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How To Fix a Hijacked Browser

written by: Lee Clemmer•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 5/5/2010

So you've got browser windows appearing in a flood across your desktop, all the ads on your favorite news site are now for a single adult web site in a foreign country, and whenever you make changes to the browser configuration, they don't stick. Here's advice on how to get things back to normal.

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    Browser's been hijacked?

    So, you're sure your browser has been hijacked? If not, you may want to check out the first article in this series, What Is Browser Hijacking?

    There are several steps we can take to repair a hijacked browser. Most of these steps will also help protect against future hijacking.

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    1. Kill the browser process

    If the current browser windows are out of control, you may need to stop all instances at once, rather than trying to close a huge number of browser windows manually, one-by-one. You can usually accomplish this easily on a Windows system, including Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Vista, by killing the browser's process(es) from the Processes list in Task Manager.

    To do this:

    Press CTRL+ALT+DEL. In Task Manager, click the Processes tab.

    If you're using Internet Explorer (IE), find the iexplore.exe process, click once on it, then click End Process.

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    2. Make sure pop-ups are disabled

    In IE, click the Tools menu, click Internet Options, then click the Privacy tab. Make sure there is a check in the box labeled "Turn on Pop-up Blocker". Click Settings. Change "Blocking level:" to High. Click Close, then click OK.

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    3. Disable plug-in software in your browser

    Additional software plug-ins or add-ons, such as browser extensions, helper objects, and ActiveX controls could be part of the hijacking problem. While a modern web browsing experience can depend on some of these plug-ins, such as Java, Real Audio, or Flash, an unwanted add-on could be what's hijacking your browser. In IE all these additional software components are called Add-ons.

    To start IE without any add-ons, right-click the Internet Explorer icon on the desktop and click Start Without Add-ons. If that solves the problem, click on Tools, and click Manage Add-ons. A screen will appear with a list of Add-ons. You can search this list and find suspect entries, highlight them and click Disable if they are suspect. Once you've disabled any and all of the extensions that are suspect, then click Close. Next close and restart IE normally, and see if the problem is gone. This may take some trial-and-error if you have many extensions and are not familiar with them.

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    4. Run a virus/malware scan

    If you have anti-virus software installed, you may want to update that software's definitions, and run a scan now. Optionally, you can run the Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT). I have an article describing how to do this in my article How To Remove The Conficker Worm From Infected Windows Computers.

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    5. Look for (and remove) other unwanted programs

    You may also want to check in your Add or Remove Programs tool for applications that might be present that you did not install or install intentionally. This is less likely, but it's possible that an independent program is subverting your browser's normal functioning and hijacking your browser sessions.

    Problems more persistent than this are beyond the scope of this article. I will discuss ways to further prevent browser hijacking in the third article in this series, How To Prevent Browser Hijacking. I hope your browser never gets hijacked, but if it does, these steps, properly applied, should fix almost any browser hijacking problems.

Browser Hijacking: What It Is, How To Fix It, And How To Prevent It

It can be quite shocking if suddenly a cascade of browser windows open, filling the screen with random or offensive content. Discovering that you can't go to some web sites, that your home page or bookmarks are changed is frustrating as well. This is browser hijacking. You can fix it and prevent it!
  1. Defining Browser Hijacking
  2. How To Prevent Browser Hijacking
  3. How To Fix a Hijacked Browser