It usually happens after you download something free. You go back online and your browser suddenly looks unfamiliar. There’s new buttons and weird icons in the place of what you used to have. A strange search page from a company you have never heard has taken the place of your homepage.
How did I get that annoying toolbar?
You have inadvertently downloaded a browser toolbar that came bundled with other software.
Free programs, like Adobe Reader, often include add-ons like toolbars or browser extensions. Most of the time, during the installation of the software, an opt-out option will be presented for the add-on. But, lots of people click through without reading, and when they’re finished they discover they have downloaded something they didn’t intend to.
To keep this from happening in the first place, slow down and read the screens. You could save yourself lots of time and headaches if you do.
Most Internet users are familiar with this problem all too well: After downloading a video player, Java, Flash updates or other software, the browser has suddenly changed. New buttons and icons in all colors and sizes along with an URL entry bar take up valuable real estate on your browser. The browser runs noticeably slower – and the results look different. Most annoying is that the advertising becomes more prominent.
Over the past two years, Avast Browser Cleanup has identified more than 60 million different browser add-ons which are often bundled with other free software, such as video players, Java and Flash updates. These toolbars typically occupy the horizontal space below a user’s browser and can include buttons, icons, and menus. Despite removing and re-installing a browser, toolbars will often remain, which is a behavior similar to malware.
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 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. 18.104.22.168 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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