Track down and remove browser-embedded Ads

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A friend of mine recently called me up asking for help. His web browser had suddenly begun to display unwanted advertisements on almost all webpages. The ads were displayed not on one but multiple browsers!

The ads we’re talking about here are not the usual ones, seen on ad-supported websites. These types of ads are usually thrown from third party sources in no way related to particular websites. So, don’t confuse this with traditional ad filtering programs.

These ads silently bind themselves to the web browsers and keep displaying unwanted ads on web pages you open. They also tend to interfere with actual website content, consume additional bandwidth, and slow down browser rendering. These ads may be categorized under Adware, as they don’t come with any useful service; nor do they generate revenue for the actual webmasters.

Today, we’ll try to track down the possible root causes of Adware and eliminate them. If you are a victim of a browser Adware, after reading this article, hopefully you’ll be able to free your web browser from the wrath of such annoying advertisements. So good luck to all the victims out there!

Drill Down: A thorough investigation

The first step in the right direction would be to consider the possible causes. There could be a lot of reasons why your browser is showing unwanted ads. Here is what you should do:

Browser Level Investigation

The first thing you should find out is whether the Adware program resides within your browsers. The ads might be effective within several browsers, or may be active on a single specific one. The goal is to isolate the cause, and we’ll proceed by the method of elimination.

Try to open specific websites (whose ad structure you’re familiar with) on multiple browsers (like Chrome, Firefox, Opera, etc.) which you have already installed. You may also run an isolated browser session to make things clearer.

Create a fresh browser profile

Both Google Chrome and Firefox give you the option to set up multiple users each isolated in their own space having their own preferences and settings. If you set up a new user, it will be similar to a new browser installation. You can then launch a website on this isolated web browser to see if it displays unwanted Ads or not.

For Google Chrome

  1. Go to Menu >> Settings.
  2. Under Users section, click on Add New User.
  3. You may be able to choose an icon for this user. After selecting it, click OK to confirm.

You are now running Chrome as a new user with all the default settings and preferences. For more detailed information, refer to Chrome’s official documentation page.

For Firefox

Similar to Chrome, Firefox also has a Profile Manager to maintain different user profiles for debugging purposes. You can access the Profile Manager by following these steps below.

  1. Exit Firefox if you’re already running it.
  2. Go to Start >> Run >> Type “firefox.exe -p” into the textbox.
  3. Click OK or hit Enter.
  4. Click Create Profile button in the Profile Manager window.
  5. Give a new name to your created profile and click Finish.

The new Firefox profile has been successfully created. Now, whenever you launch Firefox, Profile Manager will ask you to choose a profile. Visit Firefox’s official website for more details.

Open a familiar website using your newly created user profile on your browser. If you still see the ads, it may imply that your browser isn’t the culprit. You may skip the rest of this section and proceed to the next.

However, if the annoying ads are not displayed anymore, you can be certain that something within your browser-configuration is causing the problem. In this situation, the easiest way to get rid of this problem is to delete all the previous users and create a fresh one.

But, you might not want to lose your precious settings. If you were logged in to Google Chrome, your settings and preferences might have already been synced. Otherwise, you would have to reset your browser settings manually to get rid of this problem.

Manually Reset Browser settings

Whenever you reset your browser, all settings are reverted to their defaults and preferences like Home Page, Search Engine, Browser Extensions, Cookies, etc. are lost. You may reset your browser in the following manner:

On Chrome

  1. Go to Menu >> Settings.
  2. Click on Show advanced settings at the bottom to reveal additional options.
  3. Under Reset browser settings, click the Reset browser settings button.
  4. Click Reset to confirm reset operation.

This will reset your browser settings back to their original values and disable currently installed extensions. However, at times it is best to completely remove all extensions as they may be enabled easily using a third party source. You can find more information on Chrome Reset over here.

Remove all Extensions

  1. Next, you should try removing all installed browser extensions and plugins.
  2. In Chrome, go to Menu >> Tools >> Extensions.
  3. Delete all the listed extensions.

On Firefox

  1. You can similarly reset your Firefox Browser from the Options Menu.
  2. Open the Firefox Menu >> Options >> Help >> Troubleshooting Information.
  3. Click on Reset Firefox button on the right side.

