What is a Browser Hijacker?
January 05, 2024
About Browser Hijackers
One of the most widespread and annoying types of unwanted software throughout the web is browser hijackers. They target web browsers – programs like Chrome, Safari, Edge, Firefox, or other software serving as gateways to the Internet and websites. A web browser is not just a frameless window but a complex program, giving a lot of room for a user or, in our case, an exogenous program to modify and alter it. Browser hijackers are sometimes called browser modifiers.
What do they do?
Browser hijackers pursue several possible goals. They spy on you, they throw ads at you, and they do both to make you a victim of targeted intrusive advertising. The term "spying" goes beyond just collecting data on your browsing history or search queries (Google does that, just like other search engines). In the case of browser hijackers, we're talking about tracking that goes up to key-logging, which is as dangerous as it can be since logins and passwords that you manually input in the sign-in dialog boxes become available for the crooks.
Because of those facts, browser hijackers usually work both ways: they flood the user with advertisements and simultaneously deliver all data they can collect to the data thieves. Hijackers also apply a pretty interesting way of advertising: they are not just showing you the banners but also changing your search query results to the advertising pages. Therefore, you will have no choice besides opening one of these sites.
How do browser hijackers make money?
The developers of malicious browser hijackers sell the accumulated data on black data markets, the places to which all beneficiaries of data-driven automated services pay visits to increase their profits. These can be advertising agencies, sellers of goods and services, headhunters, political parties, moneylenders, scammers, blackmailers (who hunt for people's personal sensitive information), and whoever. They make the most of not wasting resources on the irrelevant audience and directing their ads to those who will more likely take action.
As for the intrusive activities behind browser hijackers, these are just how the rogue developers carry out their obligation to the advertisers. The latter must be disreputable enough to employ such promotion methods as the programs in question.
The worst situation is if the browser hijacker, which is itself an unwanted application, works as an ad or distribution platform for other criminals, who use it as a first step in a sequence of events that lead to you sustaining actual losses: business-related, financial, or reputational.
Browser Hijackers' status
The "browser hijacker" term is somewhat ambiguous. Digital security vocabularies use it to signify PUAs (potentially unwanted applications) and full-fledged malware. The former, although oriented towards users' inattentiveness and ignorance, need users' consent to be installed. They are also relatively easy to remove. The latter, on the contrary, is installed stealthily, unbeknownst to users, and more difficult to detect. In recent years, browser hijackers often appear as browser extensions or plug-ins. However, they can also reside in other external files, modifying the browser but being harder to remove. But we'll touch upon this hereafter.
Browser hijackers and rogue browsers are not the same. Although their harmful essence is the same at the end of the day, there is a difference. Rogue browsers are simply separate programs. Deceitful advertising lures users to download these programs and agree to make them their system's default browsers. In the case of a browser hijacker, the PUA deploys in the context of an innocent program, which makes it a somewhat more sophisticated and hard-to-remove threat.
How to Detect a Browser Hijacker?
If your browser gets hijacked, you'll most certainly face the following issues:
- Your browser starts using a different search engine, acting poorly for its intended purpose by providing many unwanted links instead of relevant results. Sometimes, when attempting to set your previous search engine (e.g., Google), the browser continues using an alien one.
- Unfamiliar panels appear in the browser, which might seem handy but will likely become annoying ad spaces. Glaring banners are hardly what you need when surfing the web. Suddenly changing your browser's homepage to some unfamiliar website is a typical symptom of a hijacking infection. The ability to change it back depends on the aggressiveness of the hijacker.
- Pop-ups are the browser hijackers' trump card. Advertisements appear all over the field of view. Clicking a link may result in one or several advertising banners popping up, blocking elements of the desired website.
- Self-invited redirects are another widespread tool of intrusive advertising. Trying to access a website may lead to an additional tab opening, loading one of the websites the browser hijacker pushes. This symptom is as typical for hijackers as it is irritating.
- Other tricks browser hijackers might play include highlighting plain text on web pages and turning it into advertising links, a pretty inventive move. Another peculiar tactic is to block the user's access to browser settings, making it appear as if the program has frozen. This way, the hijacker add-on protects itself from being easily removed.
Obviously, for such a “soft” malware type, there could be hundreds and thousands of examples. But some of them are so widespread that it has become a common noun to a pest that sits in your web browser. Let’s review these favourites.
|Example of a classic hijacker, that randomly redirects users and opens tabs with questionable content.
|One of the oldest hijackers running these days. Spams users with ads along with random redirections and opening browser tabs with ad-infused pages.
|Can install browser extensions without user consent; presumably has rootkit capabilities.
|Redirects users to fake search engine pages, baiting the victims to click spoofed search results.
|Leading (and similar Node.js-based malware)
|Another classic hijacker, that commonly mimics a legit utility for tracking the news or posts on a certain website.
Are Browser Hijackers Dangerous?
The risks imposed on your PC in case of a browser modifier infection derive from adware and spyware elements.
Adware worsens the computer's performance and annoys the user, but the hidden menace lies in the rabbit hole the adware can take you to. Since a browser hijacker is already an item from the Internet's "gray" realm, it is unwise to expect the advertisers who use its services to be more lawful. The risk of them being frauds as well is extremely high. Even if you are aware of the danger of following the links provided by the hacked browser, you cannot be protected from redirects to websites that can execute scripts automatically.
Sure, it is impossible to make a full-fledged spyware from a browser hijacker. But that thing is still able to do some nasty things to you. Your cookies, search history, and activity hours info may cost a lot on the Darknet. In particular, cookies may contain much personal information, passwords, or other login information. Sharing it with a third party is not a clever step, even if you are not paranoid about your privacy. Search history and activity hours are pretty valuable for advertising agencies.
How to Protect Your Browser from Being Hijacked?
Browser hijackers are quite easy to avoid, especially if you know what to expect. People who distribute them do not rely on exploits, brute force, or other serious attack methods. Therefore, you may follow the basic cybersecurity rules to stay safe.
Browser hijackers exploit the lack of computer education. People who don't know that all necessary features are already available in classic browsers like Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari might buy into the advertising of handy toolbars, extra security extensions, and other possible teasers. Browser extensions usually find their way to users' PCs via more or less open advertising. Still, it is also likely to sneak in as a free program and the other software you install. Therefore, avoid clicking on unknown banners and links.
Use Decent Security Software.
Background anti-malware protection is a critical service all modern PC users should employ. Not only browser hijackers but also all sorts of malware swarming in the ocean of the nowadays web will be instantly detected and removed by GridinSoft Anti-Malware if you have it running on your PC. This software is a versatile, quick, and highly efficient solution for endpoint protection.