How to Fix a Browser Hijack on Google Chrome

Introduction

Browser hijacking or 'pop-up phishing' involves fraudulent messages that unexpectedly pop up for users when they are surfing the web. In many cases, cyber criminals infect otherwise legitimate websites with malicious code that causes these messages to appear when people visit them.
The content of these messages themselves is what makes them so effective. Often, they present the unsuspecting website visitor with some kind of fraudulent warning from a well-known reputable company, typically about the security of their computer. Then they either prompt the visitor to download some tool to fix the problem, such as an antivirus application which turns out to be malware itself, or to call a fraudulent phone number for "support." The abnormal behavior of the message itself and the inability to close or navigate away from them, makes the fraudulent messages appear to be somewhat credible.
This guide will demonstrate how to rid yourself of the worrisome pop-up message, and then perform some simple operations to get Google Chrome back to normal.
Hijacked chrome

What About Pop-Ups?

This guide focuses on hijacked browsers. Pop-ups are another beast entirely and covered in another guide.

Preventing Pop-Ups in Chrome

1 OS Choice

There are 2 main Operating Systems for personal computers currently available, Windows and macOS.

Windows
Windows runs on computers produced by multiple companies, such as Lenovo, Asus, Dell, Toshiba, Hewlett Packard, Acer, and Sony.Windows 10
macOS
Apple is the only company that makes macOS computers.macOS Mojave

? What Operating System are you using?

  1. I use a Windows system
  2. I use a Mac

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Browser hijacking or 'pop-up phishing' involves fraudulent messages that unexpectedly pop up for users when they are surfing the web. In many cases, cyber criminals infect otherwise legitimate websites with malicious code that causes these messages to appear when people visit them.
The content of these messages themselves is what makes them so effective. Often, they present the unsuspecting website visitor with some kind of fraudulent warning from a well-known reputable company, typically about the security of their computer. Then they either prompt the visitor to download some tool to fix the problem, such as an antivirus application which turns out to be malware itself, or to call a fraudulent phone number for "support." The abnormal behavior of the message itself and the inability to close or navigate away from them, makes the fraudulent messages appear to be somewhat credible.
This guide will demonstrate how to rid yourself of the worrisome pop-up message, and then perform some simple operations to get Google Chrome back to normal.
Hijacked chrome

What About Pop-Ups?

This guide focuses on hijacked browsers. Pop-ups are another beast entirely and covered in another guide.

Preventing Pop-Ups in Chrome

There are 2 main Operating Systems for personal computers currently available, Windows and macOS.

Windows
Windows runs on computers produced by multiple companies, such as Lenovo, Asus, Dell, Toshiba, Hewlett Packard, Acer, and Sony.Windows 10
macOS
Apple is the only company that makes macOS computers.macOS Mojave
The following steps can be used to terminate any browser, but the examples below will demonstrate using Internet Explorer.
  1. Open the Windows Task Manager.
    Using the Taskbar
    • Using your right mouse button, right-click on your Taskbar. Then select Task Manager from the menu.
      Mouse with Right Mouse Button highlighted.
      Taskbar right-click menu with Task Manager highlighted.
    Using a Keyboard Shortcut
    • On your keyboard use Ctrl+Shift+Esc.
      Keyboard with Ctrl Shift and Esc highlighted
    Using the Lock Screen
    • You can do Ctrl+Alt+Del on your keyboard, then click on Task Manager.
      PC Desktop Keyboard with Ctrl-Alt-Del highlighted.
      GINA Screen with Task Manager highlighted.
  2. Select your browser, then select End Task.
    Basic View
    Task Manager basic view with browser and End Task highlighted.
    Advanced View
    Task Manager advanced view with browser and End Task highlighted.
When you next open your browser, if you are asked to restore a session / pages, select No, or close the message.
  1. Open Google Chrome.
    Google Chrome.
  2. Select the Menu button located in the top right corner of the window.
    Menu.
  3. Select Settings.
    Chrome Menu with Settings highlighted.
  4. Scroll to the bottom of the page, then select Advanced.
    Chrome Settings with Advanced highlighted.
  5. Under Privacy and security, select Clear browsing data.
    Advanced Settings with Clear browsing data highlighted.
  6. For Time range, select All time. Make sure all three check boxes are checked, then select Clear data.
    Clear browsing data with Time range, check boxes, and Clear data highlighted.

