Avast Academy Privacy Browser Browser Hijacker: What Is It and How to Remove It

Browser Hijacker: What Is It and How to Remove It

Have you ever opened your browser to find a new homepage, search engine, or strange program on your toolbar? You may be a victim of browser hijacking. Your browser is valuable real estate for tech companies, advertisers, and hackers trying to command your clicks and attention. Learn what browser hijacking is and how to prevent it with strong antivirus software like Avast One.

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Written by Domenic Molinaro
Published on September 10, 2021

What is a browser hijacker?

A browser hijacker is malicious software that changes a browser’s behavior, settings, or appearance without user consent. A hijacked browser creates advertising revenue for the hijacker, and can facilitate more dangerous activities such as data collection and keystroke logging.

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    Your web browser is your portal to the internet, and can attract bad actors trying to spy on your surfing activity. After getting onto your machine, browser hijackers can install adware, spyware, and other types of malware. Thankfully, a quality malware removal tool can get rid of unwanted software. Download virus-protection software for your Windows 10, Windows 11, Mac, Android, and iOS device.

    Adware floods you with pop-ups that pay per click, while spyware gathers your private details for trade on data markets. Browser hijackers can also redirect you to shady search engines or other dangerous web pages. Adware and spyware can mine your browsing history, so learn how to clear your browser history to stay one step ahead.

    If you are a victim of browser hijacking, you should remove the browser hijacker as quickly as possible.

    How to remove a browser hijacker

    The first step to browser hijacker removal is assessing your browser add-ons, plugins, and extensions. If you experience issues after installing certain software, try removing it.

    Here’s how to get rid of a browser hijacker manually on Windows:

    1. On your desktop, click on the Windows logo in the lower left corner. You can also press the Windows key on your keyboard.

      highlighting the Windows logo on Windows 10
    2. Search for Control Panel and open it.

      Highlighting the Control Panel option after searching for Control Panel in the Windows Search Bar
    3. Under Programs, click on Uninstall a program.

      Highlighting the 'Uninstall a program' option under "Programs" in Windows 10 Control Panel
    4. Choose any suspicious software and click Uninstall.

      Highlighting the 'Uninstall' option in the "Uninstall or change a program" window in Windows 10

    That’s the first step to remove browser hijacking risks from your browser. If your browser is still buggy after removing unwanted software, your cookies or cache may be the issue.

    Browser hijackers can spy on your cache for juicy tidbits about your browsing habits and plant items in your cookies to help track you. We can show you how to clear your cache on Mac or delete your browser cookies manually, though a browser cleaner tool can sweep your cache and cookies faster and more effectively.

    Powerful antivirus software like Avast One detects hijackers before they mess up your browsing world. Get 24/7 protection against viruses, malware, malicious email attachments, unsafe links and downloads, and more.

    Browser hijacker examples

    Browser hijackers come in all shapes and sizes. Some spam your browser with ads, some comandeer your default search engine or homepage, and others secretly log your keystrokes. Along with violating your web space, a browser hijacker can also install malware. Protect yourself against browser hijacking by learning which hijackers to watch out for.

    Here are some of the most well-known browser hijackers:


    RocketTab is adware that claims to help you search the internet more effectively — but really swamps you with advertising banners, alters web text into product hyperlinks, and pesters you with pop-ups for shady software. Some free internet software installs RocketTab without disclosing what it actually is.

    Ask Toolbar

    Ask Toolbar is an extension that comes bundled with many free products, and replaces your default search engine or homepage without asking you. Generally seen as malware, Ask Toolbar used to be Ask Jeeves before rebranding, and it’s still one of the most pervasive search engines in the world despite being so intrusive.

    Ask Toolbar often redirects or fails searches altogether, and bloats your browser with sponsored junk. Any product that takes over your browser settings is dangerous. Learn more here about how to remove Ask Toolbar.


    GoSave is a plug-in that claims to offer special discounts while you shop online, but really weaves advertisements into every aspect of your browser, including your search results. Clicking on a GoSave ad can lead to further adware or other infections.

    GoSave also tracks your browsing activity such as your IP address, search queries, cookies, and other identifying information. You can delete your browser cookies to help thwart tracking, or try one of the best browsers for privacy to throw stalkers off your scent.

    Coupon Server

    Coupon Server is adware that displays pop-up boxes containing “coupons,” comparative shopping, and sponsored links that lead to more adware. Coupon Server tries to force users to its homepage, which is disguised as a search engine.

    Like any other program that can alter your browser settings without telling you, Coupon Server is a threat to your data security and your cybersecurity more generally.


    CoolWebSearch is spyware that hijacks search engines on Google Chrome, Mozilla, Internet Explorer, and other Windows browsers. CoolWebSearch redirects searches to its own pay-per-click search engine, which also collects data about your search activity. CoolWebSearch can even change your browser’s bookmarks and history to include its sponsors— online casinos and adult websites.

