How to Fix a Browser Hijack on Internet Explorer

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 Microsoft's Internet Explorer back to normal.
Hijacked internet explorer

What About Pop-Ups?

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

1 Terminate Browser

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.

2 Clear Cache and History

  1. Open Internet Explorer.
    Internet Explorer.
  2. Select the Gear icon in the top right corner, then select Internet options.
    Settings with Internet Options highlighted.
  3. Under Browsing history, select Delete.
    Internet Options with Delete button under Browsing History highlighted.
  4. Go through the list of options here, to ensure the proper items are cleared.
    Once you have chosen your options, select Delete.
    Delete Browsing History options.
    Setting Checkbox
    Preserve Favorites website data Unchecked
    Internet Explorer segments out pages you have marked as favorites. We need to be sure to clear all data, not just some of it.
    Temporary Internet files and website files Checked
    This clears your cache, making your browser get a new copy of the webpage, images, etc. It's important to clear this to get a fresh copy the next time you visit, as the copy your browser has may simply be corrupt.
    Cookies and website data Checked
    Cookies are how websites 'know' you when you visit them multiple times. This file can become corrupt, and simply downloading a new one can fix many problems.
    You will have to log back into any pages you use, such as mail or social media.
    History Checked
    While you browse Your browser will keep track of every page you visit, to try to make it easier to return. This can become corrupt due to modern active web pages.
    Download History Personal Choice
    These are a list of files you've downloaded recently. It is entirely safe to delete, or keep this list, as it won't affect pages. Checking this option does not delete the files you've downloaded, just the list the browser keeps.
    Form Data Unchecked
    Information from entering forms online, such as your name, address, or other filled in information. This does not affect how a page loads, and can slow you down on your most commonly used pages.
    Passwords Unchecked
    Your browser will save your passwords while you browse, making it easier to log into your most common websites later. This does not affect how a page loads, and can slow you down on your most commonly used pages.
    Tracking Protection, ActiveX filtering and Do Not Track Personal Choice
    A number of pages will track your use of those pages, and if you've opted out of such tracking. This setting tends not to be well respected from page to page, and some pages simply do not give you the option. While it can affect how a page is displayed, it will only do so in the advertising or other 'personalized content' on that page; not the page itself. It is okay to check or uncheck this option.
     
  5. When complete, a message will open at the bottom of your browser letting you know the history has been deleted.
    History delete notification.
    It can take quite a while to delete the cache and history, please be patient.

3 Security-Related Settings

  1. Open Internet Explorer.
    Internet Explorer.
  2. Select the Gear icon in the top-right corner, then select Internet options.
    Settings with Internet Options highlighted.
  3. Select the Security tab at the top. Then, make sure Internet is selected for zone, and choose the Default level of Medium-high.
    Internet Options with Security tab, Internet zone, Default level button, and Medium-high slider highlighted.
  4. Select the Content tab at the top. Then, select Clear SSL state.
    Internet Options with Content tab and Clear SSL State button highlighted.
  5. A box will open letting you know the SSL cache was cleared. Select OK.
    SSL cache cleared dialog with OK highlighted.
  6. Select the Advanced tab at the top. Scroll to the bottom of the long list of settings. Make sure Use TLS 1.0, Use TLS 1.1, and Use TLS 1.2 are checked. Then, select OK.
    Internet Options with Advanced tab, Use TLS 1.0, Use TLS 1.1, Use TLS 1.2 and OK button highlighted.

? Test your browser - have things returned to normal?

  1. Yes, things are normal again
  2. No, my browser is still messed up

We're here to help!

Connect to a Tech Pro

Call or chat with a Tech Pro 24/7.

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 Microsoft's Internet Explorer back to normal.
Hijacked internet explorer

What About Pop-Ups?

