What is a Browser Hijacker?
One of the most popular types of malware is the browser hijacker, or simply hijacker. This type of malware was designed for the purpose of modifying the victim’s web browser settings without the user’s permission or knowledge. Sometimes, a code is injected into the browser or a software is installed to manipulate the browser’s activities.
So, when you get redirected to a certain website that you are not familiar with or your search queries give you unrelated results, your system is probably infected by a browser hijacker.
What is a Browser Hijacker and What Does it Do?
Generally, hijackers change the default homepage, new page, and new tab URL of the affected browser. Sometimes even the default search engine is changed too. There are also hijackers that automatically install an extension, toolbar, or browser add-on to reach their purpose.
What are the goals of browser hijackers?
- To steal data from users
- To spy on victims
- To deliver intrusive and persistent advertising
- To perform a try-before-you-buy hard-sell to potential customers
Browser hijackers are usually created to proliferate ads, so these hijackers are also qualified as adware. The malicious script that triggers the ad is injected into the browser, that’s why you will suddenly see an influx of intrusive ads no matter what webpage you’re on. Aside from injecting ads, this type of malware also redirects users to unknown and potentially malicious URLs. The idea is to make you visit specific websites, whether you like it or not, so the hijacker and his clients enjoy higher advertising revenue.
Other types of hijackers even contain keyloggers or spyware that are able to record your keystrokes and collect valuable information that you type into forms. Some of the information that might be collected from you includes your banking information, account details, personal information, passwords, search queries, browsing history, social security numbers, and even answers to security questions. The hijacker can use this information for a lot of purposes, including:
- Delivering more targeted ads based on your search and browsing history
- Use your login details to hack your online accounts, particularly financial accounts
- Sell it to marketers, ad agencies, and other hackers
- All of the above
History of Browser Hijackers
It is quite impossible to trace where browser hijackers originated from. However, some experts believe that this type of malware came from a family of software companies based in Tel Aviv, Israel, known as Download Valley, that produces software to monetize freeware or shareware. Some of the malware produced by these companies include adware, spyware, and browser hijackers.
But installing a piece of software on the user’s browser to follow the user’s activities online, see which sites are visited, and how long they spend on those websites, is not a new practice. Marketing companies have been doing this for a long time, either to target their ad campaigns or sell it to other companies that use this type of data to laser-focus their marketing efforts.
Some companies even spend thousands of their advertising budgets on display ads that appear on the victim’s devices or on notifications that follow the user around the internet. Ecommerce websites that sell goods and services are also known to place pixels and cookies in the user’s browser, and these little trackers are not always removed even if the user has responded to the ads or offers. This is similar to how some browser hijackers behave, but it doesn’t mean that these pixels and cookies are malicious. What makes them different from hijackers is that these little trackers do not interfere with your traffic.
How Browser Hijackers Work
Browser hijackers can infiltrate computers through numerous means, such as via shareware, freeware, and advertisement support software deployed via installation of toolbars or add-ons.
Browser hijackers often piggyback on the installation of a downloaded program that the user believed to be genuine. You may also be tricked into initiating an additional download when you agree to terms and conditions during the installation of the application.
It is possible that you might have been offered an option to bypass or decline the installation of the extra hijacker software, but the information must have been displayed or delivered in a way that deliberately confuses the user.
Aside from app bundling, browser hijackers can also be spread via malicious email attachments, downloading infected files, or by simply visiting malicious websites. Some non-malicious websites can be infected by malicious parties and unknowingly spread the browser hijacker. Malicious websites, on the other hand, are intentionally created by the people behind the browser hijacker for the sole purpose of distributing the malware.
Most instances of browser hijacking are caused by add-ons or third-party software, plug-ins, or scripts added to programs to give them extra features and functionality. A common example is Adobe Flash, a piece of software that allows users to watch videos or play games on browsers.
Though add-ons may help improve the user experience on a website through interactive content, some add-ons can cause your device to stop responding or display annoying pop-up ads.
