HELP! My Homepage’s Been Hijacked!

Hijacked BrowserYou click on your Internet browser, expecting to see your e-mail or Google, but instead another page with a strange search bar shows up.  At the top of the screen are several toolbars you’ve never seen before.  When you try to open a new webpage, unwanted ads pop up.  Suddenly a window that seems like antivirus appears on the bottom of your screen, warning that your computer is at risk.  You select to run a scan, which detects many errors, but when you want to clean them up, an 800 number appears on the screen or asks for payment.  Finally you realize—this is not your antivirus program, but you certainly do have some problems, including a hijacked browser.

All of these classic signs indicate malware has hijacked your Internet browser.  This does not necessarily mean that a hacker is stealing your information or controlling your computer.  You have simply contracted a virus that generates these errors and tries to trick you into calling a fake support company for “assistance.”  Should you call these hoaxers, you will only waste time and money on support software that clutters your computer and leaves it more susceptible to further malware, rather than protecting from it.  Allowing them to remote in is also an all-access pass to any of your information.

Signs of a Hijacked Browser:

  • Change of homepage to a strange search site
  • Change of default Internet browser (e.g. Ask.com instead of Google or Yahoo!)
  • New toolbars, bookmarks, and/or desktop shortcuts that you did not install
  • Numerous pop-up ads, often including offers to “clean up” your PC
  • Redirecting to websites other than the pages you type in
  • Unable to load content on certain webpages
  • Webpages load very slowly or Internet no longer connects
  • Offers of tech support with 800 number to call
  • Messages that computer has many errors (not your normal antivirus software)

Tips to Combat a Hijacked Browser:

  • Microsoft (and any other legitimate company) will NEVER call you out of the blue to warn you that your computer has errors or needs a tune-up.  The customer must always initiate contact, so ignore these fake warnings and NEVER allow someone you don’t trust to access your computer.
  • Install ONE and ONLY ONE antivirus software on your computer, as multiple programs will cancel each other out.  Run scans periodically.
  • Turn on PUP (potentially unwanted program) detection if your antivirus software has that option.
  • Be careful when installing new software or downloading something from the Internet.  Never click “Next, next, next” without having some sense of what you are permitting.
  • Make sure all downloads and updates are from the actual, legitimate websites (e.g. Microsoft, Norton, Java, etc.), and not a look-a-like or general “free” downloads site.
  • Adjust your browser settings for better security and manage add-ons/plug-ins that you may or may not want.

If you think that malware has hijacked your browser, try running your antivirus or other anti-malware programs to remove threats.  Viruses can override these tools, so if you are unsure what to do or unable to remove them, take your computer to a local professional.

For more information and tips on browser hijacking, visit the following sites:
PC Pitstop Tech Talk
Norton Support, with step-by-step instructions on adjusting browser settings here.

(As discussed on a WEEU radio broadcast 7-31-14.)

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