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

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 Internet Explorer.
    Internet Explorer.
  2. Select the Gear icon in the top right corner, then select Internet options.
    Settings with Internet Options highlighted.
  3. Under Browsing history, select Delete.
    Internet Options with Delete button under Browsing History highlighted.
  4. Go through the list of options here, to ensure the proper items are cleared.
    Once you have chosen your options, select Delete.
    Delete Browsing History options.
    Setting Checkbox
    Preserve Favorites website data Unchecked
    Internet Explorer segments out pages you have marked as favorites. We need to be sure to clear all data, not just some of it.
    Temporary Internet files and website files Checked
    This clears your cache, making your browser get a new copy of the webpage, images, etc. It's important to clear this to get a fresh copy the next time you visit, as the copy your browser has may simply be corrupt.
    Cookies and website data Checked
    Cookies are how websites 'know' you when you visit them multiple times. This file can become corrupt, and simply downloading a new one can fix many problems.
    You will have to log back into any pages you use, such as mail or social media.
    History Checked
    While you browse Your browser will keep track of every page you visit, to try to make it easier to return. This can become corrupt due to modern active web pages.
    Download History Personal Choice
    These are a list of files you've downloaded recently. It is entirely safe to delete, or keep this list, as it won't affect pages. Checking this option does not delete the files you've downloaded, just the list the browser keeps.
    Form Data Unchecked
    Information from entering forms online, such as your name, address, or other filled in information. This does not affect how a page loads, and can slow you down on your most commonly used pages.
    Passwords Unchecked
    Your browser will save your passwords while you browse, making it easier to log into your most common websites later. This does not affect how a page loads, and can slow you down on your most commonly used pages.
    Tracking Protection, ActiveX filtering and Do Not Track Personal Choice
    A number of pages will track your use of those pages, and if you've opted out of such tracking. This setting tends not to be well respected from page to page, and some pages simply do not give you the option. While it can affect how a page is displayed, it will only do so in the advertising or other 'personalized content' on that page; not the page itself. It is okay to check or uncheck this option.
     
  5. When complete, a message will open at the bottom of your browser letting you know the history has been deleted.
    History delete notification.
    It can take quite a while to delete the cache and history, please be patient.
  1. Open Internet Explorer.
    Internet Explorer.
  2. Select the Gear icon in the top-right corner, then select Internet options.
    Settings with Internet Options highlighted.
  3. Select the Security tab at the top. Then, make sure Internet is selected for zone, and choose the Default level of Medium-high.
    Internet Options with Security tab, Internet zone, Default level button, and Medium-high slider highlighted.
  4. Select the Content tab at the top. Then, select Clear SSL state.
    Internet Options with Content tab and Clear SSL State button highlighted.
  5. A box will open letting you know the SSL cache was cleared. Select OK.
    SSL cache cleared dialog with OK highlighted.
  6. Select the Advanced tab at the top. Scroll to the bottom of the long list of settings. Make sure Use TLS 1.0, Use TLS 1.1, and Use TLS 1.2 are checked. Then, select OK.
    Internet Options with Advanced tab, Use TLS 1.0, Use TLS 1.1, Use TLS 1.2 and OK button highlighted.
  1. Click Start.
    Windows 10 Start Menu.
  2. Search inetcpl.cpl and select it.
    Windows 10 search window showing inetcpl
  3. Internet Properties will open.
  4. On the General tab, review that the homepage is correct and remove those you don't recognize.
    Internet Explorer settings general tab showing homepage as google
  5. Click the Security tab.
  6. Click Reset all zones to default level if it is available.
    Windows 10 internet settings showing reset all zones to default
  7. Click Trusted sites
  8. Click the Sites button.
    Windows 10 internet settings showing trusted sites
  9. Highlight and Remove any websites you do not recognize.
    Windows 10 trusted sites showing a bad site being removed
  10. Click Close when done.
  11. Click Restricted sites then click the Sites button.
    Windows 10 restricted sites
  12. Highlight and Remove any helpful websites listed. Leave harmful websites in the list.
    Windows 10 restricted sites
  13. Click Close when done.
  14. Click the Programs tab, then click Manage Add-ons.
    Windows 10 internet settings showing programs and manage addons
  15. Set to show All add-ons and check all entries for each. You may need to research add-ons you do not recognize before you remove them.
    Windows 10 manage addons showing toolbars
  16. Do the same for Search Providers, and Accelerators
  17. Click Close when done
  18. Return to the Start Menu.
    Windows 10 Start Menu.
  19. Search for Internet Explorer.
  20. Right-click Internet Explorer and select Open File Location.
    Windows 10 search showing Internet Explorer right clicked
  21. Right-click the Internet Explorer icon and select Properties.
    Windows 10 internet explorer being right clicked
  22. Click the Shortcut tab.
  23. Verify that is only contains C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe with nothing after it.
    Windows 10 Internet Explorer properties
  24. Open IE and verify shortcut opens successfully.
  1. Open Internet Explorer and take note if it shows your normal home page or search page.
    Internet Explorer.
  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 Internet Explorer and take note if it shows your normal home page or search page.
    Internet Explorer.
  2. Test your ability to search the web like you normally would.
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.
We use cookies on our website to enhance your experience, analyze site usage and support our marketing efforts. To learn more, visit our Privacy Policy. By clicking “Accept”, you agree to our use of cookies and similar technologies.
Accept