What is Browser Hijacker
Have you sat down at your computer to check your daily mails in the morning or your regular news feed but all you can see is some weird searches appearing?Has your preferred search engine been changed to some other which you do not use on regular basis? Guess what? Your browser has been hijacked by a Browser Hijacker!
What is a Browser Hijacker?
A Browser Hijacker is basically a Potentially Unwanted Program (PUP) that will hijack your browser in order to alter its essential settings. It may replace the existing home page of your browser, its new tab and the default search engine with its own without obtaining your permission, with the help of a browser extension. This is a malware program that redirects the users to unintended websites that they don’t intend to visit so that the hijacker can earn revenue from the advertisements. Besides making unwanted modifications to the user’s browser, a hijacker collects information about the user in order to sell it to the interested third parties that in turn use the same for their marketing purposes. So, a browser hijacker can be as harmful as any other malware for it can pose severe privacy threat for the user.
Browser Hijackers are majorly made with an intention to generate revenue through advertisements. Your searches will be redirected to the hijacker’s search page and the links which the hijacker would want you to see. The cyber criminals, when the user clicks on the said links, generate fraudulent advertising revenue.
Such browser hijackers also gather information about the user that can threaten their privacy and security. The can collect personally identifiable and non-personally identifiable information about the user and the information regarding their hardware too.
What a Browser Hijacker does?
As explained above, Browser Hijackers aim to generate revenue for their makers, majorly through Pay per Click (PPC) campaign. In order to do so, it will make following modifications to your browser settings without your approval:
1) It will change the home page of your default browser with its own.
2) It will change the new tab functionality of your browser with its own and each time, you will try to open a new tab, you will be displayed the hijacker’s page.
3) It will change your preferred search engine with its own.
How would you get to know if your browser has been hijacked?
Common symptoms that might indicate that the browser has been hijacked are as follows:
1) Unintended modifications to the browser settings
2) Redirects to unintended web pages/ Sponsored web pages
3) Increased amount of ads, banners and pop-ups in the browser
4) Installation of additional toolbars and extensions on the browser without user’s permission
5) Frequent system crash and degradation of the performance of the system
Why should you worry about the browser hijacker that might be present on your system?
Browser Hijacker in itself is not dangerous as it does not damage or steal the user’s data but it may contain spyware that spies on the user to gather sensitive data or banking information. Not just spyware, Browser Hijacker can also install other malware like Ransomware that encrypts the user data and demands ransom in order to unlock the files and folders that are rendered inaccessible by it. Some Browser Hijackers may also contain the keyloggers which can record your keystrokes in order to gather sensitive information such as banking credentials or login passwords. The presence of browser hijacker on your system increases the chances of encountering malware that can cause havoc on your system, thereby making its removal very necessary.
Modus Operandi of a Browser Hijacker
Majority of the browser hijacking is done through toolbars and browser extensions that claim to improve the user’s experience by providing several utilities, features, functionality and animations. But in reality, they are of least help to the user and in fact slow down the user’s PC by consuming the bandwidth due to increased amount of advertisements.
Browser Hijackers often comes bundled with the free applications or program that the user downloads off the internet. Often this freeware dupe the user into agreeing to the additional downloads during the installation process that contains these browser hijackers as well. Upon installation, these hijackers modify the settings of the browser along with installing adware that bombards them with annoying ads and constant pop-ups.
Distribution Methods of Browser Hijacker
There are several methods that are deployed for Browser Hijacker Distribution, which are as follows:
1) Shareware or Freeware/ Software Bundling- It is important for the user to remain cautious of the programs like video streaming and recording programs and applications that are offered for free over the internet as they often come bundled with additional toolbars and extensions that are majorly responsible for hijacking their browser and altering its essential settings.
2) Spam Emails- The most common method that is deployed by the attackers to distribute malware like these browser hijackers and ransomware are spam emails. Users often fail to pay attention to the malicious attachments which these emails might contain or often get convinced to hastily click on the malicious links which are sent to users as a part of these spam emails in order to infect their systems.
3) Fake Pop-Up Ads- You might notice pop-ups that notify you for the updates for Flash Player or similar other programs. Some of the browser hijackers are distributed with the help of such fake ads that notify the users about their pending software updates. So, agreeing to the installation of any such update, users might fall into the trap and end up installing the browser hijacker or any such Potentially Unwanted Program (PUP) on their system.
4) Misleading Websites- Malicious websites is another way for the distribution of such malware as this is the sole purpose for their creation. Users are often convinced to download misleading applications or programs that can be a possible browser hijacker.
How can you protect yourself from browser hijacking?
Removing a browser hijacker from your system can be very time-consuming and will cause a lot of hassle. So, there are several ways in which you can protect yourself from browser hijacking or any other malware infections:-
1) Be cautious while you download any free software from the internet- As software bundling is one of the very common methods of distribution of such browser hijackers. It is recommended that the users should carefully review the installation process, read the terms and conditions along with EULA (End User Licensing Agreements) before downloading any application or software off the internet.
3) Be Vigilant of Suspicious Links- We often click hastily on the links as and when we browse the web or in the emails we receive or even in the instant messaging chats. It is very important to be vigilant while clicking on any such links because clicking on them can install malware or download any such browser hijacker on your system.
4) Keep your browser updated at all times- Security is a major issue when it comes to outdated browsers. To keep yourself protected, it is always recommended to use the latest version of your preferred browser.
5) Use good antivirus software- It is very important not just to use an updated antivirus program but the one that can offer you real time information or warning if any of the installed software attempts to modify your browser settings.
6) Run Regular Malware Scan- Remaining mindful of what you download and install is one of the ways in which you remain protected. But it is also equally important, that you run regular malware scan on your system so as to remove any infection that might be present on your system.