A browser hijacker as we’ve noted before is “any software that infects a user’s internet browser and alters his internet traffic requests.” Less broadly it can alter a web browser’s settings in harmful, dangerous, or irritating ways. This can take the shape of changed home pages, altering search requests, having pop-ups and other ads, etc. Particularly virulent and malicious hijackers can contain spyware, add key logging software, or permanently damage the registry of Window’s users. The latter can cause all sorts of errors from malfunctioning programs and applications to a full-blown system shutdown.
Add this to the fact that most browser hijacking malware comes packaged in useful programs and you get an endemic infection in the majority of computer systems. Such hijackers are frequently found in “add on” toolbars or search engines and “rogue” security software. The fact that they come bundled with software makes them even more innocuous.
One particularly notable case (which readers may or may not have heard of) was the so called “DNSChanger”. While technically a form of Trojan its methods utilized your browser to hijack your computer’s DNS look up function (how you find websites). The DNSChanger was so virulent that by 2013 it had infected millions of computers worldwide and the FBI Cybersecurity division was forced to run a campaign of eradicating the dangerous software. It’s estimated that it had created $14 million dollars in profits from redirected links and sites. Because of this success hackers have been progressively using more and more malware of a similar type.
So how do you protect yourself and your home system? The following tips can help keep you safe while browsing.
- Security Software: A good anti-virus or anti-spyware program is key to keeping your browser secure. Such software often gives “real time” protection (See STOPzilla AntiVirus for one such program). More importantly, such software needs to stay updated. Even if you don’t allow other programs to update themselves, always make sure your security software does.
- Browser Configuration: Most browsers come with advanced “smart” features such autofill, password management, etc. Use these features with caution. Some hijackers can exploit such features. At the very least, keep your browser up to date and keep your firewall on at all times. IF possible disable flash, java, and other third party “auto run” applications.
- Pop-Up Blocker: Consider installing a pop-up blocker such as AdBlock.
- Browser Additives/Extensions: Toolbars, enhanced search engines, and other browser extensions can be powerful tools – but they also open up an avenue of infection. Before installing anything to your browser, check the app out. What sort of reviews does it have? Does it have a high number of downloads? In short: be smart and make sure what you are installing is what you think you are installing.
If you do become the victim of a browser hijacker, use a non-infected computer and isolate the infected computer from your home network and the internet entirely. Some infections can travel along your router to infect everything attached to it. A computer restarted in safe mode often allows the removal of the offending software, though deeply rooted software may require you to restore from a previous backup. There is no one size fits all solutions, but most of the common infections have a plethora of documentation to help users.