    Browser hijacking risks

    Browser hijacking can threaten your computer in three main ways: adware, web tracking, and identity theft.

    icon_06Adware: Adware infiltrates your browser to bombard you with ads. Ad spamming is not only annoying, but hogs system resources and slows down your computer. Adware is, by design, frustrating and hard to control: the more ads you click, the more money the hacker makes.

    icon_07Tracking: If your browser is hijacked, you could be tracked. Web tracking lets hijackers follow you around the web and record everything you do. By tracking your activity, browser hijackers build a profile of you as you click and surf. By stitching together your IP address, page views, location, search history, and other details, businesses and marketers can form an accurate picture of you over time.

    icon_08Identity theft: If a cybercriminal collects enough of your personal info, full-on identity theft is not far behind. A hijacked browser can sometimes lead to hijacking a whole system — and hijacked computers can compromise an entire family’s personal data.

    Browser hijacking symptoms

    Browser hijacking symptoms come in four basic forms: spam, a change of homepage or other default setting, pop-ups, and low storage space.

    • Spam: A hijacked browser might change your default search engine to one that spams you with ads or redirects your searches to illegitimate sites. These redirects can lead you to more dangerous territory — and more adware, spyware, and other browser hijackers.

    • Changed settings: A browser hijacker can change your default homepage, browser, or even your default settings. Taking over the toolbar with ad-infested web pages or bogus bookmarks is also a frequent tactic. If you suddenly see new additions to your browser, or magically have a new homepage one day, you may have had your browser hijacked. If your default browser has been altered, we can help you change the default browser in Windows back.

    • Pop-ups: The most pervasive form of browser hijacking is constant pop-up ads. Your internet adventures will become a minefield for ads — anywhere you click can trigger a frustrating pop-up. These ads can also manifest as hyperlinks bizarrely inserted into every nook and cranny, including search results or random articles. If your favorite site now has ads all over it, a website hijack may be the culprit.

    • Low space: All this hijacking takes up storage space and resources on your device. Some tell-tale signs of browser hijacking are a lack of space and slow load times. Removing browser hijackers can free up room on your hard drive and speed up your browser. If you still don’t feel up to speed after removing hijacking threats, try switching to one of the fastest web browsers available.

    How to prevent browser hijacking

    To prevent browser hijacking, avoid untrustworthy websites and downloads. Browser hijacking software often gets bundled in free software, and can be unpacked and installed without you realizing it. Regularly cleaning your browser can clear out any browser hijacking extensions, add-ons, and plugins that made their way onto your browser without your approval.

    If you go to cafes or other internet hotspots to work, make sure to browse safely on public Wi-Fi. Unsecured networks can be vulnerable.

    Learn how to remove extensions from Chrome, or how to get rid of add-ons in Firefox if that’s your browser of choice. Our website safety guide can help you steer clear of shady sites and extensions.

    Here are some more tips to prevent browser hijacking:

    icon_01Avoid suspicious links and downloads

    Dangerous links and downloads can pull you into a browser hijacking trap. Don’t click on any links unless you know where they lead. And be wary of free software marketplaces, which can bundle browser hijackers along with legitimate software downloads.

    icon_02Use a secure browser

    A secure browser can prevent hijacking threats and keep you safe from data collection. Avast Secure Browser blocks malicious extensions to keep hijackers out. Plus, Avast Secure Browser uses advanced anti-tracking and anti-fingerprinting technology to keep your browsing private and secure. Additionally, install the Avast Online Security Chrome extension or Mozilla add-on to make your browsing experience even safer.

    icon_03Keep your system updated

    Keeping your system updated with the latest security patches can remove a browser hijack threat before it starts. Updates often fix security holes and exploits that hijackers like to use. Along with your operating system, keep your browser and other software updated.

    icon_04Disable JavaScript

    JavaScript is bad for browser security. It can expose critical information and scripts, such as your IP address, and it’s a target for hacks like cross-site scripting (XSS). Disabling JavaScript can seal up a major avenue of attack for browser hijackers and lock out any web page hijackers lying in wait. But disabling JavaScript may cause certain features of websites to break.

    Here’s how to disable JavaScript in Chrome:

    Chrome settings > Privacy and Security > Site Settings > Javascript > Don’t allow sites to use JavaScript

    icon_05Use an antivirus

    With so many ways for hijackers to take over your browser, getting some of the best free antivirus software can help you plug security holes. Since you have no way of knowing if a website, link, or download is dangerous, it’s especially useful to have software that will prevent or remove viruses or other malware.

    Plus, antivirus software can scan for browser hijackers in real-time and block them before they reach your browser, and an identity theft monitoring tool like Avast Secure Identity makes sure your personal information doesn't leak online.

    Protect against browser hijackers with Avast One

    Avast One is your first line of defense against browser hijackers and other malware.

    Our powerful malware scanner and threat-detection engine quickly diagnoses threats, including unsafe settings, risky passwords, and suspicious extensions. The Wi-Fi Inspector analyzes a network’s security before you use it, while CyberCapture sends any dubious data to the cloud to diagnose. 

    Detect and block adware, spyware, and viruses from your browser with advanced analytics and 24/7 monitoring. Take your browser back with Avast One.

    Protect your iPhone against browser malware and other threats with Avast One


    Protect your phone against browser malware and other threats with Avast One

    Domenic Molinaro