Examples of Browser Hijackers
There are probably thousands, if not hundreds, of browser hijackers today. In fact, the AV-TEST Institute registers more than 350,000 new malware and potentially unwanted programs (PUP) every single day — and most of them are adware, spyware, and browser hijackers.
Here are some of the popular browser hijackers on the internet right now:
- ShortcutTab Browser Hijacker – This hijacker routes your queries through advancedsearchlab.com before pulling up search results from Yahoo or Bing.
- My Sweeps Tab Browser Hijacker – This is a potentially unwanted application (PUA) and a browser hijacker that alters the browser’s default homepage and search queries to search.hmysweepstab.com.
- CreativeSearch Browser Hijacker – This installs the CreativeSearch extension and redirects search queries through the CreativeSearch search website.
- Searchmine Browser Hijacker on Mac – This browser hijacker targets Mac computers that redirects your traffic to Searchmine.net, a fake search engine.
- com and Search.playsearchnow.com – Homesweeklies.com is a fake search engine while Search.playsearchnow.com is a browser hijacker that installs the PlaySearchNow browser extension. Both target the Safari browser.
- GameSearch Browser Extension – This installs the GameSearch browser extension, manipulates your default browser settings, and redirect searches to gamsrch.com.
- LookWebResults – This browser hijacker that also operates as adware redirects your traffic to the LookWebResults Search.
- Charming Tab – Aside from being a background changer for a Chrome-based browser, this PUP/hijacker also performs redirects to charming-tab.com.
- sunnycoast.xyz – This browser hijacker changes all your browser defaults and routes your traffic through Xml.sunnycoast.xyz.
- com – This UAE-based hijacker modifies your browser settings and changes them all to https://searchpowerapp.com.
- SafeFinder Virus – This Mac-focused browser hijacker redirects your traffic to search.safefinder.com, search.safefinderformac.com, search.macsafefinder.com, search.safefinder.biz, or search.safefinder.info.
- becovi.com – This popular fake search engine hijacks your web browser and redirects you to search.becovi.com.
- MySearch Virus – One of the characteristics of this hijacker is that it sets the homepage to my-search.com, along with other default URL settings.
- Tech-connect.biz Virus – Categorized as PUA/adware/hijacker, Tech-connect.biz modifies your browser settings to generate ad revenue for the attacker.
How to Delete Browser Hijackers
Getting rid of browser hijackers is a straightforward process. However, you need to make sure that all traces of the malware are deleted to prevent the infection from coming back.
Most antivirus software can detect the presence of browser hijackers, adware, and spyware. However, some new strains of malware could go undetected, or the security program might not be powerful enough to root out the infection. In such cases, users are urged to reinstall the affected browser to regain control of it.
In extreme situations, the hijacker is so persistent that it can reinstall itself automatically even after deleting it. This happens when the user or the security software fails to delete all the components of the malicious malware, enabling it to regenerate after some time. If reinfection occurs, you may have to delete the contents of your computer, then reinstall your operating system and browser version. You can then restore your personal files from your backup.
How to Protect Against Browser Hijackers
Staying away from adware/spyware/browser hijackers can be a huge challenge because they are everywhere. However, there are a number of ways you can protect your system against these nasty malware.
Here are some of them:
- Keep your operating system (OS) and browser updated. Install all available OS and browser patches to prevent hijacking attacks. Most hijackers usually target vulnerabilities in the OS and the browser to exploit.
- Do not click on suspicious links. Never click links on emails, text messages, or pop-up notifications because they could trigger the download of browser hijackers.
- Be wary when installing new software. Read all terms and conditions as well as agreements before installing any software. Make sure to go through each of the step as well.
- Use an antivirus software. Having a good antivirus program and keeping it updated can provide real-time protection against browser hijacking. You’ll be automatically alerted if a downloaded software tries to change your browser settings or tries to download additional payload.