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How to Fix Browser Settings Changed By Malware or Other Programs

skype-bing-and-msn-installer

Malware, adware, and pushy software installers all love changing your browser settings, giving you new home pages, default search engines, and obnoxious toolbars. It’s easy to forget to uncheck these options while installing software.

Reverting browser settings changes typically isn’t too difficult. However, you often have to do it by hand — even if it’s a legitimate program, uninstalling it probably won’t restore your preferred home page and default search engine.

Search Engine

If a program manages to change your browser’s default search engine, a different search engine will appear when you use your browser’s built-in search features — the search bar or right-click search, for example.

You can change your search engine back easily:

  • Internet Explorer: Click the gear button, select Manage add-ons, and select the Search Providers category. Choose your preferred search provider from the lit and click the Set as default button at the bottom of the window. You may also want to enable the “Prevent programs from suggesting changes to my default search provider” check box.
  • Mozilla Firefox: Click the search engine icon in the search box at the top-right corner of the Firefox window. Select your preferred search engine from the list.
  • Google Chrome: Right-click inside the location bar at the top of the Chrome browser window and select Edit search engines. Mouse over your preferred search engine and select Make default.

internet-explorer-restore-deafult-search-provider

Home Page

Annoying installers love changing your home page to a new one — often filled with advertisements — so they can make money whenever you open your web browser. Even if the home page doesn’t contain ads, it probably contains a search feature they want you to use — they’ll make money when you search with their inferior search engine instead of using your preferred one.

Restoring your browser’s home page is easy:

  • Internet Explorer: Click the gear button, click Internet Options, and select the General tab. Change the addresses in the Home page box.
  • Mozilla Firefox: Click the Firefox menu button, select Options, select the General tab, and change the address in the Home Page box.
  • Google Chrome: Click Chrome’s menu button, select Settings, and check the Show Home button option under appearance. Click the Change option and change the home page. You should also click the Set pages option under On startup and ensure that no additional web pages are set to load at startup.

chrome-set-startup-pages

Toolbars and Other Browser Extensions

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Toolbars are a still a blight on the Windows software ecosystem. Even Oracle’s Java software tries to install the terrible Ask toolbar by default. Toolbars get a company’s product right in front of you in your browser all the time, encouraging you to use all their features and search with their product. It would even be possible to install so many browser toolbars in Internet Explorer and other browsers that they consumed most of the browser’s screen space.

To get rid of an obnoxious toolbar or browser extension:

  • Uninstall in Control Panel: First, open the standard Programs and Features Control Panel and try to uninstall the toolbar like you would any other program. If you’re lucky and the toolbar is somewhat legitimate, it will appear here in the list and you’ll be able to uninstall it normally. If it doesn’t appear in the list, you’ll have to disable it in your browser using the below instructions.
  • Internet Explorer: Click the gear menu, select Manage add-ons, and select the Toolbars and Extensions category. Locate the toolbar or browser add-on you don’t want to use, click it, and click the Disable button. If you don’t see the add-on in the list, click the Show box and select All add-ons.
  • Mozilla Firefox: Click the Firefox menu button and select Extensions. Select the add-on you want to disable and click the Disable button.
  • Google Chrome: Click Chrome’s menu button, select Settings, and select the Extensions category at the left side of the window. Uncheck the Enabled box to the right of any extension you want to disable.

disable-browser-toolbar-or-extension-in-firefox

Websites Redirect Elsewhere

Sneakily redirecting websites in the background is a much nastier thing to do than simply changing a home page, swapping a search engine, or installing a useless toolbar, so this problem isn’t as common. However, some browser extensions may abuse their permissions to redirect websites elsewhere, taking you to scamsearchengine.com when you try to visit google.com. Or, malware may have modified your Windows hosts file to do this.

First, uninstall any toolbars or browser extensions you don’t recognize. They integrate with your browser and are capable of redirecting you to other web pages.

If uninstalling junk browser extensions didn’t help, you may need to look at your hosts file. Malware sometimes modifies the Windows hosts file to redirect websites elsewhere.

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Consult our guide to editing your hosts file for more information. Look for any unusual entries. By default, the Windows hosts file shouldn’t have any entries in it below the commented lines (those are the lines that begin with a # character.) You can likely delete everything but the lines with the # character in front of them if you see that your hosts file contains junk. The image below displays a normal hosts file on Windows 7.

default-hosts-file-windows-7

If Settings Change Back

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If you find that these settings are automatically changing back after you change them, you have a program running on your computer that’s interfering with your browser settings. Be sure to scan your computer for malware — such programs should be detected as malware by most antivirus programs. If your existing antivirus program isn’t detecting any malware, you may want to get a second opinion from a different antivirus program.


Windows program installers have historically abused the user’s browser. It’s no surprise that Windows 8′s new “Modern” version of Internet Explorer doesn’t support any browser toolbars or extensions.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 09/15/13

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