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The Browser Hijacker

There are numerous threats roaming the internet, all of which can be very harmful to anyone with an online connection.  One parasite that has caused a lot of trouble is the browser hijacker, a member of the spyware family.  A browser hijacker is a malicious program that modifies the settings of a user's browser without consent.  Similar to a Trojan, it appears relatively harmless on first site yet can inflict damage comparable to a virus.  It often changes the default homepage and search page to that of another site or may redirect a user to a site hosting malware.  A browser hijacker may decrease privacy levels and disable security settings while implementing unwanted advertisements and bookmarks.  

Cool Search Controversy

There have been many such infections that intend to violate the privacy of internet users.  One of the most controversial issues in regard to hijacking involved a company by the name of Cool Web Search.  Cool Web Search or CWS is the family name applied to several different hijackers, which all attempt to redirect a victim's web browser to coolwebsearch.com or relative sites.  As reports of network abuse were made, CoolWebSearch.com claimed they were not involved in any of the hijacking incidents.  It was later found that these claims were true, proving that the company used an affiliate program that paid its clients for every user redirected to the site. 

Shortly thereafter, well over 40 CWS variants were discovered, most operating with malicious intent.  About 15 of these programs were able to be easily removed from an infected system while others required in-depth work in the registry such as deleting numerous files and making alterations.  Some were nearly impossible to remove and more complex than the most dangerous of computer viruses.  Over the years, browser hijackers have proven to be so devastating that the most advanced anti-spyware software has a difficult time fully destroying them.  Experts on spyware state that the best way to fight such an infection is to restore the Windows registry from a clean copy.  The worst case scenario involves erasing all data from the hard drive and reinstalling the operating system. 

You can learn more about this controversial issue by viewing the following links:

http://www.coolwebsearch.com/security and http://www.coolwebsearch.com/hijacking.html

How to Recognize it

It's fairly easy to know when your browser has been hijacked by an intruder.  Your homepage may be altered to reflect a pornographic theme or filled with advertisements.  You may also be distracted with numerous pop-ups and find new web shortcuts on your toolbar.  The browser hijacker often includes spyware and adware features that monitor your internet behavior and use it to build a profile of your habits to proposition you with more advertisements.  

While browser hijacking has become a huge problem on the internet, not all browser helper objects are bad.  For instance, a BHO is included with the Google Toolbar as part of it's installation.  Although certain features of the toolbar may transmit data back to Google, this activity is clearly stated prior to installation and can be disabled without negatively impacting search capabilities. 

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Identity theft comes in many forms.

A person\92s identity can be 'borrowed' for the purpose of creating fictional credit cards or a person\92s entire identity can be usurped to the point where they can have difficulty proving that they really are who they claim to be.

Up to 18% of identity theft victims take as long as four years to realize that their identity has been stolen.

There are many ways to protect your personal identity and many steps you can take to prevent your identity from being stolen:

*Never give out unnecessary personal information
*Never provide bank details or social security numbers over the Internet
*Always remain aware of who is standing behind you when you type in your personal credit codes at ATM machines and at supermarket checkout swipe machines.