Some browser extensions / addons can cause your browser to behave abnormally. Removing any unwanted, unnecessary, or unused browser extensions/addons can get your web browser running properly again.

Chrome icon

  1. Click on the three dots in the upper right hand corner.
    Chrome window with 3 dots highlighted. Screenshot
  2. Click on (1) More tools then (2) Extensions.
    Chrome menu with more tools and extensions highlighted. Screenshot
  3. The following steps can be repeated to remove multiple browser extensions.
    • Find the extension you want to remove, and click on REMOVE.
      Extension menu with remove highlighted. Screenshot
    • You will get a confirmation window. Click Remove to confirm removal.
      Confirmation window with Remove highlighted. Screenshot
    • You might get a new tab pop up upon removal, close the tab by hitting the X.
  4. Extensions are now gone, you may have to restart your browser for it to take effect. If you removed a malicious extension, it might have changed your homepage.
  1. Open Google Chrome.
    Google Chrome.
  2. Enter chrome://extensions into address bar and hit Enter.
  3. Review the list of plug-ins and remove any that you do not recognize. You may need to research the add-ons before removing.
    Windows 10 chrome showing the extensions
  4. Click the three dots menu icon at the top right.
  5. Open Settings.
    Chrome Settings
  6. Scroll down and verify Homepage is not malicious and change it if it is.
    Chrome's home button settings
  7. Click on Manage Search Engines.
    Chrome manage search engines
  8. Verify no search hijackers are present.
    Chrome with normal search engines
  9. Click Start.
    Windows 10 Start Menu.
  10. Search for "Chrome".
  11. Right-click on the Chrome result, then click on Open File Location.
    Windows 10 chrome search results showing chrome right clicked
  12. Right-click Chrome, then select Properties.
    Windows 10 right click menu showing properties
  13. Verify that the Target only contains the path "C:\Program Files (x86)\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe" with nothing after it.
    Chrome properties window showing the target shortcut
  14. Open Chrome and verify your homepage is correct.
  1. Open your browser and take note if it shows your normal home page or search page.
    Google Chrome.
  2. Test your ability to search the web like you normally would.

Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs)

PUPs, or "Potentially unwanted programs," often arrive bundled with your computer, or tag along with another software program you meant to install, but were part of a EULA or "Recommended Offer" you probably clicked right through. These are programs that don't really do anything good for you. Some of these programs can add unwanted browser toolbars that clutter your browser, track your web browsing, show additional advertisements, or change your search page and other related settings.
Example of a PUP installing a search bar

You may need to remove an app or program because you need the space, simply don't need it anymore, or it is malicious. The following steps show you how to easily remove an app. The first method is exclusive to Windows 10, the second method will work with all Windows versions.

Windows 10 - Using Windows Settings
  1. Click Start (1), then click Settings (2).
    Windows start menu with the start button and settings highlighted.
  2. Next, Select Apps.
    Windows Settings with Apps highlighted.
  3. Scroll down and locate the app you wish to remove, and click on Uninstall.
    Apps screen with the uninstall option for an app highlighted.
  4. Carefully read any prompts in case there are special instructions. Proceed until the application is removed.
  5. Some applications may require that you reboot.
All Windows Versions - Using Control Panel
  1. On your keyboard push and release the Windows Key and R at the same time.
    PC Desktop Keyboard with Windows key and R highlighted.
  2. You will see a Run window open up. Type in appwiz.cpl then click on OK.
    Run windows with appwiz.cpl typed and OK highlighted. Screenshot
  3. Locate a program you wish to remove within the list, click once on it to highlight it, then click on Uninstall.
    Uninstall window with program and uninstall highlighted. Screenshot
  4. Carefully read any prompts in case there are special instructions. Proceed until the application is removed.
  5. Some applications may require that your computer be restarted to complete the uninstallation.
Before you restart or shut down your PC, make sure to save all necessary work to prevent data loss.
  1. Select the Start menu, then select Power.
    Windows 10 Start Menu
    Windows 10 Power Button
  2. Select Restart.
    Windows 10 Power menu with Restart highlighted.
  1. Open your browser and take note if it shows your normal home page or search page.
    • On a Desktop or Laptop, look for one of these icons:
      Main Desktop Browsers.
    • On a Smartphone or Tablet, look for one of these icons:
      Main Mobile Browsers.
  2. Make sure the page loads properly, and try following a few of the links from the page.
Unfortunately, your browser issue cannot be resolved via basic troubleshooting steps. Your machine will require hands-on service to determine the root cause of your issues.

