This article is located at http://www.spywareinfoforum.info/articles/hijacked/. © 2001-2013 Mike Healan. All rights reserved. Under no circumstances are you to republish this article without express written consent. This article changes often, so link it, don't copy it elsewhere.
This page was last updated on Jan 12, 2005
Author: Mike Healan
There is a despicable trend that is becoming more and more common wherein the browser settings of web surfers are being hijacked forcibly by malicious web sites and software which modifies your default start and search pages.
Sometimes internet shortcuts will be added to your favorites folder without asking you. The purpose of this is force you to visit a web site of the hijacker's choice so that they artificially can inflate their web site's traffic for higher advertising revenues.
In some cases, these changes are reversible simply by going into internet options and switching them back. Not always, however. Sometimes it's necessary to edit the windows registry (gasp!) to undo the changes made. Sometimes there is even a combination of registry setting and files clandestinely placed on your hard drive that redo your settings every time you reboot the computer.
No matter how often you change your settings back, they are changed again the next time you restart. There have even been cases where internet options have been removed from the tools menu by registry hacking to prevent you from controlling your own computer!
Even AOL has become a browser hijacker by placing their web site free.aol.com in Internet Explorer's trusted sites security zone, thereby bypassing the most frequently used security settings. This occurs after installing their AOL software, AOL Instant Messenger, Netscape 6.x and ICQ2001b has reportedly done this. AOL then exploits this by downloading ActiveX components to your computer without your consent. The CWS trojan also does this.
This section has been superseded by a new article which focuses specifically on hijack prevention. That article is available at http://www.spywareinfoforum.info/articles/hijacked/prevent.php
Any of the products below will remove most hijackers completely, unless it is one which has just started spreading.
If you have a hijack that is not fixed by any of these products, you may use these solutions below that I have gathered after helping to fix these same problems countless times through email and at the forums. Read on...
Please read the disclaimer below before doing anything described here. By following any of these instructions, you agree to be bound by the disclaimer. If you do not agree, do not follow these instructions. Also note that with Windows NT/2K/XP you likely will need to be logged in as an administrator for much of this. Go ahead and do that now.
The situation: Your browser now has a new start page and a new search page. Every time your browser loads a page that doesn't exist, you end up at some strange site, probably filled with popup ads.
You go to Tools > Internet Options to fix this, only to find that option grayed out. You open the control panel, only to find Internet Options missing from there too. You try to open regedit to start hacking away at the registry, but you are given the message that "your administrator has not given you that privilege".
Some scumbag webmaster has paid a scumbag script kiddie to truly mess up your browser settings and has made it next to impossible for you to change it back.
Notice that I said "next to impossible"...........
So, what do you do here?
Skip any step that deals with a problem that doesn't effect you
Assuming that none of the spyware removal programs listed above helps you, the very first thing you need to do is download and run HijackThis. Put a check mark next to every search and start page setting it lists which you haven't put there yourself and choose fix. Do the same for any hosts file entries. If it lists anything as O5, O6, or O7*, fix those as well. Please ask for advice at the forums before using HijackThis to change anything else.
*Note: Spybot S&D, Start Page Guard, Settings Sentry, and similar programs may provide options to lock settings against unauthorized changes. If you have these options enabled, HijackThis will detect that as a restrictions hijack. Disable those options before scanning with HijackThis.
For Windows 2000 and XP, you will need to edit the registry to do this. Go to the start menu > RUN command > type REGEDIT and press enter. Navigate through the registry keys until you get to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\don't load\. Look and see if inetcpl.cpl is listed. If it is, delete the entry for it and log off.
Run a search on your hard drive for any files ending with *.hta or *.js. If you find any, open them in notepad or some other text editor and look for the URLs that you have been hijacked to. Any file with those URLs, delete them. Also delete all *.tmp files on your drive; some of them contain malicious code (for e.g. browser hijacks or malware (re)installations). Besides, deleting *.tmp files doesn't hurt, unlike dll's which are also used sometimes for this purpose. (Thanks to cexx.org for the additional info in this step).
HijackThis will list any BHO installed on your computer. Check the BHOs listed against the list of all known BHOs. If you find one listed as some sort of spyware/malware/hijackware, run HijackThis again and find that BHO in the list. Check its box and have HT fix it.
If you find a BHO that is not included in the list, please make a post in the Browser Hijackings section of our support forums with the HijackThis log pasted in along with an explanation of your problem. Please wait for replies before deleting this BHO, as it may be a new one which I can have added to various spyware/malware cleaning programs. It may also be an innocent file that is not causing your problem, so please wait for advice before deleting it.
Now you need to see if there is a startup entry for your hijacker file. The next time you reboot, the hijack might come right back. The reason for this would be an entry in the run section of the registry.
Look in HijackThis for 04 startup items. Check the entries listed against Pacman's List. Items listed as virus, malware, spyware, or something else that is undesirable, put a checkmark next to it and "fix" it.
Again, it will be absolutely necessary for you to close all open Internet Explorer windows before any of these changes will take effect. That includes this window. Some changes may even require a log off or even a reboot before they have any effect.
I hope this helps anyone who has become a victim of a browser hijack. If it does, great.
If the problem still remains after doing all of the above, you can visit our support forums and post the specifics of your problem there. I or someone else can troubleshoot the problem. Before posting, please make sure you have followed all of the instructions above.
http://www.cexx.org/hphijack.htm - Homepage Hijackers
http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,63345,00.asp - Stealth ad explosion
http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,101916,00.asp - Web Ad Explosion
http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,84464,tk,dn021402X,00.asp - Invasion of the browser snatchers
http://www.spywareinfoforum.info/newsletter/archives/september-2002/09212002.html#xupiter - Xupiter
"SpywareInfo and/or the author" assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions in these materials.
THESE MATERIALS ARE PROVIDED "AS IS" WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, OR NON-INFRINGEMENT."SpywareInfo and/or the author" further does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information, text, graphics, links or other items contained within these materials. "SpywareInfo and/or the author" shall not be liable for any special, indirect, incidental, or consequential damages, including without limitation, lost revenues or lost profits, which may result from the use of these materials. The information on this server is subject to change without notice and does not represent a commitment on the part of "SpywareInfo and/or the author" in the future.
That said, if you do happen to find a problem with anything here, please contact me immediately. I'll do my best to correct the problem as soon as possible.
Thanks to Corné de Leeuw for this information.
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