How to fix a hijacked homepage

 

Question: When I startup my computer my homepage switches to a site that I don't want. No matter what I do I can't make this problem go away. What can I do?

Answer: Uh oh, your browser has been hijacked. Someone  out there has put a little program on your computer that switches your homepage every time you either restart your browser or your computer. Not nice.

The good news is there are ways to fix the problem.

First here's the normal way of changing your browser's homepage. At the top of Internet Explorer, click Tools then Internet Options then change the Home page address and click ok. In Netscape 7, click Edit then Preferences and then change the homepage address in the box that appears.

If you've been hijacked this won't work for long, because the rogue programming on your computer will soon change it back. So how did this happen?

Well from a programming perspective here's what's happened:

The most common scheme used by homepage hijackers is to put a reference to their site in your Startup folder or Registry Run key, so that it runs every time the computer is started and changes your settings. If you try to change any of these back, the programming they put on your computer changes everything so you end up with their site in your browser.

The only way to fix this is to find the hijacking software and remove it.

"But I didn't download anything to allow this happen!" you might say. Well, if y
ou don't regularly update your browser or use Windows Update to install security fixes, then you did. Several of these hijackers exploit an Internet Explorer/Outlook Express bug that let's them secretly install a program (called an ActiveX control) on your system just by viewing their Web page. Hijackers exploiting this bug will insert one or several .hta files on your hard drive which run when you start up Windows.

The easiest way to fix a problem like this is to scan your computer for what's called spyware - programs like this that have been secretly installed by concealed downloads or programs you downloaded.

We've identified and tested dozens of Spyware Removers and come up with a short list of the best that will scan your PC for free (for non commercial use) and remove all spyware / adware / malware in minutes. 

We recommend the following Spyware removal & defense tools:

1. Spybot Search & Destroy (Spyware Removal Tool)

2. Ad-Adware (Spyware Removal Tool)

3. Spyware Blaster (Spyware Prevention Tool)

I have links to these and many other security software programs, most of them free (for non-commercial use), on this site, just click here.

All our office computers have AVG Internet Security installed with includes spyware protection and we are very happy with the product.

To fix manually, search your computer for *.hta files. Click Start and Search or Find and then Files or Folders and type in *.hta. If you find them rename them so that they can't be found. For example, change file.hta to file.hta1 or move the files to another folder on your computer. Then switch your homepage back to one you like. If your computer doesn't do weird things after this permanently delete them. If it does, you might want to put them back one by one until you find the offender and then delete it.

Also, ensure that you have the Microsoft patch which fixes the browser hole that allows the hijacker to work this little piece of dark magic.  Just click here, go to Microsoft Patches and Critical Updates, and install any patches marked "Critical". This step should be repeated periodically, at least monthly, to ensure your operating system is fully protected against known exploits.

Some hijackers, like Gohip, install an executable program (ending in .exe, something like hijack.exe) on your your computer. Since .EXE programs can't be automatically downloaded in the secure browsers (with all the latest security fixes installed), you usually get this by downloading a program from the web.

Hijackers sometimes mark these program as "browser updates" or "browser enhancements" or some other trickery. The hijacker typically offers you all kinds of incentives (freebies, special deals and stuff like that) to install the evil program.

To remove Gohip, use this program: http://www.pchell.com/support/gohip.shtml. Or to remove other spyware, so its called, go to this page: http://www.pchell.com/support/spyware.shtml.

Finally, there's another hijacking method. Some sites will find a way to put a shortcut in the Windows Startup folder or Registry Run key that starts the Registry Editor (regedit), then tells it to add the contents of a hidden file (e.g. C:\windows\temp\abcdefg.tmp) that contains the necessary information to set the hijacker's homepage to the Registry on every startup.

Learn more about spyware in our Anti-Spyware FAQ.

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