What Are Browser Hijackers?
Have you ever noticed unusual, unexpected activity when you’re on the internet – such as web pages taking too long to load, an abundance of pop-up ads, or searches going to the wrong websites? If these things are happening, your browser might have been hijacked.
Browser hijacking occurs when a hijacking program or piece of software takes control of your browser and leaves you open to forms of browser manipulation and even fraud. Browser hijacking is an increasing threat online and, if unchecked, can cause loss of personal data and finances.
Whether you use Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, or another browser, it is always important to be aware of the threat of browser hijacking, how to spot it, how to prevent it, and of course, how to remove it.
Why does browser hijacking happen?
Why would anyone want to hijack your browser? Well, when you visit websites and perform actions online, these actions can give hijackers valuable information and data as well as the opportunity to make money.
Some hackers will hijack browsers for fun or to elevate their status in the community. But mostly, browser hijacking is about running malicious programs on your computer to make money.
How is browser hijacking related to malicious programs?
Malicious programs are programs that cause havoc to your computer and essentially have access without your knowledge or permission.
Malware and spyware are programs that are used to track user behaviour online and gain access to sensitive information on your computer or phone. These programs, along with other malicious programs such as scareware and ransomware, are run on your computer using browser hijacking.
How does a browser get hijacked?
There are several sophisticated ways your browser can be hijacked. Some are very obvious while others are more discrete, but no less destructive.
1. Email link: You unknowingly click on a link in an email that brings you to a website created by the hackers. While there, a malicious program on the website will look for vulnerabilities in your browser and run malicious programs. Check out our blog post on phishing and how to prevent it.
2. Attachments: By opening an attachment on a phishing email you may download malicious software or be directed to a website hosting this software.
3. Freeware: Unfortunately, it is very rare that software comes without a price online. In looking for online solutions to problems we often download freeware. But many malicious software programs can be hidden inside.
4. Malicious adverts: Malicious ads look safe but if clicked on, they can bring you to hijackers’ sites or even find vulnerabilities in your browser. These are also called exploit kits.
5. Browser extensions: Do you know where all your browser extensions are from and do you recognise them? It’s worth taking a look at your internet browser tabs, as browser extensions are another way for hackers to gain access.
How to spot if your browser has been hijacked
Fear not, it is generally easy to spot that your browser has been hijacked. And knowing some of the more subtle signs to watch out for can also protect your privacy.
Here are some tell-tale signs:
- If your mouse starts moving on its own, it can mean your browser has been hijacked and hackers have gained remote access to your device.
- Pop-ups you are not used to seeing suddenly start appearing and asking you to buy something or visit certain pages. This is another big indicator of browser hijacking.
- Your internet searches are redirected to sites you didn’t plan on visiting and don’t make any sense. This is called DNS redirection and means the hacker has control of your browser and is sending you to sites of their choosing.
- One of the easiest ways to spot browser hijacking is missing money. Unfortunately, these hackers can often access private bank details and use them before you spot you have been hijacked. But the sooner you spot these hacks, the better.
- Confidential data missing is another red flag for browser hijacking. So, if your data turns up somewhere unexpected you should immediately check if you have been hacked.
- Scareware pop-ups are an indicator of browser hijacking. For example, telling you your antivirus is out of date and you need to purchase it again before it is too late. In these cases, you might actually be redirected to a malicious site where hackers will use your card details.
- Ransomware is another indicator of your browser having been hijacked where the hijacker will not allow you access to your files unless you pay them a sum of money.
- Online passwords no longer working is a very strong indicator that your browser has been hacked and the hijackers have taken control of your browser.
- New and unexpected browser toolbars appearing in your browser also indicate browser hijacking and should be dealt with quickly.
How to prevent browser hijacking
The good news is that there are lots of ways to protect yourself against browser hijacking. Being aware of the clues and taking some time to make sure your online presence is safe is our best advice. Here are the best ways to do that!
- Google Safe Browsing is a service from Google that allows people to search online in a safe mode where Google will alert them if they happen upon a malicious site or network. Google has a vast list of phishing and malicious sites it crosschecks. It is easy to set up in Chrome settings and can also be used on Android.
- Don’t click attachments from unknown senders. Just as you might be suspicious of a large, anonymous package in the mail, don’t open an email if you don’t know the sender.
- Good antivirus software is always important in the fight against browser hijacking and making sure your device is kept safe.
- Browser and operating system (OS) updates are also important. Browser hijacking is all about looking for vulnerabilities in your OS and your browser. By making sure they are updated, you can ensure these vulnerabilities aren’t found.
- Be aware before you download. Sounds obvious but take the time and read the small print.
- Use an Alternate DNS Resolution Provider to stop DNS redirection when the hijackers try to send you to pages you didn’t intend on visiting.
- Use a digital security system like Clario. Our service is different to antivirus in that it monitors your browsing in real-time and works for you before the hijack occurs or is spotted.
How to remove a browser hijacker
If the worst does happen, don’t panic. There are some very easy steps to ensure all traces of a hijacker have been removed from your device.
Remove the software manually by checking your browser for any add-ons or extensions that you don’t recognise and deleting them. If you find you have been a victim of browser hijacking, these simple steps will help:
1. Look through your installed programs in the control panel and see if anything in there looks suspicious or if there are any programs you don’t recognise. If you find something, uninstall it.
2. Clear your browser history to make sure your cookies and cache are clear. There are different ways to do this according to which browsers you are using as follows:
3. Install a digital security product such as Clario that will protect you from future cyber threats.
Browser hijacking is common and frequent. At worst it can cause loss of money and sensitive information. At best it is annoying and a nuisance. But knowing how to spot browser hijacking and taking the appropriate steps can help fight the issue quickly and effectively. The key is knowing how to spot it and what to do when it happens.
Clario: Keeping you safe
Clario’s experts are industry leaders in online security. You can find out more about what we do on our cybersecurity page.