Your browser settings will be restored to default state, including Home Page and Search Engine preference. Firefox Extensions and Add-Ons will be removed. A more detailed account on Firefox Reset options may be found here.

Network Level Investigation

Do you use a VPN, proxy or any other types of network level filters? If you don’t, you may skip to the next section.

If you use a network filter like a VPN, it’s possible you are seeing ads thrown by these network level filters.

VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) or Proxy Servers channel your internet connection via a third party network connections. They are frequently used in enterprises or even for personal use to gain access to networks that are normally blocked by their ISPs. Free VPNs often tend to push advertisements for generating revenue from your browsing session in return for rerouting your connections.

If you don’t want to see software generated ads on your browser, you might consider upgrading from free to premium plan on your VPN or Proxy service. On the other hand, if you don’t use the service much, you might want to uninstall it completely. Of course, you may also like to retain the free service and accept the fact that the ads are a suitable price to pay for using a free service.

Note: Ads thrown via network filters like a proxy or VPN are service based ads. They display ads on your browsers to generate revenue to provide you free services. Thus, ads from network filter services may not be considered as Adware.

Clean up Junk Software

If ads have not disappeared from your browser till now, then it might be a sign that your computer is telling you to clean up all the junk you have managed to accumulate over a long time. And this might actually be the perfect time to do it.

Go to Control Panel >> Programs and Features >> Uninstall Programs.

Scan the list of programs thoroughly for anything you can uninstall to free up disk space. There will basically be three types of programs here:

Programs you know and use: The first category programs are the ones you can ignore right now, because you know that these programs are somehow useful and so you won’t remove them.

Potentially Harmful Programs: The second category programs are the ones you should attack first. They might not be familiar, but would mostly arouse suspicions due to the nature of the program. Basically, look for programs like browser toolbars, search engine programs, etc. And if possible, uninstall all such applications from your system and regain some of your precious hard drive space.

After uninstalling the second category of software, restart your system and then run your browsers to see whether the Adware has been removed. If you see no more Ads, they might have been thrown by any of these programs you uninstalled. If the ads are still there, proceed to the next step.

Unknown Programs: And then there is the group of installed software that you don’t have a clue about. You should be more careful with the applications falling under the third category. Since you don’t know what they do or where they come from, uninstalling them without prior knowledge is not recommended. There might be programs in the list which are not individually installed, but rather a part of another program. Removing these programs might affect other programs, or worse, even corrupt your Windows installation. Proceed carefully – at this stage, you don’t want to corrupt your system because of some annoying advertisements.

The program list contains the name of installed programs along with the name of their publishers. Look for anything suspicious in the list: Programs with no publishers, misleading application names and logos, misspelled company names, etc. Remove all such suspicious programs from your system.

Such a thorough clean up deserves a system restart to complete the process. Restart your computer one more time.

If all the above steps have successfully removed all the unwanted ads from all your browsers, pat yourself on your back and remind yourself never proceed by clicking “Next” on installer programs blindly.

What was that again? Yes, you have read correctly. Nowadays, software installers usually come bundled with multiple programs. One of them is of course the application that the installer is meant for, but the setup usually wants to install additional software and perform other actions, like installing a toolbar in your browsers, change the default home page, and so on. These options are usually turned on by default in the installer. Thus, when you hit the Install button finally, you also get these unwanted programs installed.

Adware removal tools

If the ads are still there, the situation is more serious. You may be a victim of a possible Adware attack. But don’t worry. There are several programs which are designed to search and remove such malware from your computer. If you are looking for a free solution to adware removal, AdwCleaner is a good option (for private use without anti virus support). If you want better protection, you can get HitmanPro for about $25 / year. HitmanPro is also available for free unlimited scanning and a 30 day trial for removal of detected malware .

Download and install HitmanPro / AdwCleaner.

Run the program and scan for adware on your computer.

The program will automatically detect any spyware, Adware or other types of malware present.

By now, you have hopefully eradicated the woeful ads from your browser. In the rare occasion that these rogues have somehow managed to survive, you may have no option left other than formatting your PC. But as mentioned, it’s extremely unlikely that you’re going back from here without a solution. In any case, do let us know your views and concerns in this matter via your valuable comments.

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