Browser hijackers are malicious programs that can infect your device and change your browser settings without consent. They are a type of malware that can redirect your searches, set new homepages, and alter your browser experience in unwanted ways.
In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about browser hijackers, including what they are, what they do, how to tell if your device is infected, and most importantly, how to fully remove them.
This Article Contains:
What Are Browser Hijackers?
Browser hijackers are a form of malware and part of a wider category known as Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs). As the name suggests, browser hijackers “hijack” your browser and make unwanted changes.
Some of the most common changes inflicted by browser hijackers include:
- Setting a new homepage that you didn’t approve. This is often an ad-laden page.
- Changing your default search engine to something unknown.
- Adding extra toolbar extensions to your browser without permission. These extensions might have ads or mining scripts.
- Redirecting your searches to advertising pages, even if you don’t click on any ads.
- Inserting extra ads on web pages. These can be in the form of pop-ups, banners, or video commercials.
- Tracking your browsing activity and online habits.
- Slowing down your browser performance.
Essentially, browser hijackers exist to make money from your traffic and data. They monetize by pushing ads, redirecting affiliate commissions, mining cryptocurrency, and selling user data.
For the user, browser hijackers can ruin the browsing experience. They can make the internet frustratingly slow, bombard you with unwanted ads, and violate your privacy.
How Do Browser Hijackers Infect My Device?
Browser hijackers often sneak onto devices through “bundled” software installations. Many free programs will offer to install “optional extra” components during setup. If you rush through and accept everything by default, you may unintentionally approve a browser hijacker.
Here are some of the most common infection vectors:
- Downloading freeware programs like media players, download managers, and PDF creators. These programs are otherwise safe but may bundle hijackers in the custom installer.
- Visiting shady websites that trigger a browser hijacker download when you click anywhere on the page. This is known as a “drive-by download.”
- Opening email attachments from unknown senders. The attachment contains malware that downloads the hijacker.
- Clicking on misleading ads and pop-ups that say things like “your computer is infected, click here to scan.”
- Using pirated software, illegal streaming sites, and torrents. These sources are ripe with malware.
- Visiting compromised sites that silently push malware. This can happen when sites have not updated WordPress or other vulnerable platforms.
- Clicking on shortened or masked links that redirect to hijacker downloads rather than the intended page.
In essence, browser hijackers spread through deceptive downloads from untrustworthy sources. The installation is designed to seem legitimate to trick users into infecting themselves.
Signs Your Device is Infected With a Browser Hijacker
If you suspect your browser has been hijacked by an unwanted program, here are some telltale signs to look for:
- Your homepage has changed: This is one of the most common signs of a hijacker. You suddenly get redirected to a different homepage that you never set. It may be an unfamiliar search engine, news site, or page full of ads.
- Your default search engine has changed: Another way hijackers earn money is by switching your search engine to something unknown that gives them affiliate revenue from your searches.
- New toolbars: Toolbar addons may randomly appear at the top, bottom, or sides of your browser. They often contain ads or suspicious search boxes.
- More pop-ups: If you suddenly get way more pop-up ads and notifications, even on sites you trust, it could indicate an injected adware program.
- Redirection when clicking links: Hijacked clicks are when you click a normal link but get sent to an ad portal or unrelated page. This allows hijackers to earn money from your clicks.
- Slow browser: Added addons, scripts, and traffic redirects can noticeably slow down web browsing. It takes longer for pages to load as they pass through unwanted programs.
- High CPU usage: Related to the slow browsing, you may notice browser processes using much higher CPU usage than normal. All those mining scripts and junkware place additional load on your device hardware.
- Problems shutting down or closing browser: Some browser hijackers stubbornly run in the background even when you try to close the browser completely. This is because they want to preserve infections between browsing sessions.
- Unknown extensions: Carefully check your browser extensions and remove anything that looks suspicious or that you don’t remember installing.
If you notice one or more of these issues, it’s wise to scan for and remove any hijackers lurking on your system.
Dangers of Browser Hijackers
Left unchecked, browser hijackers can inflict a range of problems beyond just being a nuisance:
- Privacy invasion: Hijackers monitor your web activity and can collect personal details like passwords and banking info. They track browsing to sell data to advertisers.
- Search and click tracking: By redirecting searches and clicks, hijackers can monitor everything you search for and click on. They build data profiles about your interests and habits.
- Credit card theft: Some browser hijackers are designed to watch for credit card numbers and other financial details entered into online forms. This allows them to steal credentials and identities.
- Higher malware risk: The changes hijackers make to your browser settings can leave you more vulnerable to further malware infections from malicious ads and sites.
- Cryptocurrency mining: Some hijackers run cryptocurrency mining scripts in your browser, which drains your device’s processor resources to mine digital coins for profit.
- Slow computer: All the background processes make your whole system laggy as more of your computer power goes toward unwanted programs.
- Unwanted charges: Some hijacked browser changes will sign you up to paid subscriptions, services, and other charges without consent.
