You open up Chrome, you’ve set your favourite news site to your homepage. What you should be met with in that instance is the latest goings on from across the globe. But WAIT?! What is this on your browser? There are lots of adverts, pop-ups galore and now you have a new toolbar with its own search engine. You scratch your head. Did you download something dodgy? Was it that shady looking free football site you went on last night? 

You are in fact experiencing a browser hijacking! They are pretty common and can range from a mild nuisance to something far more serious. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here we will go into what they are, who creates them, examples of them and how you can stay protected. So without further ado, let’s get down to cracking browser hijacking!

What is the definition of a browser hijacking?

You might not know this but a browser hijacker is actually a type of malware. It basically overrides your control over the web browser and changes settings. The reason cybercriminals create them is generally to increase visits to a website. But why, I hear you ask. Often this is to help with advertising revenue. The more click-throughs to a page, regardless of whether they are legitimate, are going to improve what advertisers will pay to get seen. 

Browser hijacking doesn’t always just change the homepage of internet browsers. It can also change the search engine preferences or trigger countless irritating pop ups that ruin your user experience. This can slow down your computer or even push you to pages with malicious software on them that automatically download to your computer.

Starting to see the severity of it? What might seem like something annoying but harmless to begin with, can soon turn into something far worse.

What are the motives of browser hijackers?

So let’s go into more detail about why browser hijackers are created. Cybercriminals inject their malicious software into browsers without user permission, usually via email attachments. There are a whole host of different reasons but the following are some of the most common:

  • To steal banking information from users
  • To spy on users and collect sensitive data or even identity theft
  • To display persistent advertising on web browsers
  • To install other browser hijacking software on the users device

But how can a weird looking search page, add ons or host of irritating pop up ads collect your personal information? Well, the browser hijacker may cause a browser redirect to send you to web pages that capture personal information about you. You may  input it yourself without knowing or the malicious software can gain access to it from your browser.

Once the hackers have this information they are able to login to your accounts without you knowing. If they have your bank login details this could mean having all your money stolen from right under your nose. Or worse still, they could get information that helps them steal your identity. Yes, that’s right, browser hijacking is no joke!

But it isn’t just cybercriminals doing this. Legitimate retail companies use browser hijacking to display ads that pop up on users’ devices or on messages that follow users around the internet. This allows them to track how users behave online so they can optimise their marketing strategies.

This can happen by placing a pixel or forcing unwanted software programs to remain in the browser. They may not even be tracking you once they got what they wanted but these files clog up your computer and make it slower. This is why it is important to keep cleaning your browser whenever possible.

How to tell if you have a browser hijacker

Most of the time it is pretty obvious when you have a browser hijacker on your device. If your home page search engine has changed overnight, or your browser settings seem different, you’ve probably been infected.

Also, other signs include, if you keep getting automatically redirected to other websites, unwanted toolbars appear, your browser seems slow, your search engine results seem strange or lots of unwanted pop ups keep appearing.

However, not all browser hijacker software is so obvious. Sometimes they can be running in the background without you knowing. These tend to be the malware that tracks your activity. By design they need you to not be aware that they are there. 

Can I remove browser hijackers the same way as other malicious software?

Generally speaking, yes. However, some antivirus software will not pick up on browser hijackers, even though they are able to pick up on adware and spyware. The only real way you can protect against these forms of hijackers is to delete and reinstall your browser or find a new one if you think it might be more secure.

But sometimes it isn’t this simple. It is possible that even after reinstalling your browser software you find that the hijacking program also reinstalls itself in the browser. If this happens bigger changes are required.

In fact you may even need to back up your computer, and install your operating system again and start everything from scratch. Not ideal, but definitely worth the trouble to make sure you keep all your personal information safe.

How can I stay protected from browser hijackers?

There are a lot of housekeeping rules that should help you keep your browser in check and free of these pesky browser hijackings. By making sure you frequently clean your browser history and browser cookies you will be making sure there are no stray files running in the background.

Also, importantly, make sure you have a good antivirus software running in the background. This will constantly be running in the background scanning your computer for any malicious software that could have been unscrupulously downloaded. Remember a browser hijacker is just another form of malware after all. If anything is attempted to be installed you will most likely be in the know and it should give you the option to delete it before anything bad can come of it.

As we say with most things, if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Don’t go clicking any mysterious links, or downloading any documents you don’t trust. These are the most common ways browser hijackers are able to spread and should be avoided at all cost. 

Last but not least, make sure to keep all your devices up-to-date. Operating system updates are not just to improve functionality and aesthetics, they are also there to fix vulnerabilities and improve the defences against things like malware and spyware. 

Follow these tips and you are giving yourself a good chance of never having to endure a browser hijacking. 

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