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What is a Browser Hijacking?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 17, 2024
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Browser hijacking occurs when malware (malicious software) self-installs while cruising the Internet. Malware code changes the behavior of Internet Explorer™, typically adding several bookmarks to “Favorites” and changing the home page without the user’s permission. Browser hijacking often involves linking Explorer to adult websites and bombarding the user with adult pop-up advertisements.

Less often a browser hijacking might not involve adult content but will be repeated redirects to a site you did not click on and have no interest in. It might suddenly feel like your browser has a mind of its own. You intend to go to your home site, but your browser keeps popping over to another. Malware is redirecting your clicks to the destination site.

When struck by this behavior a user often attempts to change back the home page only to find the correction won’t stick. Malicious code can make changes to the system’s “hosts” file which maps domain addresses to corresponding Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. When you type “wisegeek.com” for example, the malware might have changed the corresponding IP from wisegeek’s address to some other IP.

Many malware programs take advantage of ActiveX scripts, which Explorer processes directly from Web pages. A popup might ask permission to install some piece of software with a message that is vague or misleading. The visitor might agree, believing the program is needed to view the site properly. Instead he or she has just given permission for a browser hijacking without realizing it.

Most spyware programs scan for malware and many programs will remove it. Modifications to Explorer can prevent browser hijacking, and can be done automatically by freeware programs like SpywareBlaster. Other popular freeware programs include Ad-AwareSE, Spyware Terminator, ThreatFire and Spyware Guard. You can also consider using a more secure browser such as Firefox®, which does not execute ActiveX.

To avoid browser hijacking and attacks by malware it is important to keep spyware current. Unlike typical software programs that only require occasional updates, effective spyware depends on constantly updated databases, same as anti-virus programs. Many popular firewalls incorporate spyware scanners. It is a good idea to use at least two spyware scanners regularly. One program can catch what the other might miss.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon65763 — On Feb 15, 2010

Wow. Wish i had known this years ago when our computer had this happen. That was when this was new and all it did was show history of the sites and make sound if the hijacker was listening to something.

By anon63719 — On Feb 03, 2010

Can your browser be hijacked if your using the Google Chrome browser?

By lokilove — On Jan 25, 2010

Ugh I had my homepage hijacked on IE. It took 3 different spyware programs to finally get rid of it. It's incredibly frustrating!

After going through it twice I just stopped using IE altogether. Been using FireFox for over a year now and not once had a problem, with anything at all!

Avoid the annoyance, get a faster browser with less trouble, switch to Firefox!

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