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What Is Browser Hijacking? How Can You Stop This?

By Charles Hopkins Published 06/2/2006 | Internet

Gone are the days when only airplanes could be hijacked, and you were safe if you weren't on that particular flight. Now your browser can be hijacked too, and you can experience in the apparent safety of your own bedroom!

What is browser hijacking, and how does it happen? Is there anything you can do to prevent it?

You know how websites work nowadays. There are banner ads and other kinds of ads which earn revenue for that site, and that is how they make a profit. Websites and businesses for alliances among themselves, and carry each other's ads on their sites. When you got to a particular site and click on an ad that you find interesting, the original website gains some amount of money from the site to which your click takes you. So it's possible for websites to make a profit from your visit. Naturally, they want you to visit their page.

Normally, all ad-driven websites want to increase the number of visitors, because that's the source of their revenue. Nothing wrong with that really it's business as usual, as long as they do it in legal ways, like search engine optimization or other accepted ways of promotion. But some sites take the idea too far and force your web browser to visit the pages that they want you to visit, not the ones you want to visit. This is known as browser hijacking.

How does browser hijacking happen? It happens through malicious programs getting attached with your browser as it crosses their territory certain shady websites. With Internet Explorer, the browser from Microsoft, set to its default options, you normally wouldn't even get to know that this thing has happened to you. And then your control of what sites you like to visit will be slowly taken away from you, until whenever you fire your browser you are being taken to pornographic or otherwise offensive or unwanted sites that you never wanted to visit.

Also, your internet experience becomes dead slow. These hijacking programs are often not satisfied with taking over your internet usage, but sometimes also download further malware that do more damage to your computer. They keep transmitting your personal info continuously to their sources, and sensitive information like your social security and credit card numbers can get broadcast. A time comes when all your bandwidth and computer power are being used up by these unwanted programs they are having a ball on your machine, at your expense. You're paying for the hardware and the connectivity that they're using to make a profit!

To stop this intolerable state of affairs, run good anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-hijacker programs until you are absolutely sure that your computer is free of such stuff. But to prevent this kind of thing from happening again, you need to change your browser to something more competent than the default Internet Explorer that comes bundled with Windows. Get something more secure and advanced, like Firefox or Opera. Both are free downloads, and do not have the kind of vulnerability that allows such programs to take advantage of Internet Explorer.

An even better strategy would be to switch completely to another operating system like Linux or Mac OS X, which would stop not only browser hijacking, but also viruses, trojans, worms, and spyware from ever attacking your computer.