Stopping Browser Hijackers in Their Tracks

Browser hijackers pose a severe threat -altering browser settings without consent to spy, exploit, and disrupt. With attacks rapidly growing in scale and sophistication, understanding these malware strains and safeguarding yourself is crucial.

This insider’s guide will arm you with everything needed to detect browser hijacking activity, block infections plus erase hijackers should the worst happen. Let’s get started!

What Exactly Are Browser Hijackers?

Browser hijackers are malicious programs designed specifically to manipulate web browser configurations for fraudulent or exploitative purposes without the user’s permission.

According to 2022 Internet Security Threat Report by Symantec, browser hijackers make up 18% of all malware infections. Estimates suggest over 100 million browser hijacking attempts now occur worldwide each day.

Once installed, hijackers can modify homepage settings, change default search engines, alter bookmarks, attach intrusive extensions and toolbars and disable security protections in the background.

Many hijacker variants go much further – tracking browsing habits, capturing screenshots, logging credentials and more as we’ll uncover shortly.

How Do Browser Hijackers Infect Devices?

Browser hijacking code makes its way onto devices through various clever infection tactics:

Bundled Installers

Hijackers are commonly bundled covertly into the installers of free programs and tools downloaded from the web. They execute their malicious browser changes once the host app is launched.

Drive-By Downloads

Merely visiting compromised, questionable or misleading sites can lead to automatic malware downloads in the background without any action on the user’s part.

Fake Updates

Another ploy is fake browser notifications prompting users to install updates containing malware payloads. Research reveals 1 in 10 clicks on popup notifications result in infections.

Exploiting Vulnerabilities

Hijackers also try to leverage unpatched browser flaws and outdated extensions to inject themselves onto systems. Just two exploits were responsible for 55% of packaged malware last year.

Inserting hostile code deep into system files allows hijackers to operate covertly once installed. The most advanced strains even include techniques to disable antivirus tools for persistence.

5 Common Types of Destructive Browser Hijackers

There’s a diverse ecosystem of browser hijacker variants behind the chaos. We’ll spotlight five of the most widespread strains and their malicious capabilities:

1. Adware

Representing over 25% of all malware on Windows, adware hijackers are certainly no slouches. Strains like Outbrowse, Hotbar and helperObject infest devices specifically to bombard victims with promotions and pop-ups.

By setting affected browsers to open ad-laden pages on startup and inserting promotions across regular browsing experiences, this malware earns through referrals and forced clicks.

2. Spyware

True to the name, spyware hijackers are used to closely track user browsing patterns without consent. They achieve this using a range of stealthy techniques:

  • Recording browsing history
  • Logging keystrokes made
  • Capturing screenshots periodically
  • Transmitting system data like OS, location and device info

Data harvested is then sold to shady online groups and often used for identity theft or further targeted exploitation. The sophisticated spyware strain FinFisher is reportedly used by authorities across 30 countries.

3. Cryptocurrency Miners

With the rise in value of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, browser hijacking to secretly install miners on victim devices is also growing exponentially.

By forcing infected devices to run intensive mining programs in the background, attackers obtain the lucrative coin payouts themselves. Mining hijackers can severely slow down system performance.

4. InfoStealers

Widespread info stealing malware like PredatorTheThief specializes in detecting the login details of highly valuable accounts as users enter them in the browser.

Passwords captured include those for:

  • Email inboxes
  • Social media
  • Online banking
  • Cryptocurrency exchange accounts
  • Other digital financial platforms

This data enables hackers to directly access and drain such accounts illegally.

5. Ransomware

Ransomware campaigns hold devices and files hostage until the victim pays a ransom fee to regain system access.

Some ransomware first enters as a phishing email attachment then employs browser hijacking to lock down access across networks. The BitPaymer hijacker notably encrypted and deleted backups to pressure 70+ organizations into paying six-figure ransom amounts over the past year.

10 Serious Risks of Browser Hijacker Infections

The presence of browser hijackers signifies much more than just annoying modifications to your browsing experience. Additional infrastructure could already be compromised too.

Here are 10 major knock-on risks if hijackers are not swiftly removed following detection:

Identity TheftLogin details captured through integrated spyware used to steal personal information, apply for credit cards and more.
Financial FraudFake banking portals substitute real sites to harvest sensitive info for stealing funds and making purchases using victim identities.
Supply Chain PoisoningOnce inside systems, hijackers used to infiltrate wider company infrastructure and trusted partner networks.
Ransomware DeploymentActing as carriers – hijackers install secondary ransomware malware to take more control and extort funds.
Cryptomining DrainContinual stresses physical hardware through intensive cryptomining performed in the background without consent.
Bricks HardwareIf highly disruptive, hijacker strain scan overload/corrupt core operating system resources and physically damage devices.
System CorruptionTampering with OS files in background risks file deletion, blue screen errors and operating system crashes over time.
BlackmailScreenshots, browsing history and credentials stolen via integrated spyware used to blackmail victims.
EspionageFinFisher and Mosaic hijackers notable used by state agencies for controversial mass surveillance purposes.
Secondhand ValueStolen login credentials later traded on dark web black markets fetching $5 per individual Facebook account.

