Browser hijackers hard to kill

Helpline

October 30, 2003|By James Coates | James Coates,Chicago Tribune

After recently cleaning out a few virus-infected files, whenever I log on to my computer, the system automatically opens Internet Explorer. I have my home page set to Yahoo.com, but if the computer sits unused for more than 10 hours or so, the home page changes to something called LuckySearch. No matter how often I change the address in the Internet Options screen, this will happen.

You have encountered a browser hijacker, which is just about the worst type among the pantheon of bugs, which include spyware, worms, viruses, keystroke loggers, jokeware and so on. There may be dozens of browser hijackers with different procedures, but all share the common trait of changing the home page on a victim's browser to something annoying or unwanted and then resisting all efforts to reset the home page.

Hijackers work by secreting a program for resetting the browser home page somewhere on the hard drive that gets run every time the computer is rebooted. There are two components - the nasty hidden browser hijack program and a line secreted in the Windows system registry files that orders the software to run each time the computer is started.

Sometimes spyware prevention software such as Ad-Aware (www.lavasoftusa.com) and SpySubtract/AdSubtract (www. intermute.com) can find the gremlins, but not always.

So first of all, drop by those two Web pages and try the no-cost versions of their software in the hope that they will help.

Another iffy but possible solution is offered by PCWorld Magazine called Browser Hijack Stopper, which includes a database of many - but not all - of these rogue files. The PCWorld software stands out because its main role is to act as a preventive, watching for future hijackings. You can find it at www.pc world.com/downloads and use the search word "hijack."

Your ultimate solution, if your machine has Windows ME or Windows XP, is to use the System Restore tool in those Windows versions to restore the computer's settings back to a date before trouble set in.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Contact James Coates at jcoates@tribune.com.

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