice that a whole new set of bookmarks have been added to your browser that you’ve never seen before. Some websites have been known to add one bookmark (usually one for that particular site), but if you see a whole new folder full of questionable bookmarks, you may have a browser hijacker installed on your machine.
How did it get there?
Just like most malware programs, browser hijackers find their ways onto your machine in a number of different ways. The most common way is via peer to peer software programs like BitTorrent and Kazaa. Often times, the person who you are getting a file from doesn’t know that they are sending an infected file to you so your infection isn’t intentional.
A second spot where many people receive browser hijacker programs from is bundled with freeware or shareware programs downloaded from sources that aren’t trustworthy. That’s why it is always a good idea to download your free software programs only from the manufacturers site or from a site that promises that they are virus and spyware free.
Finally, some viruses come from websites that automatically install them on your computer. If you have been visiting some less than reputable websites, it is a good idea to avoid them at all costs in the future. These files simply install themselves without asking your permission or even notifying you that it is happening.
What should I do?
The first step you should take if you feel that you have a hijacker installed on your computer is head to the Microsoft Update site to ensure that you all the patches and updates you need. Microsoft does a great job of stopping many of these.
Once you’ve updated and restarted your computer, you need to install a reputable anti-spyware program on your computer to run in the background and monitor what bad programs you come into contact with. Two reputable programs are provided by Paretologic and PC Tools Software. Both not only remove browser hijackers they also provide the dynamic monitoring you need to protect you against future hijacks.
You can download and install either of their programs in minutes. Run a full scan of your machine immediately. Once you’ve removed any initial problems, you should run a full scan of your machine at least once per week to ensure that you haven’t come down with any browser hijackers or any other program that can affect your machine in a negative way.
Finally, make sure you keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs updated at all times. If you don’t have them installed, you should purchase and install them right away. Even if you have the latest anti-virus program, you should still strongly consider an anti-spyware program since, even though there may be some overlap between them, they generally detect a different suite of programs.