Sometimes Chrome can get stuck as it launches. Forcing it to quit and restarting it usually fixes this problem.

  1. Select the Apple menu, then Force Quit.
    Apple menu with Force Quit highlighted.
  2. Highlight Google Chrome in the list, and select Force Quit.
    Force Quit with Google Chrome and Force Quit highlighted.
  3. You'll be prompted if you're sure, select Force Quit.
    Force Quit conformation dialog with Force Quit highlighted.

Your web browser's homepage settings dictate the websites that are loaded when it is opened up.

Chrome icon

  1. Click on the three dots in the upper right hand corner.
    Chrome window with 3 dots highlighted. Screenshot
  2. Click on Settings.
    Chrome menu with Settings highlighted. Screenshot
  3. Scroll down to you get to On Startup. You will see three options. If you want to set a custom page, select Open a specific page or set of pages.
    • If you see one that you want to remove or change click on the 3 dots next to it. Click on Edit or Remove to change it.
      Chrome On startup menu with 3 dots highlighted. Screenshot
      Edit or remove options. Screenshot

Some browser extensions / addons can cause your browser to behave abnormally. Removing any unwanted, unnecessary, or unused browser extensions/addons can get your web browser running properly again.

Chrome icon

  1. Click on the three dots in the upper right hand corner.
    Chrome window with 3 dots highlighted. Screenshot
  2. Click on (1) More tools then (2) Extensions.
    Chrome menu with more tools and extensions highlighted. Screenshot
  3. The following steps can be repeated to remove multiple browser extensions.
    • Find the extension you want to remove, and click on REMOVE.
      Extension menu with remove highlighted. Screenshot
    • You will get a confirmation window. Click Remove to confirm removal.
      Confirmation window with Remove highlighted. Screenshot
    • You might get a new tab pop up upon removal, close the tab by hitting the X.
  4. Extensions are now gone, you may have to restart your browser for it to take effect. If you removed a malicious extension, it might have changed your homepage.
  1. Open Google Chrome.
    Google Chrome.
  2. Select the Menu button located in the top right corner of the window.
    Menu.
  3. Select Settings.
    Chrome Menu with Settings highlighted.
  4. Scroll to the bottom of the page, then select Advanced.
    Chrome Settings with Advanced highlighted.
  5. Under Privacy and security, select Clear browsing data.
    Advanced Settings with Clear browsing data highlighted.
  6. For Time range, select All time. Make sure all three check boxes are checked, then select Clear data.
    Clear browsing data with Time range, check boxes, and Clear data highlighted.
  1. Open your browser and take note if it shows your normal home page or search page.
    Google Chrome.
  2. Test your ability to search the web like you normally would.

Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs)

PUPs, or "Potentially unwanted programs," often arrive bundled with your computer, or tag along with another software program you meant to install, but were part of a EULA or "Recommended Offer" you probably clicked right through. These are programs that don't really do anything good for you. Some of these programs can add unwanted browser toolbars that clutter your browser, track your web browsing, show additional advertisements, or change your search page and other related settings.
Example of a PUP installing a search bar

Removing an app may also remove all data for that app. Make sure you have any information you need backed up before removing an app for your Mac.

To Remove an App Installed from the App Store

  1. Open the Launchpad from the dock.
    Launchpad highlighted
  2. Click and hold on an icon until all icons start to jiggle.
    Shaking icon
  3. Click the "x" on the top left of the icon you want to remove.
    X highlighted
  4. Click Delete to confirm removal.
    Delete button highlighted

To Remove All Other Apps

  1. Open the Finder from the dock.
    Finder highlighted on the dock
  2. Click on Applications on the left.
    Application highlighted
  3. Drag the app you wish to remove to the trash can.
    Drag app to the trashcan
  4. Right click on the trashcan and click Empty Trash.
    Empty Trash highlighted
  1. From the menu bar across the top of the screen, select the Apple menu, then Restart...
    macOS Mojave Apple Menu with Restart highlighted.
  1. Open your browser and take note if it shows your normal home page or search page.
    • On a Desktop or Laptop, look for one of these icons:
      Main Desktop Browsers.
    • On a Smartphone or Tablet, look for one of these icons:
      Main Mobile Browsers.
  2. Make sure the page loads properly, and try following a few of the links from the page.
Unfortunately, your browser issue cannot be resolved via basic troubleshooting steps. Your machine will require hands-on service to determine the root cause of your issues.
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