What is a browser hijacker, and how do you remove it from a Mac?

Dawna Roberts

Mar 6, 20245 min read

What is a browser hijacker, and how do you remove it from a Mac? Header image

The threats just keep coming. It seems like every time you turn around, there is another type of cybersecurity danger to worry about. But fret not; we’ve got you covered.

Just as the title suggests, we are talking about a type of malware with the ability to hijack and take control of your internet browser. Keep reading to find out what a browser hijacker is, the symptoms of this type of attack, how to remove a browser hijacker from your Mac, and how to avoid it in the future.

What is a browser hijacker?

A browser hijacker is malware designed to infiltrate your internet browser and take control. The goal of these types of programs is to make money for the hackers by redirecting you to specific websites, copying files, logging your keystrokes, and even stealing your personal information for identity theft.

How a browser hijacker works

Once your device is infected with a hijacker, it changes your default internet homepage to a nefarious site, often laced with additional malware. The result is that the next time you open your browser, you go directly there instead of your expected homepage. These are called drive-by attacks.

A browser hijacker may also install toolbars, push pop-ups at you, and change other configuration settings. Unfortunately, some of these changes can be so minor that you may not even notice them at first.

Symptoms of browser hijacking

Thankfully, armed with our list of browser hijacker symptoms, you can detect an infection early and clean it out. Some of the most common symptoms of browser hijacking include the following.

Your default homepage has been changed

If you notice your default browser homepage has changed and you didn’t change it, that is a strong sign that you may be dealing with a hijacked browser.

A screenshot showing how a browser hijacker changes your default homepage.
Safari is a trademark of Apple Inc.


If you suddenly start seeing tons of pop-ups and advertisements every time you try to surf the web, don’t ignore it. This, too, is a big red flag that someone may have made changes to your software.

Your search engine is altered

You have your choice of search engine when using various browsers. But if yours has been changed from your usual default search engine, it could indicate foul play.

A screenshot showing a browser hijacker that has changed the default search engine.
Safari is a trademark of Apple Inc.

Constant redirects

If you attempt to visit websites only end up on other pages you didn’t intend to visit, proceed with caution. You could be dealing with an infected browser. 

New toolbars or extensions

Have you found add-on toolbars and extensions that you don’t remember installing? There is a good chance that your browser has been hijacked and someone has changed these settings. 

A screenshot showing how to look for unwanted browser extensions.
Safari is a trademark of Apple Inc.

Performance issues

Browser slowdown isn’t always normal. If it suddenly takes much longer than usual to load pages, it could be because your web browser has been compromised by a browser hijacker. 

Your sensitive/personal information is leaked

In some cases, the first sign of a problem is discovering that your sensitive information or data has been leaked online. When that happens, it’s time to check for malware. Sometimes, these programs steal personal information and send it back to a central server.

Examples of browser hijackers

Browser hijackers are nothing new. There are dozens of variants out there with silly names, including a few you might recognize. 

Ask toolbar

Many victims who downloaded freeware (free software) got an added surprise: the Ask toolbar, which pops up with annoying ads and redirects to sites you don’t wish to visit. 


This insidious program redirects you to its own search engine, CoolWebSearch, even when you intend to use Google or Yahoo. The owner of this hijacker receives a payoff every time someone uses the search engine. This malware can affect your bookmarks and search history as well. 


GoSave is a browser hijacker that claims to offer you discounts when making purchases online, but what it really does is show you one annoying pop-up after another.

Some other browser hijackers to be aware of include Babylon Toolbar, Conduit Search or Search Protect, SourceForge Installer, OneWebSearch,, and Sweet Page.

How to remove a browser hijacker from a Mac

Even if your Mac has been infected with unwanted software, all is not lost. You can stop browser hijacking in several different ways. Try one of the browser hijacking removal methods below. 

Manual browser hijacking removal

Although you can remove a browser hijacker manually, it may not be the most thorough option, and it could take some time. That said, here’s how to manually remove any unwanted malware:

  1. Clear your system’s DNS cache.
  2. Reset all your browser settings, including the home page.
  3. Optional: Reinstall your browser.
  4. Remove any additional toolbars, other programs, or unwanted extensions you find on the Mac.

Keep a close eye on things in the future to be sure that you have thoroughly cleaned out the browser hijacker. 

Remove a browser hijacker with CleanMyMac X

A professional antimalware program can make removing a browser hijacker much easier, quicker, and more efficient. To remove any malware using CleanMyMac X, follow these steps: 

  1. Open CleanMyMac X.
  2. Click on Malware Removal on the left sidebar.
  3. Click the Scan button.
  4. If the results find any malware on your machine, click Remove.
  5. Run the Clear Browser Cache tool within CleanMyMac X.
  6. Use the Extensions module to remove any unwanted extensions.
A screenshot of the CleanMyMac X malware remover.

How to avoid browser hijacking

To avoid having to deal with the hassles of a browser hijacker altogether, it’s best to learn the cybersecurity best practices that will help keep you safe online. Some of the best prevention tips for avoiding browser hijacking include:

  • Update software and hardware: Keep your software and hardware updated with the latest security patches.
  • Never download free software: Don’t download anything for free from third parties. For mobile devices, only use approved App Store or Google Play Store downloads.
  • Be cautious of suspicious links: The best policy is to never click links in texts or emails from unsolicited parties.
  • Don’t download attachments: Email attachments may be laced with malware. Never download anything from someone you don’t know.
  • Use secure browsers: Use a robust program and always choose private browsing when online.
  • Install and use antivirus software: Use a good, reputable antivirus/antimalware software and run deep scans often.

Not only is browser hijacking annoying, but it can also leave you vulnerable to other online threats and result in identity theft or fraud. Use common sense and follow our cybersecurity best practices to keep you and your data safe. 

Dawna Roberts Dawna Roberts
Dawna has spent her entire career in web dev, cybersecurity, and IT. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Adobe, Airtable, Backblaze, Cyberleaf, Lifewire, and other online publications for the past ten years.