Re­move browser hi­jacks

Lost con­trol of your web browser? Pop-up win­dows plagu­ing your desk­top? Dis­cover how to take the fight to the browser hi­jacker

Windows 7 Help & Advice - - WINDOWS 10 -

There are many ways in which your PC can be in­fected or hi­jacked – we cov­ered a num­ber of th­ese in last is­sue’s main fea­ture. Rather than go over rel­a­tively new ground, we’re fo­cus­ing on a spe­cific form of hi­jack: that of your web browser.

Most web browser hi­jacks are more an­noy­ing than dev­as­tat­ing, but they are still a pain to undo. Typ­i­cally, a hi­jack oc­curs when your browser’s home page, de­fault search en­gine or browser er­ror page are changed. But more wor­ry­ing symp­toms can in­clude pop-up win­dows, un­wanted book­marks di­rect­ing to dodgy web­sites, tool­bars and add-ons that won’t go away and a gen­eral slow­down of your web browser, never mind your com­puter.

Be­hind the scenes, browser hi­jacks can be part of a wider mal­ware in­fec­tion that is geared to­wards steal­ing per­sonal data or dam­ag­ing parts of the Registry.

Re­mov­ing in­fec­tions

Most good anti-mal­ware soft­ware should have tools for deal­ing with browser hi­jacks among other gen­eral in­fec­tions. If your anti-mal­ware tool hasn’t been crip­pled, up­date it and per­form a full scan to see what it finds. Mak­ing sure any web browsers you have open are closed, let it deal with any in­fec­tions, re­boot and then run an­other scan be­fore re­open­ing your browser. If you’re lucky, the in­fec­tion will be gone, but it’s pos­si­ble that cer­tain el­e­ments will re­main – you may need to try chang­ing your home page and de­fault search tool back your­self, while clear­ing out your book­marks.

You should also check your browser’s add-ons – you can do this within the browser it­self (type ‘about:ad­dons’ in Firefox’s Ad­dress Bar for ex­am­ple). Re­move any add-ons you don’t recog­nise, then re­boot your browser and check they don’t come back.

Other hi­jack­ers may be linked to soft­ware in­stalled on your PC. Most hi­jacks orig­i­nate from Po­ten­tially Un­wanted Pro­grams (PUPs), which are of­ten in­stalled along­side other apps. Dur­ing their in­stal­la­tion you’ll have seen an in­vi­ta­tion to change your home page, in­stall ex­tra pro­grams and so on. Some­times they’re easy to skip, but some in­stall­ers make it dif­fi­cult to know what set­tings to choose. How­ever, re­mov­ing th­ese can of­ten be achieved sim­ply by head­ing into the Apps sec­tion un­der Set­tings (Win­dows 10) or the Pro­grams and Fea­tures Con­trol Panel (Win­dows 7 and 8.1). Lo­cate the of­fend­ing item and re­move it.

Third-party anti-mal­ware tools have a patchy rep­u­ta­tion when it comes to de­tect­ing and re­mov­ing browser hi­jack­ers along with the PUPs that carry them. Re­gard­less of which se­cu­rity tool you cur­rently have in­stalled, down­load and in­stall the free ver­sion of Mal­ware­bytes Anti-Mal­ware (www. mal­ware­bytes.com). This can be in­stalled along­side ex­ist­ing se­cu­rity tools – per­form a scan and it’ll de­tect and re­move a wider range of threats than other tools. Re­boot and scan again to ver­ify the threat has been neu­tralised.

If you want to go even deeper, then run a scan us­ing the free and por­ta­ble Ad­wCleaner tool, which is also avail­able from Mal­ware­bytes (www.mal­ware­bytes.com/ad­wcleaner/). This tar­gets a wide range of web browser-re­lated threats, in­clud­ing ad­ware and hi­jack­ers. If dam­age has al­ready been done ei­ther to your In­ter­net con­nec­tion or to Win­dows it­self – for ex­am­ple, you’re blocked from ac­cess­ing the Registry, or cer­tain fold­ers are now claim­ing you don’t have per­mis­sion to ac­cess them – then use Win­dows Re­pair Tool (www.tweak­ing.com) and NetA­dapter Re­pair All In One (https://source­forge.net/projects/neta­dapter/) to un­pick the changes.

Block browser hi­jack­ers

Once the source of the in­fec­tion has been dealt with, you will need to take steps to pre­vent it from hap­pen­ing again, or at least min­imise the risk. The ‘Tighten your PC’s se­cu­rity’ box be­low re­veals the ad­di­tional steps you should take to add fur­ther lay­ers of pro­tec­tion to your com­puter. It also goes without say­ing you should beef up your web browser’s se­cu­rity – most threats orig­i­nate through your web browser th­ese days, so what can you do to help lock things down? We’d rec­om­mend mov­ing away from In­ter­net Ex­plorer if you’re still us­ing that – Opera, Firefox, Google Chrome and Mi­crosoft Edge are all more se­cure al­ter­na­tives.

Whichever browser you choose, make sure it’s kept fully up to date. Re­view its se­cu­rity and pri­vacy set­tings – con­sider dis­abling any browser sync fea­tures for ex­tra pro­tec­tion (but if you do use it, make sure it’s pro­tected by a strong pass­word). Also look to dis­able ‘ac­tive’ con­tent – Flash, Javascript and Java, for ex­am­ple – where you can. Make sure only ‘first party’ cook­ies are se­lected and con­sider au­to­mat­i­cally clear­ing your his­tory when clos­ing your browser. Also con­sider us­ing browser ex­ten­sions such as those fea­tured in the ‘Se­cu­rity add-ons’ box on the op­po­site page.

Fi­nally, look to mod­ify your own be­hav­iour. In­stall pro­grams care­fully, check­ing to avoid in­stalling any­thing other than what you ex­pect. Stay away from dodgy web­sites, such as those of­fer­ing ‘free’ down­loads of copy­righted ma­te­rial. And adopt a po­si­tion of ex­treme cyn­i­cism when con­fronted by pops-up or emails claim­ing you need to click a link or open an at­tach­ment im­me­di­ately – the more ur­gent the claim, the less likely it is to be true.

“Third-party anti-mal­ware tools have a patchy rep­u­ta­tion when it comes to re­mov­ing browser hi­jack­ers”

If a third-party pro­gram at­tempts to in­stall an add-on in Firefox, the browser will now alert you to the fact.

Tighten your web browser’s de­fault se­cu­rity and pri­vacy set­tings.

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