Clearing browser hijackers is important to take control of your browser security and privacy again. The next section covers effective detection and removal tips.
How to Check for and Remove Browser Hijackers
Please perform all the steps in the correct order. If you have any questions or doubts at any point, stop and ask for our assistance.
- Remove Browser Hijackers from Windows
- Remove Browser Hijackers from Mac
- Remove Browser Hijackers from Android
Protecting Your Browser From Future Hijackings
Completely removing an existing browser hijacker is the first step. Next, you should take measures to reinforce browser security and prevent future hijackings.
Here are some best practices:
- Avoid suspicious downloads: Carefully vet programs before you install them. Download only from trusted sources. Avoid free media files, cracks, or pirated software that could contain malware bundles.
- Don’t click random links: Check the actual URLs before you click. Never download from unfamiliar sites. Avoid clicking ads and pop-ups outright.
- Use an ad blocker: Ad blockers like uBlock Origin help block malicious ads used to distribute browser hijackers. Disable ads for improved security.
- Close suspicious tabs: If a browser tab is slow, laggy, or has weird activity, close it right away. Isolate and shut down potential infections fast.
- Install a pop-up blocker: Pop-up blockers stop unwanted new tabs and windows that can contain attacks. Browsers like Firefox block pop-ups by default.
- Make backups: Backup your computer periodically to preserve important data and configs. Having backups allows you to fully reset infected systems if needed.
- Update everything: Running the latest software is critical. Updates patch security holes and boost protection against browser hijacker techniques.
Proactive precautions like these can go a long way toward keeping your browsers free of unwanted changes. Paying attention to what you click and download is one of the best defenses.
Frequently Asked Questions on Browser Hijackers
Browser hijackers can be confusing and concerning for many users. Below we answer some of the most common questions on what browser hijackers are, how to remove them, and how to stay protected.
What are some examples of browser hijackers?
Some well-known browser hijackers include:
- MySearch – Changes default search engine and tracks browsing
- WebCake – Injects pop-ups and advertisements
- PriceMinister – Redirects searches to earn affiliate revenue
- Yontoo – Displays extra advertisements and sponsored links
- ByteFence – Pretends to be security software and pushes fake malware alerts
What damage can a browser hijacker cause?
Potential impacts include slow web browsing, unwanted pop-ups, redirected searches, home page changes, new toolbars, privacy violations, page loading errors, crypto mining, and increased malware risk.
What are symptoms of a browser hijacker?
Signs of a hijacker include a changed homepage, different default search engine, new extensions, more pop-ups, page redirects, slow browsing, high CPU usage, browser crashes, and modified security settings.
How do browser hijackers get installed on my device?
Common infection methods are bundled software installs, compromised sites, malicious ads/pop-ups, pirated content, fake “virus scan” offers, and spam email attachments.
How can I check if my browser has a hijacker?
Inspect browser extensions, reset your browser to see if problems persist, scan with antivirus and malware tools, check hosts file for redirects, and monitor for suspicious activity when browsing.
How do I remove a browser hijacker?
Run antivirus scans, delete unwanted extensions, reset browser settings to default, use malware removal tools, restore altered security settings, update your software, and check for leftover infections.
Is completely removing a browser hijacker difficult?
Some basic hijackers are easy to remove, but more advanced ones bury themselves and require antivirus scans, malware cleaning, and browser resets to fully eliminate. Persistence and multiple tools are key.
What is the best way to protect my browser from future hijackings?
Avoid suspicious downloads, don’t click random links, use an ad blocker, close shady tabs quickly, install a pop-up blocker, make backups, update your software regularly, and run frequent antivirus scans.
Can browser hijackers infect Macs and mobile devices too?
Yes, browser hijackers can infect Macs, iPhones, Androids, and any device that accesses the web. The same precautions apply across platforms.
Are browser hijackings the same as phishing scams?
No, browser hijacking is the modification of browser settings by malware. Phishing employs social engineering to trick users into disclosing login credentials and sensitive information.
What should I do if antivirus scans don’t detect the browser hijacker?
Try alternative malware scanners like Malwarebytes, reset your browser, check extensions and hosts file manually, reinstall your browser if needed, and ensure your security software is up-to-date.
Carefully following these FAQ tips and using multiple removal techniques can help free up your browser and reclaim peace of mind when browsing. Paying close attention to software downloads and online activity provides the best hijacker prevention.
The Bottom Line
Browser hijackers are a major nuisance that can bombard you with ads, slow your browsing, spy on your activity, and prove difficult to eliminate without the right removal approach.
Identifying the signs of an infection quickly and then using a combination of antivirus scans, browser resets, malware cleaners, and manual removal steps allows you to successfully clean even persistent hijackers and reclaim a safe, hassle-free browsing experience again.
Prevention moving forward comes down to avoiding suspicious downloads, staying updated, making prudent security settings, and just being cautious whenever you browse and install new software.
With the right toolkit and some diligence, you can both fix browser hijacker problems and avoid having them happen in the first place. Don’t let these obtrusive programs ruin the convenience of your web surfing.