During the week I got a call from a friend. “There is something wrong with my computer, strange websites keep appearing on my screen, I think I have a virus!” It’s a familiar call and, in most cases, the unfortunate friend has some form of infection on their PC. Sometimes, it can be easily removed using the right tools, but sometimes it can’t and requires a full system rebuild. In this case, it was fairly easy, more spyware or malware than a virus. My friend was the victim of a “browser hijack”. So, just what is a browser hijack and how can we protect ourselves from them?
A browser hijack is where the Internet browser (e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome among others) is taken over by some rogue program, which takes over the home page or the search add-ons, usually, to generate hits to particular websites.
These ‘hijacks’ are generally self-inflicted, when the computer user inadvertently downloads the rogue program from the Internet or more likely, hidden inside some other download. The main culprit is that holy grail (more like poison chalice) of the Internet: the free stuff! Everyone loves free stuff – free games, free apps etc – but usually they come at a price!
Sometimes these hijackers are easy to remove but not always. In this particular case, it was easy. The culprit had taken over the search add-on as something called ‘SearchNu’ with a program easily identifiable in Programs as ‘Searchqu’. During my search, I found what was most likely the free stuff – a promise of 251 free apps from a program called ‘IWantThis’. My friend had his nephews over at the weekend who were using his computer, need I say more?! Anyway, removing the programs helped but I still needed to run that fantastic anti-malware program – MalwareBytes – www.malwarebytes.org – to clean everything up. It found lots more little nasties and, after a quick reboot, all was well. My friend was happy again!
Prevention is better…
Prevention is better than cure, as they say, so be very careful what you download and install on your computer, especially with the free stuff! Free apps, free games, free music – nothing in life is really free! They all have to make their money somewhere, either through advertising or some other means. Even the legitimate free stuff, like Adobe PDF reader, comes with a toolbar (albeit Google’s) for your browser that you don’t really need or necessarily want.
Of course, you need a good anti-virus software package. Any of the big names will do and it’s worth considering the aforementioned MalwareBytes paid-for version, as it includes a real-time anti-malware prevention for the great value price of just €22.95.
One final preventative measure: keep the kids away from your computer!
Eamon Walsh is a Senior IT Professional with PaqIT, an IT Service Provider with offices in Limerick and Galway. See www.paqit.com.