So in summary, what begins as browser manipulation can soon spiral into much more serious compromise, financial losses and permanent data/device damage if disregarded.

6 Visible Signs Your Browser‘s Been Hijacked Already

Here are 6 key indicators to watch out for when diagnosing if and where hijackers struck:

Homepage/Settings Changed

Other than appearance tweaks, look for unknown search engines, unwanted links in bookmarks and disabled security protections without cause.

Foreign Toolbars & Add-Ons

Scan the extensions menu for any dubious or unfamiliar entries added without permission. These could be hijacker toeholds.

More Frequent Crashes

Low-quality hijack malware often places strain on browser processes causing more instability and abrupt quits.

Sluggish Browser Performance

Similarly strained resources lead to laggy tab loading, stuttering scrolls and overall slower webpage rendering.

Redirected Searches

No matter what terms you enter, results page changed against your will points to background redirection malware at play.

Unrelated Popup Surge

A barrage of additional browser popups, notifications and ad overlays hints strongly at adware hijacker activity. Time to scan!

Upon noticing one or more of these symptoms – take action right away…

8 Proven Ways To Prevent Browser Hijacker Infections

Here are 8 security best practices that will keep browser hijackers at bay across all your devices:

Carefully Vet Downloads

Only download programs and files from trusted, reputable sources after verifying legitimacy. Avoid sketchy free software bundles especially.

Update Software Regularly

Patching browsers, plugins and operating systems promptly closes security holes hijackers rely on for deployment.

Disable Unnecessary Browser Extensions

Review add-ons and remove any unused entries. Less enabled code means fewer potential infection vectors.

Use Password Managers

Secure digital vaults generate and store robust passwords to lock down online accounts better preventing misuse of stolen credentials.

Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Adding a second step to login processes enhances account security across the board thwarting many cybercrime ploys.

Back Up Sensitive Data

From browser bookmarks to system files, maintaining regular backups gives you the ability to rollback tampering.

Click Links Selectively

Hover over URLs visually confirm destinations before clicking to avoid distributed hijacker traps.

Run Reputable Antivirus Software

Top-tier cybersecurity software like Bitdefender actively halts browser-based malware attacks in real-time.

Step-By-Step Guide To Removing Browser Hijackers

If you have already identified signs of browser hijacking on your system, follow these 5 steps to eliminate the infections:

1. Run In-Depth Antivirus Scans

Download and run robust anti-malware tools like MalwareBytes Anti-Malware and Norton Power Eraser to automatically detect and quarantine any active hijacker threats and damaged files.

2. Reset The Web Browser Completely

Navigate to Settings > Advanced > Reset within browsers like Chrome to restore factory conditions. This reverts changes made by hijackers alongside any bundled malcode.

3 Edit Registry Directly

For advanced users, manually edit the Windows registry using Regedit to remove leftover traces of persistent hijacker strains not addressed via resets or antivirus scans.

4. Reset Router Firmware

Some Wi-Fi router models also vulnerable to hijacking. Perform factory reset then update firmware to latest security standards.

5. Change All Account Passwords

Assume credentials compromised during infection window. Freshen login passwords on email, social, banking and other sensitive accounts accessed via the browser.

Run follow-up scans using your preferred cybersecurity suites over the next week to check browser hijacker removal was wholly successful.


What are the most common sources of browser hijacker infections?

Free downloads of software cracks, video plug-ins and games are common infection conduits. Of 20 million downloads recently tested, 1 in 3 contained malware.

Do Mac and mobile devices get hijacked too?

Yes – while Windows sees most hijackers, given their rising cross-platform capabilities iOS and macOS browsers face growing risk too.

What level of damage can browser hijackers cause?

Estimates suggest the drafting of banking Trojans for transaction fraud after browser spying now costs cybergangs just $175 per campaign – illustrating potentially lucrative scales.

What are the most effective hijacker prevention steps?

Bolstering software security via prompt updates and limiting installed extensions are two browser hardening steps that each could prevent 40% of infections.

How can I check if my browser has been hijacked already?

Warning signs like modified settings/defaults, unknown extensions and tons of pop-ups indicate unwanted modification by malware – requiring investigation.

Is completely resetting the browser sufficient to remove hijackers?

While robust resetting reverts most changes, running dedicated anti-malware scans afterwards helps catch any sophisticated strains actively resisting removal through resets alone.

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