A browser hijacker is a form of malicious software that takes control of your Web browser. While usually not one of the severest forms of malware, browser hijackers are extremely common and are used to inject ads into your browser, making them a major annoyance for millions of Internet users. Fortunately, however, it’s generally easy to tell if you have a browser hijacker installed. The following signs likely point to such an infection:
- Your homepage has inexplicably changed
- Your search engine has changed (often to a fake search engine)
- You have an unfamiliar toolbar or plugin in your browser
- You keep getting redirected to other websites
- You have ads popping up all over the place
- Your browser slows down or crashes regularly
Unscrupulous advertisers and outright scammers often rely on browser hijackers to dupe users into buying junk software, particularly fake antimalware programs and the like. They typically use scare tactics to manipulate people into buying their junk, often by confronting you with fake scan results telling you that your computer is infected. Most likely, however, is that the only thing your computer is infected with is the malware telling you that your computer is infected in the first place!
How Does a Browser Hijacker End Up on Your Computer?
By far the most common way for browser hijackers to end on your computer is by not paying enough attention when installing free software from the Internet. Most browser hijackers piggyback off otherwise legitimate software and are configured to install alongside said software by default. This is why you should always pay close attention to the installation settings when installing a new program. You should also avoid using generic download directories, which often package third-party software with junk such as adware and other malicious software. Instead, always make sure you’re obtaining your software directly from the developer’s website or from a trusted third-party source such as Ninite.com. Browser hijackers may even appear on a brand new computer, having been installed along with all of the other bloatware that many manufacturers put on their machines
Browser hijackers sometimes end up being installed in a much subtler manner to such an extent that it’s largely out of your control and impossible to notice until your computer is already infected. Needless to say, these types of hijackers are usually among the most harmful and may also be used to steal your personal or financial information or even to obtain remote access to your computer. Browser hijacker may get onto your computer when you download torrents or third-party plugins for your browser. If you don’t have your security settings on suitably high, the chances of getting your computer infected are also much higher.
How to Remove Browser Hijacker
Usually, if your browser has been hijacked when installing otherwise legitimate software, you can uninstall the offending program in just the same way as you would uninstall any other program. Alternatively, uninstalling the free software that came with the hijacker may also give you the opportunity to remove the adware as well. In other situations, manually restoring your browser’s default settings or reinstalling your browser entirely may work. Unfortunately, however, some of the more malicious browser hijackers inject code deeper into the operating system to the extent that they become much more difficult, if not impossible, to remove through conventional means.
If none of the aforementioned steps help, then you likely have a much more serious malware infection, in which case you might need to install a third-party malware remover. If you’re using Windows, the built-in Windows Defender should be able to remove malicious software for you, although some of the most harmful malware may even prevent it from working entirely. Sometimes, you may need to restart your computer in safe mode and run a full scan using a well-known and widely respected antimalware solution until the malware has been eradicated. Finally, there is the nuclear option of completely wiping the hard disk and reinstalling your operating system as well as all the rest of your software. In the worst case scenarios of a malicious software infection, this might be the only choice.
When it comes to dealing with browser hijackers or any other type of malicious software, prevention is always the best cure. For the most part, Windows and other modern operating systems are quite good at taking care of themselves, so there’s often not really any reason to install an expensive security suite such as Norton or McAfee. After all, there is no substitute for common sense, and you should instead concentrate on improving your browsing habits to reduce the risk of unwittingly downloading malicious software. For a start, always pay attention when installing free software and, even more importantly, make doubly sure you know exactly where you’re getting your free software from.