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December 28th, 2013

What bugged AVAST users this year: Unwanted toolbars that cling like ivy to browsers

A trend that snuck up on users in 2013, and strikes instant recognition among people who have experienced it, are unwanted browser extensions. The numbers AVAST has collected so far are enormous. More than 4.8 million different browser extensions for Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome have been identified in just eight months.

“On average, there are almost 20,000 new add-ons per day,” said Thomas Salomon, head of AVAST Software‘s Browser Cleanup development team. “The vast majority (88%) of all our users have given toolbars and add-ons a bad or very bad rating.”

Browser_ToolbarsBrowser toolbars especially can be quite annoying, not only because they take up a lot of space inside the browser, but because they change your homepage and your search engine without you realizing it. Normally when you type into the address bar or the search field of your browser your search provider redirects your search requests to the appropriate service, e.g. Google or Bing. When this is hijacked by a toolbar, your search requests might end up in the search engine of Ask, Conduit, Delta search or any other 3rd party “search engine.”

Unwanted toolbars are a pain everyone can relate to and we would argue they are the first major consumer security outbreak since spyware. Our experts at AVAST say that we are in the era of new ‘spyware’, but this time it’s even more insidious especially since many players in the security space are actually in the game themselves by pushing the toolbars onto customers.

“In order to prevent detection and removal by anti-toolbar tools like Browser Cleanup a lot of toolbars change their name and their identifier on almost every new computer,’ said Salomon. “Some of our competitors also provide toolbars and have toolbar protectors included in their products.”

Checking and cleaning your own browsers

Browser toolbars are often difficult or even impossible for the average user to fully uninstall. Salomon cited the use of so-called Browser Protectors by companies like AVG, Avira, and BullGuard. “These are tools provided and installed by the toolbar vendors which protect the toolbar’s settings and the toolbar itself from being manipulated by other toolbars, toolbar removers, and sometimes the user. This means it’s quite hard to remove these toolbars. Browser Cleanup in v. 9.0.0.184 of avast! 2014 is able to dynamically detect and remove these Protectors in order to help the user get rid of the toolbar.”

avast! Browser Cleanup was developed to help our customers identify and get rid of unwanted browser toolbars and add-ons. If you have toolbars in your internet browsers or have noticed strange ads displayed as an overlay, check your browsers using avast! Browser Cleanup. The tool is available in any avast! Antivirus product or you can download the standalone version here.

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  • Lisa Shields

    Very nice…but something loaded itself on my puter when I was on the Avast site. Since I’ve trusted Avast for years, I thought nothing of it…until is hijacked my searches. I refused to go ANYWHERE online using Trovi—especially not somewhere password protected. I do wish Avast would find out about this malware…which looks like it comes from THEIR site?