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January 20th, 2014

Nice apps get bad makeover after spammers buy them

broken-chrome

Spammers buy Chrome extensions and turn them into adware ~PC World

This is one “before and after” picture that we didn’t want to see. Someone contacted the original developers of Chrome extensions Add to Feedly and Tweet This Page with an offer to purchase. Thinking it was a good opportunity for a company with more time and money to further develop what they started, both developers sold perfectly nice apps. It wasn’t until the next automatic update that the true transformation was revealed.

Even though users didn’t know about the sale of the extensions, angry reviews indicated that a change had been made. The app was accused of spamming because it had silently updated the extensions to inject ads and affiliate links. Amit Agarwal, Add to Feedly‘s original author told PC World, “These aren’t regular banner ads that you see on webpages, these are invisible ads that work the background and replace links on every website that you visit into affiliate links. In simple English, if the extension is activated in Chrome, it will inject adware into all webpages.”

Over the weekend, the two extensions were removed from the Chrome Web Store.

How to remove bad extensions and toolbars from your computer

“Both of these add-ons are categorized as “very bad” in the avast! Browser Cleanup database,” said Thomas Salomon, head of AVAST Software’s Browser Cleanup development.  “Browser Cleanup will remove them without any trace. This means they’ll be removed the same way as any other bad add-on/toolbar.”

Browser cleanup screenshot

Open the AVAST user interface to access Browser Cleanup

avast! Browser Cleanup lists all poorly rated add-ons, extensions, and toolbars for the 3 major internet browsers, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Google Chrome, and allows you to disable or remove them. It works by scanning the browser environment, then displays a list of any bad toolbars you may have, and asks if you want the offending toolbar removed. If you authorize it to do so, then Browser Cleanup will remove them.

There are more than 7,500,000 different browser extensions for the three main browsers. AVAST currently receives 1 million requests every day to remove browser toolbars. Read more about annoying toolbars from this blog post by Thomas Salomon.

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1/21 updated number of browser extensions. It keeps growing!

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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.

Thank you for using avast! Antivirus and recommending us to your friends and family. For all the latest news, fun and contest information, please follow us on FacebookTwitter and Google+. Business owners – check out our business products.